Sometimes rebels are the best leaders. Now that sentence is maybe one of the most ridiculous lines anyone could read, but consider these figures: headstrong Wolverine rallying the X-Men; vicious former criminal Paul captaining the apostles in the Book of Acts, and Andre Agassi being Andre Agassi, without hair, in guiding tennis past age 30.
Rebels just have that edge to them, where an undeniable personality can galvanize the pack they are destined to lead.
Australia attacker Lisa De Vanna is very much a rebel, making her the perfect person at the heart and soul of Australia’s greatest performance ever at a World Cup – men or women. At the moment, no one has constructed a better case to be Canada 2015’s Golden Ball winner than De Vanna. She has made a major impact in each of the Matildas’ four games, including firing the shot that lead to Brazilian keeper Luciana’s spill and Kyah Simon’s game winner versus the Samba queens for a famous 1-0 win in Moncton.
“To be where we are, we are on a high at the moment, “ De Vanna told the Soccer Gods. “We’re playing some very good soccer. And when you’re in the Group of Death, it’s like playing in the knockout stage and you’re hungry and that any problems or mistakes could cost you a World Cup.”
It’s an eye-catching transformation for a player who four years ago made Hope Solo seem as well-behaved as Brianna Scurry.
Before the 2011 reality show mess she mustered up, De Vanna appeared destined to battle Marta for the best player in the world after she burst onto the international scene in 2007. Blessed with Arjen Robben-esque pace and a left foot canon, the then-22-year-old De Vanna was one of the revelations of China World Cup. With her late father on her mind, the diminutive outside forward dedicated all three of her goals in the tournament to him. She capped it off with a tally against eventual finalists Brazil in a 3-2 game that showcased how the Matildas were about to be the next superpower of the women’s game. De Vanna was cast as one of its brightest stars.
And then they weren’t. And neither was she.
Australia went on to lose twice to North Korea and failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympics. It got much worse for De Vanna three years later. A product of arguably the roughest Australian city of Perth, De Vanna grew up around a crowd that exposed her to the drugs, drinking and other forms of debauchery in which they partook. That intense upbringing shaped an anti-authority streak in De Vanna, and it exploded before the 2011 World Cup. She didn’t want to be part of the team photo. She didn’t want to talk to the media. And she didn’t even want to do the simple things in training that every player is expected to do.
That peak insubordination prompted then-Australia coach (now Canada assistant coach and former US manager) Tom Sermanni to kick her off the squad for Germany 2011. It came on the heels of Facebook photos of an inflatable penis in September 2010 that she was ordered to take down.
De Vanna knew there and then that a change was required in order to not be another lost star in sports. A golden generation of Aussie talents, such as Caitlin Foord, Emily van Egmond, Stephanie Catley and Sam Kerr among many, were waiting for someone to lead them and put Australia alongside the Germans, Americans and French. The Matildas had already proved they belonged alongside the Japanese, beating them in route to winning the Asian Cup in 2010 with De Vanna a key figure. But their 3-1 routine dismissal at the hands of Sweden in Germany proved that in order to reach their peak, their prime rebel had to be unleashed to the world again.
Humbled by her time away from the Matildas, the now 30-year-old De Vanna refound her desire to guide the nation.
“Obviously, it’s more the fact of my experience and the hunger I have has put me in more of a leadership role,” De Vanna said. “I’m still growing and learning the communication side of things. It’s still not my strength and (I’m) trying to get belief in the team. And I think the belief in me as a player on the field, when things don’t work or when things are good, will keep going. And as we progress more, we are starting to get more confidence versus world-class teams.”
De Vanna credited her manager, Alen Stajcic, for bringing that key mental component Australia had lacked.
“Him being a (Australian) W-League (coach) obviously has him know the personnel of players,” De Vanna said. “He’s very competitive and he doesn’t like to lose. And he does whatever it takes to win. One thing he brought into us is made us believe that we are one of the best football nations. It’s a tough thing to do, and I give him full credit for that.”
No matter what happens in the latter stages of Canada 2015, Lisa De Vanna has shown the world why she has been one of women’s soccer most tantalizing talents over the last decade. And it would be just in her rebellious nature for the 5’1” dynamo to go against established order and create a new world soccer pyramid before her career is done.