Graham Arnold is the veteran of many a “big blue” against Melbourne Victory, but has to pinch himself over the prospect of his biggest blue of all – against English Premier League champions Chelsea.
The hard-bitten Sydney FC manager has spent his life as a world football nomad, but when his Sky Blues take on the regal blue of Chelsea before 83,000 fans in Sydney on Tuesday night he might have a few stars in his eyes, too.
It may be a friendly, but both teams have stressed how serious they are about winning, and Sydney FC’s coach and players alike fully appreciate the rare chance to pit their skills against the reigning EPL champions at the height of their powers, little more than a week after they ended their triumphant season.
When Arnold appeared at a media conference alongside Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, captain John Terry and England’s player of the year Eden Hazard, he spoke of how privileged he felt just to be sitting at the same table as “three world football superstars”.
Arnold feels doubly privileged, having led his team in a 1-0 loss to fifth-placed EPL side Tottenham before 71,500 fans at the same venue on Saturday.
“You have to pinch yourself,” he said.
“This is surreal.
“In the olden days when English teams came out to Australia it was a jolly-up and a party. Now they come with a great professional attitude.”
Sydney FC striker Shane Smeltz said playing Tottenham and Chelsea in the space of four days was a “privilege for everyone, not just Sydney FC but football fans in general”.
Rising Sydney star Terry Antonis has also spoken of how many Chelsea fans are in the Sky Blues dressing room, and is particularly keen to match it against Hazard, describing the speedy Belgian as “unstoppable at times”.
“We have been so excited, not only about meeting them but getting to test ourselves against the Premier League champions,” he said.
Sydney FC will be keen to produce a strong performance against Chelsea to make up for their recent A-League grand final defeat to the navy blue of Melbourne Victory – that’s one big blue they would sooner forget.