Milicic takes Matildas' reins from Stajcic

Ante Milicic has been installed as Matildas coach to succeed the sacked Alen Stajcic.
Ante Milicic has been installed as Matildas coach to succeed the sacked Alen Stajcic.

Football Federation Australia has given perennial right-hand man Ante Milicic the job of restoring unity within the Matildas and winning this year's World Cup.

The 44-year-old, who has no experience in charge of a women's side, has been appointed as interim national team coach until the end of Australia's June campaign in France.

He succeeds deposed boss Alen Stajcic, fired by FFA last month after surveys and investigations suggested a toxic culture had spread under his leadership.

While Stajcic fights in the court of public opinion against reputational damage, Milicic will take up the post.

"Australia has many fantastic players right now and I know that the squad that is ultimately selected will be eager to seize its chance in France," Milicic said.

He faces a baptism of fire with a friendly series against World Cup-bound trio, New Zealand, South Korea and Argentina, beginning on February 28.

Australia, the world No.6, are expected to perform well in the home matches, running off muscle memory from the Stajcic era.

Milicic said the group would use the matches to "set its standards both on and off the pitch as we look ahead to the FIFA Women's World Cup with great belief and optimism".

It remains to be seen whether the Matildas will take to Milicic given his lack of background in the women's game.

He beat out applicants from Europe, the United States and from home for the much-coveted role, given the close proximity to a World Cup in which the Australians are contenders.

Milicic has a low public profile but is well known and exceptionally well regarded by insiders.

He was briefly considered for the Socceroos' top job after Ange Postecoglou's departure in late 2017.

Milicic and Stajcic, having played together as teenagers in NSW state teams, aren't close but have a high regard for each other.

Milicic won a sprinkling of national team caps as a forward across a long playing career which included stints in the Netherlands, Croatia, Malaysia and at home.

He made the transition to coaching, working with John van 't Schip at Melbourne Heart and Tony Popovic at Western Sydney, before moving to a full-time role at FFA.

Milicic was on the sidelines at the Brazil World Cup under Postecoglou and Russia under Bert van Marwijk, and led the Australian under-23 men's side to a inglorious group-stage exit last year at the underage Asian championship.

After the chastening experience of the Stajcic axing, Milicic's appointment signals FFA's desire of a trusted and steadying hand for its beloved women's team.

England made a similar decision 12 months ago when the FA handed ex-international Phil Neville his first senior job in football as coach of the women's national team.

Neville guided England through World Cup qualification but was engulfed in a sexism row on appointment after his old tweets surfaced which highlighted crass jokes.

Australian Associated Press