Matlidas assistant coach Gary van Egmond predicts the football world will see its first million-dollar female player within five years as the global women’s game grows “exponentially”.
The former Jets A-League coach and now Emerging Jets academy director returned this week from America, where Australia lifted the Tournament of Nations trophy after wins over world No.1 USA, No.6 Japan and No.8 Brazil.
Star striker Sam Kerr’s final goal against Brazil, when she somehow controlled a shoulder-high cross, accelerated between two centre-backs then fired a left-foot shot past the keeper, was the kind of moment that is changing perceptions of the women’s game.
Van Egmond admits he is one of those whose view of women’s football has changed as standards have risen in the past decade, drawing in new fans at home and abroad.
“It’s really growing exponentially. It’s just taking off. I’ve got no doubt that within the next three to five years you’ll have million-dollar players,” van Egmond said.
The 23-year-old Kerr, who celebrated her hat-trick against Japan with a backflip, is one of those poised to ride the wave of the game’s rising popularity.
That growth was evident at this year’s European championships, where England’s semi-final against Holland drew a peak audience of 4 million on Channel 4, a UK record for a women’s match.
The Matildas won a pay battle two years ago with Football Federation Australia and now earn between $40,000 and $50,000 a year, plus match payments.
The US National Women’s Soccer League pays foreigners $US15,000 to $US41,700, and W-League minimum wages are tipped to rise from $1200 to more than $7000 this season.
The remuneration is still far from the stratospheric money available to male players, but van Egmond, whose daughter, Emily, plays for the Matildas and German club Wolfsburg, said developments in Europe suggested women’s wages would rise significantly.
“Juventus has just pledged that they’re now getting a female team involved in their competition, Manchester United are now looking like they’re going to do the same and Real Madrid are going to do the same.
“Barcelona are putting a team in America and their own competition, and you could see the groundswell for the Euros recently.
“All of a sudden you go, ‘OK, it’s going to become pretty big.’ I think it will be a little bit similar to the profile of women tennis players, because it’s the world game.”
Van Egmond said the key to that rising appeal was entertainment value.
“First of all, it’s got to be entertaining, and the standard of play has got to be decent. It’s got to be engaging for everyone. If you look at the games we played recently in America, I would suggest that everyone felt – you take the results aside – it was a good brand of football.
“It was great to see the way in which we played. It was terrific to be in a position where we’re so competitive at a world level.
“People [watch] and go, ‘You know what: I was entertained by that.’ And that’s what you want from a sport. That’s definitely been on the up and, I think, will continue.”
Van Egmond said part of the attraction of women’s football was the passion and team spirit showed by the players, especially at international level.
“Very much so. It’s hard to put a word to it. I suppose it’s like a pureness, if that makes sense. They’re very passionate about the game and they work so hard in regards to the game. It does remind me of what it was like probably in the early ’80s, mid-’80s of the old national league a little bit, of where that was at.
“They’re starting to get their rewards now, which is terrific. Hopefully that just keeps on increasing.”
Hunter supporters will see the No.7-ranked Matildas first-hand when they play Brazil at McDonald Jones Stadium on September 19.