Feature

Arnie is the right man to prove his critics wrong again

Say what you like about Graham Arnold, but with his appointment as Socceroos coach for the next FIFA World Cup cycle confirmed on Thursday, it is he who gets the last word.

FFA

FFA Chairman Steven Lowy (L) and Graham Arnold Source: Getty Images

His day of total vindication has arrived. After some rocky moments, this fantastic football career has come full circle, and most critically, on his terms. No caveats. No clauses. No “interim” prefix. No interfering hands.

This is his shot at taking the country he loves to an Asian Cup and a World Cup, with nobody but himself in the driver’s seat. He has most surely earned it.

Today, he will feel content. And yet that angry fire within – and a burning desire to prove his doubters wrong – is what has made him so good. It pushed him to a level Australian coaches have seldom known.

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He turned the league’s smallest team with zero budget into the Socceroos’ production line, all whilst breaking their title drought.

Then he took the seemingly-unfixable Sydney FC and made them into Australian football’s very own Bayern Munich: so dominant it seemed unfair they should play in the same league.



But yes, for the sake of Arnie’s critics, let’s go to the elephant in the room. His first spell in charge of the Socceroos was awful. The 2007 Asian Cup was a mess and the much-hyped 2008 Olympics campaign not much better. He's the first to tell you that, by the way.

Yet just as the Socceroos needed to suffer through 2001 to learn how to beat Uruguay in 2005, Arnold had to endure those failures to realise his shortcomings. But the development curve since has exceeded all expectations.

Likewise, although it is seldom spoken about, his ill-fated spell with Sendai schooled him in the dark arts of dressing room politics and club hierarchy; lessons that would prove invaluable in getting the notoriously rebellious Sydney FC dressing room onside. Now his players love him.

Critics wonder if he’s too defensive but that’s patently unfair. He’s not a preacher about beautiful football like Ange Postecoglou but nor is he of Bert van Marwijk’s mindset. He is arguably our best tactical mind – as you might expect from somebody personally taught by Guus Hiddink.

The stats show his A-League teams regularly score huge numbers of goals whilst scarcely conceding. If that’s not a happy medium, I don’t know what is.

The other criticism has been about his agitated demeanour, especially in challenging referees, the FFA or television personalities, but I’ll let you in on a trade secret: much of that is for show. Every microphone is a chance to push his ideas. Now he gets an even bigger stage to do just that.

There are undeniable parallels to Postecoglou, who had a shocking first-up experience with the national team setup, then was forced out and had to have a long look in the mirror.

When eyebrows were raised at Ange’s appointment at Brisbane in 2009, even more went up at Arnold’s appointment at Central Coast in 2010. The industry underestimated the scope of their self-reflection and desire to win.

They now sit unchallenged as Australia’s number one and two coaches. Their worlds have overlapped yet again; Postecoglou has gone to Japan, Arnold to the national team.



And their heir apparent, Tony Popovic – who is hopefully sitting on a beach somewhere, relaxing for the first time in years – is now the obvious choice to replace Arnold at Sydney FC. The destiny of all three seems inexorably intertwined.

As for Arnie, it’s a measure of his character that he’ll now double-down on winning this year's domestic title. He is unbelievably desperate to leave there as the first coach in A-League history to win back-to-back Premiers' Plates.

He will then go to the World Cup, and whilst not directly working with van Marwijk, will be looking to squeeze any edges he can from the Dutchman. There’s bound to be some new ideas for the journey ahead.

It won’t be an easy road, for as we’ve recently seen, Australia’s status as an Asian power is under huge threat, with success in UAE 2019 and qualification for Qatar 2022 anything but assured.

But given all he's achieved in the past decade, and all he's done for the game in this country, would you want anyone else in charge?


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4 min read
Published 8 March 2018 at 5:01pm
By Sebastian Hassett