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FFA's decision on the next Matildas coach a test of its own 'Football IP'

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Rose Lavelle expects new England head coach Sarina Wiegman to enhance the rivalry between the USWNT and the Lionesses. (0:43)

In early August, when rumours circulated that former Lionesses boss Phil Neville was being lined up for the vacant Matildas' job, the reaction from women's football followers both in Australia and overseas was immediate and blunt.

This negative reaction didn't just highlight Neville's largely underwhelming tenure as head of one of England's most talented women's national teams, which finished fourth at last year's Women's World Cup. It also reflected how important the Matildas have become to the women's football community that so many of its fans took to social media to passionately discuss and debate who should lead them.

As the current "Golden Generation" of Matildas reach the peak of their careers, and with the 2023 Women's World Cup now on home soil, there has perhaps never been a more crucial time for Football Federation Australia to get such an appointment right.

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Up to now, much of the process surrounding the recruitment has been shrouded in mystery, with various domestic and international names being circulated in the resulting vacuum.

FFA CEO James Johnson has kept his cards close to his chest when it comes to candidates and criteria, but he is conscious of the need for an individual who is an appropriate cultural fit as well as someone willing to commit to the role for an extended period of time.

"We have a good understanding of what we want," Johnson told ESPN.

"We have a good understanding of what's important to the Matildas and I've certainly made no secret that we believe that this team is peaking in the next cycle.

"We have a very strong core group of players that are going to be in that 25- to 30-year-old bracket, which is a peak age, and other countries around the world do not. If you look at the [reigning World Cup champion] United States team, their core players are now at the back end of their career, [while] our players are going into the best periods of their career.

"We're looking at this as a four-year cycle; we'll have Tokyo next year, then we'll have India and the Asian Cup in 2022, we'll have the World Cup on our soil in 2023, and then we'll have Paris in 2024.

"What we're trying to do is get a coach that is not here for a good opportunity for the coach, per se.

"We want a coach that is going to present a good opportunity for the Matildas to take them to the level that is required to optimise this team's ability. So that's how we're looking at it. We're going through a robust process where we're going out and targeting coaches that we think can elevate this team's performance."

Of the names that have been seriously circulated, former U.S. Women's National Team and two-time World Cup winner Jill Ellis tops the list. With the Lionesses job now off the table -- having been secured by Dutchwoman Sarina Wiegman -- Ellis would undoubtedly bring with her a winning mentality and a proven track-record of international success: The 53-year-old is only the second individual in history -- the other being Vittorio Pozzo -- to win two World Cups as a coach.

However, Ellis reportedly carries a significant price-tag, which may be a deal-breaker for FFA during a time of austerity. The ex-USWNT boss has also received mixed reviews from some former players including Sydney Leroux-Dwyer and Ali Krieger, both of whom voiced their displeasure with Ellis' tenure in separate interviews in recent months.

The other candidate whose name has grabbed regular headlines is Arsenal head coach Joe Montemurro. Boasting a number of club trophies in Australia and overseas, and with more familiarity with Australia's domestic women's landscape than many international coaches, Montemurro looms as the most obvious homegrown option for the job. Despite this, Montemurro recently told the Sydney Morning Herald that he had yet to be formally contacted about the role.

According to ESPN sources, it's the desire of FFA to secure a candidate who has previous international experience, which may work against the Gunners boss, despite his public comments that leading his home nation would be "an honour."

Ultimately, the next head coach of the Matildas will be a product of the people who select them. So who exactly is in charge of what could be the most important appointment in the history of Australian women's football?

Johnson, as CEO, will naturally be part of the process. But he revealed to ESPN that a larger group of people within the organisation will be consulted, including technical staff and former elite players.

"I think one thing we've really focused on since I've been here is really trying to build football acumen into the organisation," Johnson said.

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"We have a football development committee that's chaired by Remo Nogarotto and also on this committee you have [former Socceroo] Mark Bresciano and [former Matilda] Amy Duggan.

"You have myself as the CEO and you have people in management like Sarah Walsh and Robbie Middleby, who both played for the Matildas and Socceroos respectively, and now we've brought in Trevor Morgan as a [technical director].

"We've got [former Australian Institute of Sport head coach] Ron Smith playing a supporting role to Trevor. We've got a good group of people that we believe can make very strong football decisions."

ESPN also understands that the Australian Institute of Sport is being consulted as part of the recruitment drive.

FFA has come under increased scrutiny since the resignation of former technical director Rob Sherman in March, who denounced the organisation for being needlessly political and ignoring the advice of technical experts in a manifesto published after his departure. His replacement, Morgan, recently coached Australia's under-17s men's side to the knockout stages of the 2019 Under-17 World Cup; a position he's set to maintain in tandem with his new technical responsibilities.

But Morgan's experience with women's football is fleeting. While he was a former football director at the prestigious Westfield Sports High School, and thus has some familiarity with alumni such as Ellie Carpenter, Amy Harrison, and Alanna Kennedy, as well as some high-performance programs run out of the school, his knowledge of the women's game does not appear to extend much further.

Despite this, Morgan anticipates being involved in the hunt for the next Matildas coach -- though he may not play as influential a role as one might expect a national technical director to have, perhaps due to the recent timing of his appointment.

"I believe I'll have some involvement there," Morgan told ESPN. "Had I arrived a bit earlier, I might have been more intimately involved in the process but it has been indicated to me that when they get to the stage of looking at candidates that I'm likely to be involved.

"The way it's run in the past, the technical director has been heavily involved in the appointment of coaches below the senior national team. Because that's more of a thing where maybe you'd work on a panel.

"I think, regardless of what involvement I have in the process, James has already expressed to me that he will need some technical support in that area and I'm sure I'm the person for that."

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While the people directly and peripherally involved in the hiring process for the next Matildas coach have a commendably broad base of footballing knowledge, there is a noticeable lack of technical and high-performance expertise when it comes to the women's game.

Rather than anything untoward on FFA's part, though, this is perhaps more of a reflection of the current state of Australian football in that there is a wider lack of women and women's football-specific individuals in decision-making and technical positions who can ensure that any decisions made in this space are as informed as possible.

It's a dearth noted in the FFA's recently released XI Principles document, which highlighted as part of its coaching development goals that there existed a need to "increase the number of coaches by removing the barriers to coach education, especially for women and Indigenous Australians," and "embrace the opportunity to increase the number of female coaches to grow the talent pool of coaches."

The document then went even further by declaring that there was a need for "more women in decision-making positions," and that FFA has a desire to "create a Women's Football Department and appoint a head within FFA to lead the growth of the women's game in Australia."

Thus, as Johnson and the FFA seek to muster a wide array of experienced heads -- "Football IP" as the CEO puts it -- to make the best possible decision on the next Matildas boss, there appears a real opportunity to bring in and elevate individuals with hard-fought experience and knowledge of the technical aspects of the women's game.

In doing so, the national federation would ensure that the most talented Matildas squad ever assembled was provided the best possible opportunity to deliver on that promise, while also kick-starting the process of elevating and empowering the voices of women in a manner their own mission statement has envisioned.