‘Extend the season’: Vidosic pleads for improved player welfare

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Melbourne City’s monumental win over Sydney FC was overshadowed by yet another stark reminder of the need for a longer A-League Women’s season.

On the pitch, City secured their biggest win of the season on Sunday afternoon.

By ending Sydney’s undefeated streak 2-1, City move into pole position to secure another ALW premiership.

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Rado Vidosic’s side still have three game remaining but should they win all three against less-fancied opposition than Sydney, they will secure their third premiership in club history.

Yet, despite the monumental victory, the game carried a distinct sadness for the final 10 minutes. After break-out star Holly McNamara appeared to suffer a serious knee injury in the middle of the park.

McNamara has been a revelation in season 2021/22, finding her way into the Matildas’ Asian Cup squad by becoming one of the most dangerous players in the competition on a weekly basis.

Vidosic was clearly devastated in the post-match press conference.

“The doctor has had a look at her, and I think we will send her for an MRI,” he said.

“Fingers crossed it is not that serious.”

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McNamara has suffered an ACL injury already in her young career, so the prospect of another long-term layoff seems cruel at best.

Sydney coach Ante Juric was similarly sympathetic to McNamara’s situation.

“Sadly for them it looks like she [McNamara] could require a knee reconstruction,” he said.

“For me, she is their best and most dangerous player.

“It’s quite sad because it’s the second time it has happened to her.”

Whilst injuries are simply part of sport, the frequency, severity, and consequences of injuries in the ALW are a particular cause for concern.

McNamara joins the likes of Kayla Morrison, Ellie Brush and Gemma Craine as players who have had their season prematurely, or completely, ended by unfortunate injuries.

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The disproportionate effect of injuries in the ALW has not been lost on Vidosic, whose squad has suffered from injury and COVID-related interruptions throughout the season.

In praising the performances of Leticia McKenna and Meisha Westland, Vidosic highlighted the difficulty for players returning from time out of this season in particular.

“We have had a number of players suffer from injury and COVID,” he said.

“Some of them struggled physically when they came back to get into that rhythm of training and fitness.”

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Whilst Vidosic was aware that injuries and off-field difficulties are inevitable in football, he does not believe that the players are being adequately looked after in the current climate.

“It is unfortunate when you consider COVID and having so many games in such a short period of time,” he said.

“I would suggest that they extend the season by a week and don’t force us to play so much in such a short period of time. We are not ready for it.

“Covid has been horrendous. Players are getting injured. It is not healthy for them. The wellbeing of the player should be the number one priority.”

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As Vidosic correctly identifies, the length of the season creates fertile ground for injuries to strike.

Players are being asked to play excessively in such a short period, including games at both club and national level.

McNamara for example has played eight games for City since December, whilst also travelling to India to feature in three games for the Matildas during that time.

Crucially, the players expected to carry this workload are rarely full-time professional footballers.

Most have jobs outside football, meaning the year-round commitment to physical conditioning is unrealistic.

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Additionally, most are on short-term contracts, meaning missing even a handful of games could jeopardise their position on an ALW list for next season.

Add to that the possibility of having to recover from serious injury without the support and resources of a year-round contract, and the desire to earn another contract becomes an imperative.

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All of these factors mean the odds are stacked against ALW clubs and players.

COVID has exacerbated these challenges, including the susceptibility to injury.

Whilst McNamara’s injury arguably could have occurred in any season, regardless of the length or workload of players, there is no doubt that playing as regularly as she has in her debut professional season, is a relevant factor.

Extending the season would give players more time to recover from any injuries they do sustain, meaning a single medium-term injury would not necessarily derail an entire season.

Of course, extending the season is a very temporary solution for the failure to fully professionalise the ALW.

Still, in the context of a COVID-impacted season, the need for more time has never been greater.

Feature Image Credit: Melbourne City FC

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Oscar Rutherford
Oscar Rutherford
Sports tragic studying Law/Arts at Monash University. Second-best paid Oscar working in football who has been to China.

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