Matildas legend Melissa Barbieri goes 1v1 with the PFA to discuss her decision to retire from international football, her motivation to prove the ‘haters wrong’, her proudest moments in the green and gold and how the women’s game can move forward.

Q. Had the decision to retire been one you had been considering for a while?

MB: The toll of staying away from my kid was really tough, we were pretty much away this year for six months and to be at the level you need to be at, you need to be in camp for that amount of time. Every time I have been away from Holly, my daughter, you ponder is it all worth it and is it something I can do forever? I have been thinking about it for a little while. I’m now 35 and I don’t have a full-time job and it’s time to start becoming an adult I guess.


Q. How hard was it to make that decision after 13 years with the Matildas?

MB: People always tell me try to go out on top, don’t slide away into the shadows. For a time I was contemplating retiring into the shadows but I pushed forward to try to go out on top and I get to go out with my head held high having changed a lot of people’s opinions about me. I would rather people say they missed me rather than kicking me out the door.


Q. You made your debut in 2002, what are your memories?

MB: I remember it being a clean sheet against Canada. We had just lost to them in the previous match, which I didn’t play, so needles to say my debut game is what put me in good stead to play the next few matches. My second game was against the USA in the USA so that was an amazing achievement to turn my second position into a number one position.


Q. How did the change of position from an outfield player to a keeper come about?

MB: In the first year I had to convince everyone I was no longer a field player. Every time I would have to turn up to training and say ‘I’m a goalkeeper now’ and convince everyone. Once they saw me in goals with zero training they thought ok we will give you a go.


Q. So it was your decision?

MB: The Doctors had said I could no longer play football because of an injury I was suffering. I made the choice to become a goalkeeper because otherwise I would not have been able to continue playing at the level I wanted to. It was only hamstring tendinitis but when you don’t have the resources to sort that out it hinders your options for getting over it.


Q. Six years after making your debut for the Matildas the W-League was established. How different was this compared to what you had previously been used to?

 MB: It was amazing. I used to look at the A-League and I was jealous that they would get to play week-in-week out. I was working with the Melbourne Victory a lot as Ernie Merrick was a big supporter ofmine and he would let me train with them and that made me a better goalkeeper.


Q. In 2009 you would be named as the new Matildas captain following the retirement of Cheryl Salisbury. How big of a moment was this for you?

MB: It was a huge honour. I remember being in New Zealand when Tommy (Tom Sermanni) told me and I was a little bit cautious because I didn’t know how the team would take it. I was thinking ‘I hope the girls agree’ but then I remembered the girls had voted as we had taken a vote about the captaincy. When you are given the captaincy by your teammates because of how they feel about you that is the best honour you can have. It’s one thing to have your coach make you captain but to have your teammates put your name forward that’s an amazing feeling.


Q. You would end up captaining the Matildas to the Asian Cup win in 2010; did you realise at the time how big that was for Australian football?

MB: All we wanted to do was to make the World Cup. Asia is a very tough confederation. When we beat Japan in the semi-final we thought wow we could actually win this. Tommy was one of these people that’s just ‘all the pressure is of, whether you win or loose don’t worry about it.’ He took the pressure of us and when we beat North Korea on penalties it was such an amazing feeling. It wasn’t until after that we sat back and realised that we were the first Australian team to win silverware.


Q. Not too long after that you would welcome your daughter Holly to the world; had you always planned to return to football?

MB: It was good timing as we had not made the Olympics. I got pregnant straight away so there wasn’t much pondering I just thought ‘I will see how I feel about everything afterwards.’ I thought if I miss football whilst I’m pregnant well that would be a good indication that I would want to come back and play. I was involved with Mike Mulvey with the Melbourne Victory team, helping with coaching. Three days before I had Holly I was at A-League Grand Final so I knew I wouldn’t be able to give the game up.

After I had Holly and some surgery I was able to get back on my feet and I asked my local club if I would come and train and start again.


Q. How hard was that comeback?

MB: It all started with my nutrition. I had a really balanced diet and got my body right from the inside out. When I got back onto the field it was difficult, you have to wait for everything to come back. It took a lot of determination and a lot of people said ‘you are not the player you were.’


Q. Did that spur you on?

MB: I have always been motivated by the haters. If they wanted me to be retired that was certainly something I was not going to do. I was given a lifeline by Adelaide. Ross Aloisi came in and said ‘I want her as my goalkeeper because I know she wants to make the national team and that is the type of drive I want to help us win games.’ So it was very much his decision. I had great support with a sister living in Adelaide, so I had an in-home babysitter. There was no way I would have been able to do it if my husband didn’t let me take Holly with me. So his support was amazing.


Q. You would be called-up to the Matildas in the lead-up to the World Cup; was that a relief after all the work you put in?

MB: My focus was I needed to treat every training session like a game. I need to be focused, I needed to be on my game to make sure I left nothing to chance so that I knew I had done everything I could.


Q. It was a grueling schedule in the lead-up to the World Cup; how hard was it to be away from your daughter?

MB: My Mum would look after Holly at home when I left so it was very difficult. But in saying that Holly has always been close with my Mum, so it was more tough for me. I had to have a game like mentality where you lock everything out. It might have sounded like I was bit of a crappy mum because I didn’t want to talk about her, because if I started talking about her it reminded me of how much I was missing her.


Q. You started the first game of the 2015 World Cup; what was running through your head as you came out onto the pitch?

MB: It was a massive honour to be given the reins. It was an amazing feeling to be trusted, that feeling first and foremost was running through my head. The first game against the USA, the eventual World Champions, being able to belt out that National Anthem one last time, I knew I had every ones backing and I think I changed the opinions of some people.


Q. How do you look back on the rest of the World Cup?

MB: You look back and you know how well we did but in that moment we really thought we were going all the way. In that game against Brazil, everyone thought we were not going to win, but we knew we were going to win. The weather for the match against Japan made it really difficult especially on the artificial turf. We look back and it’s a learning curve. The team is really young and hopefully in four-years time the lesson we learned in that game will hold us in good stead.


Q. You retire after four World Cup Finals appearances and an Asian Cup win, but what your highlights from your 13 years with the Matildas?

MB: I really enjoyed the battles to prove people wrong. I had them early in my career and then again after I had Holly. When you have to go through all the crap to come out the other side. It’s such a great feeling to battle though and succeed.


Q. Finally, what needs to be done to help women’s football grow?

MB: People need to get out and watch us. A lot of people have perceptions about women’s football but they have never been to a game. Get out to a game and support us.


Each week the PFA with go 1v1 with a current or former player to gain an insight into their lives on and off the pitch.