Matildas defender Emma Checker believes the W-League will continue to be a vital contributor within Australia’s football ecosystem if standards are maintained and gains of recent years are advanced.

Checker is one of a growing number of Australian players who have signed for a club in Europe but credited the W-League as forming the “biggest and most valuable part” of her football career to date.

The 24-year-old recently joined FC Fleury 91 in the French first division after nine seasons in the W-League.

“I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to enter the league when I was 15 in Adelaide and ever since until now, I have been a part of the league,” Checker said.

“All my football opportunities have stemmed from playing in the W-League; whether it be national team call ups, overseas opportunities, networking and so much more.

“Since my first season in the league, the progress has been immense.

“The minimum standards of the league have continued to grow and evolve season each season. Whether that be in regard to facilities, medical support, remuneration, resources, professionalism, travel, the list is ongoing. Having a CBA introduced was another big progression and important addition to the league.”

With Australia’s domestic leagues likely to undergo a reboot following the impact of coronavirus, the W-League faces a challenge to retain Australian – and international – talent as the appeal of European club football grows.

Read the PFA’s W-League 2019/20 Report

Checker emphasises that in the face of this test, the W-League will need to ensure it maintains the progress it has achieved. 

“I think it is hard to predict exactly where the W-League is heading at this stage,” Checker said.

“It is obviously going to be a challenging time for all clubs to replace the players that have shifted to overseas leagues and clubs; however, I do believe that the league will continue to attract high quality players and remain of a high standard. 

“We have obviously reached a point where retaining players is more difficult with overseas opportunities growing and becoming more appealing, so it is important that the W-League is still treated in high regard to ensure that it can not only continue to attract star internationals, but also attract Australian players to return when the time is right.”

One of the drawcards of European club football is that Checker will be able to ensure a significant increase in game time and vital match minutes in France.

The Division 1 Féminine season consists of 22 matches – and additional fixtures come in the form of Cup football – compared with the W-League’s 12 regular season games.

“It is very hard to match the big European leagues in the sense that being at a European club with full year contracts and seasons creates a stability that you can’t get in the W-League,” Checker said.

“That is not to say that we cannot match those leagues in Australia because for years we have seen the strong connection with the NWSL and players going between the season in America and season in Australia.”

One way the W-League can remain competitive against overseas clubs is through maintaining high competition standards, Checker believes.

“To remain competitive the W-League needs to maintain those standards that have been developed over time and ensure the pathway is always forwards in direction,” Checker said.

“Obviously there are some uncontrollable factors that can make this difficult but as a whole the direction needs to remain progressive and positive. 

“Based on the growth in other leagues around the world, I think we need to remain open-minded to the potential of being flexible in the way the league is structured; however, not in a way that hinders the growth we have already made.”

Checker acknowledges there are challenges associated with football’s rebuild following the impact of a global pandemic, but she warns that the game must not shy away from ambition.

“The main thing is that we all stick together and continue to push high standards to ensure that we keep all areas covered in the most effective way we can,” Checker said. 

“The youth pathways, Matildas and W-League are all investments that work together to achieving the same main goal of being at the best level we can be for football within Australia so we can’t have one working without them all working.”

Despite experiencing her ‘favourite’ campaign in the W-League last season, the prospect of guaranteeing a calendar year of football in a professional environment was the catalyst for Emma Checker’s recent move to French club Fleury 91.

It’s a trend that has repeated itself countless times during the W-League off-season, with significant numbers of high-profile players choosing Europe as a destination to advance their careers.

“The main motivation was simply wanting to be the best I can be and in an environment that is going to give me the best chance at achieving my goals; those being to go to the Olympics and be a more consistent part of the Matildas squad,” Checker said. 

“I felt I needed to be somewhere with the guarantee of a professional environment all year round to build consistency in games. The club have been very welcoming and the girls are great so I am looking forward to the season.”

For Checker, her ninth and most recent season in the W-League was her favourite – something she attributes to Melbourne City’s investment in and integration of the club’s W-League team.

“The last season of the W-League was my favourite of all. I experienced something so special in being a part of Melbourne City. Obviously, the success was extremely exciting and rewarding but it was everything behind the scenes as well. 

“The club itself was impressive and raised the bar in every way around women’s football. Personally, I had my best season and that is a credit to the incredible players I had around me along with the quality of coaching, staff, facilities and resources. We worked incredibly hard for the success we achieved as a team and a club and it is a season I will forever be proud to have been part of.

“The standards and expectations are consistent throughout the club and I believe that this all has a direct link to the success we achieved in the last season.”

As Checker embarks on a new career opportunity in France, she says its vital that the game does not forget – or neglect – the importance of the W-League in shaping the lives and careers of professional female players.

“It is really important that in a time where we are seeing so many players including myself leave to take up opportunities overseas that we don’t forget what the W-League has done for all of us.”