When the final whistle sounds at Shenzhen Stadium in China on Sunday night, it won’t just signal full-time in the EAFF Women’s East Asian Cup Qualifier between China and Australia.
More poignantly, it will bring the curtain down on Tom Sermanni’s time in charge of the Australian national women’s team.
While the New Year - and the challenge it holds for the much-loved Matilda’s mentor is exciting, Sermanni is in a reflective mood - sad to leave the football family he has spent the last eight years nurturing, but with a paternal pride in how they have grown.
In his trademark humble manner, he deflects any credit for the progress of the women’s football program and points to the integrity, generosity and increasing maturity of the playing group as key to their ongoing success.
Though top of the tree in the female football hierarchy, Sermanni sees himself as just one part of the organisation and the structure.
“The whole set-up has an inclusive feeling about it, a cohesion between staff and players which has been a joy to be part of.”
“The best thing about where the game is now is the inclusiveness and the importance now attached to being a Matilda. There is a real unity, players feel part of the group, young players want to be part of it and there’s a feeling of pride in what it means.”
He goes on to explain that while in the past, the players would retire then many would disappear "never to be seen again", there is now more of an attachment to the team.
Sermanni too will always feel an attachment for the Matildas – a side he leaves at an exciting stage of their development.
He believes that if the young guns in the national team picture now, fulfil their potential, then the Australian women’s team will be an even more dominant force on the world stage in years to come.
Refusing once more to take the kudos for the development of the youth, Sermanni highlights the importance of the Talent Identification Programs and the NTC coaches, who discover the players in the first place and send them along when the time is right.
“I have the ability to bring them into the team and put them on the park, but the development is done with the training centres and while they operate on finite resources, they really do an outstanding job of earmarking the players with potential, and helping them to realise that potential. Fortunately we have been on the same page as to the types of players we are after."
If selection is the first step, it is merely the beginning of an international team journey, and Sermanni also has immense pride in the players with a wealth of first team experience, who make the transition so much easier for the new faces in the squad.
“It is quite intimidating for these youngsters – they get a call up and have to join a squad of experienced and established players who have been part of the mix for years.
"Yet this group have done a magnificent job in welcoming, nurturing and encouraging the new girls and that has allowed the evolution of the squad over time, to flow quite effortlessly."
It’s important to him that the culture is recognised, as the maturity of a player can take many years.
Kyah Simon he says is a good example, she has been with the Matildas for five years now, and though there have been peaks and troughs, she is now maturing into a true international player. All this he notes, at an age where no player would be anywhere near the US national side whose average age is some seven or eight years older.
Sermanni noted that difference when the Matildas travelled to the States earlier in the year. There was a preparation difference (the US had played 25 competitive matches that year compared to the Matildas four) but there was also a difference in football maturity. And that gap, the new US boss observes thoughtfully, is narrowing rapidly.
However, before he trades Brighton-Le-Sands for Beverly Hills, Sermanni is focused on the job at hand, and is confident of success.
A 7-0 drubbing of Chinese Taipei in the opening fixture was satisfying, but unlike previous defensive encounters, the game was open and positive which Sermanni says made it easier for the Australians.
“We expected them to come out and defend with nine players, but they came out in a 4-4-2 and really tried to play and we were happy with way the game was allowed to play and were able to take advantage of that.
"Hong Kong may prove more difficult, but if they park all the girls in the 18 yard box, we have a plan to counter that."
The Matildas play Hong Kong on Thursday and then round out their qualification campaign on Sunday against hosts China.
The views in this articles are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of FFA.