Graham Arnold is Australian. Is that enough?

Stuart Thomas Columnist

By Stuart Thomas, Stuart Thomas is a Roar Expert

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    I’ll never forget my feelings when Ange Postecoglou was appointed as manager of the Socceroos.

    Watching him develop as a player, leader and manager in Australia, all the way from his early days with the South Melbourne Football Club to his eventual appointment as national coach, engendered a sense of pride and satisfaction that could best be described as nationalism.

    The cynics would have interpreted my mood as evidence of the chip on the shoulder of Australian football fans. They would have cited the continued obsession in Australian football; proving itself to the broader community.

    If that was me, I’ll cop it, in full knowledge that my thoughts around the announcement were connected to pride and pleasure rather than bitterness, one-up-man-ship and giving it to the sceptics.

    After NSL success with South Melbourne as a player and manager, masterminding the astonishing run of the all-conquering Brisbane Roar and more silverware with Melbourne Victory, Postecoglou became something of a managerial icon in Australia.

    Writers from social and sporting quarters were all talking about the Greek migrant who had embraced a new life in Australia, with football as his means to assimilate with his new country and connect with his traditionally minded father.

    His wonderful autobiography, Changing the Game; Football in Australia Through My Eyes, speaks of the challenges and opportunities he encountered and is an inspirational text for all Australians, regardless of sporting or political allegiances.

    Postecoglou’s pre-tournament comments at the 2015 Asian Cup, reflected the intense media pressure rightfully present for such a big event and expressed a plain and simple confidence that underlined his entire coaching career.

    I wrote about it at the time in an early column for The Roar and was mystified by his words. Quite succinctly he said of the media, “As long as they stand by their opinion when the story unfolds”.

    It was an astonishingly confident and almost arrogant message to the press, among whom there would have been many well satisfied with failure, such is the ignorance and distain towards the game in this country.

    Ange Postecoglou Football Australia Socceroos 2017

    (AAP Image/Matt Roberts)

    As Postecoglou and the players walked the ground after the glory of the final against South Korea, Australian football took another step forward, I was so proud that an Australian had been at the helm.

    Don’t get me wrong, the multicultural diversity of this country is one of its most essential and valuable ingredients; my little 14 and 10-year-old Lebanese-Australian kids are testament to that.

    However, seeing the Wallabies or the Australian cricket team coached by foreigners always irked me. Surely we had an Australian with a better knowledge and understanding of the local scene and players?

    In the case of rugby perhaps not, cricket however, has no excuse.

    In football’s case, we rarely did.

    Through the Les Scheinflug, Eddie Thomson and Frank Arok years, irrespective of where those wonderful contributors to Australian football stood in terms of citizenship, they always felt like foreigners helping us out.

    Terry Venables and Guus Hiddink, were hired guns, employed with a sole purpose in mind.

    Many longed for the arrival of an Australian, not only professionally qualified and capable of taking over the reins but someone who could be symbolic; a metaphor for the changing face of the game in this country.

    Postecoglou became that man and FFA representatives gate-crashed every one of his successful dressing rooms, doused in champagne, as World Cup qualification and Asian Cup success whet the public’s appetite for more.

    The governing body now face a compelling challenge in determining whether to back the best Australian candidate against the impressive resumes of an apparently now small group of foreigners interested in coaching our Socceroos.

    The ‘shortlist’ compiled by the FFA in preparation for their announcement in mid-February is a mystery to most and perhaps the bookies odds tell us more than we could ever know, however, there is no doubt that the nationality of the Sydney FC mentor is a factor.

    Two schools of thought are clearly on the minds of the powers at be.

    One line of thinking correctly suggests that the best candidate should be offered the position. Yet what exactly is the metric for the best candidate.

    A World Cup campaign in Russia where the Socceroos compete well, threaten in all their group matches and score goals would be a good achievement and the second phase would be admirable.

    However, does the appointment of Arnold offer something more to the bigger picture in Australian football?

    This logically leads to the second school of thought and the simple question, ‘does Graham Arnold get a leg up in this interview process because he is an Australian?’

    Much will be made of his knowledge of the local scene, the Australian players and his experience with the Socceroos in years passed. As disappointing as some of that history was, he has proven himself as a man more than willing to learn.

    Graham Arnold

    (AAP Image/David Moir)

    His development as a manager and more importantly, a recruiter, has been clear and deserves merit yet does he offer something to the position of national coach that other foreigners might not be able to bring?

    The FFA will need to weigh up these factors and decide whether another A-League Manager could in fact be world class. Sydney FC’s style should come into discussion, as should Arnold’s analysis of his own limitations and the areas in which he can improve.

    The answer is undoubtedly blowing in a Dylan-esque wind and the question will be much discussed over the next fortnight. Retrospect will provide the clearest of twenty/twenty vision.

    All I know is that the decision is immensely important, difficult and fraught with danger.

    Let’s hope they get it right.

    Stuart Thomas
    Stuart Thomas

    Stuart Thomas is a sports writer and educator who made the jump from Roar Guru to Expert in 2017. An ex-trainee professional golfer, his sporting passions are broad with particular interests in football, AFL and rugby league. His love of sport is only matched by his passion for gardening and self-sustainability. Follow him on Twitter @stuartthomas72.

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    The Crowd Says (46)

    • Roar Guru

      January 23rd 2018 @ 7:20am
      Atawhai Drive said | January 23rd 2018 @ 7:20am | ! Report

      A good piece but one that has been overtaken by events: Graham Arnold has ruled himself out of taking the Socceroos’ reins for the World Cup.

      Arnold appears to have left his options open for later in the year, but who’s in the frame for Russia?

      Ray Gatt of The Australian reckons that FFA wants Roberto Mancini. Whoever takes over, he won’t be Australian.

      • Columnist

        January 23rd 2018 @ 8:41am
        Stuart Thomas said | January 23rd 2018 @ 8:41am | ! Report

        Agree Atawhai. I actually wrote this on Saturday and it looks like Arnold is out of the short term running. However, I guess the issues are similar for the long term appointment as well.

      • Roar Guru

        January 23rd 2018 @ 1:48pm
        Cousin Claudio said | January 23rd 2018 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

        Is Mancini worth 4 times van Marwijk?
        That Murdoch press article was probably a paid story from Mancini’s agent. Pick up another $4M for 3 months while he waits for the Italy job. Nice money if you can get it.

        I think Van Marwijk is much better value at $1M and would probably stay on after.

        But lets not kid ourselves. This is not the “most important decision in Australian Football history”. With the team we have and the interrupted preparation, they are not going to get past the first round anyway, no matter who the coach is. That chance went with Arnold.

        Even Postecoglou knew that and that’s why he took the $4M p.a. on offer, compared to the $1M FFA offered him.

        Winning a World Cup will take a lot more time, effort and money than Australian Football can currently afford.

    • Roar Guru

      January 23rd 2018 @ 7:39am
      Rick Disnick said | January 23rd 2018 @ 7:39am | ! Report

      I think someone needs to keep up with the current news.

      No, Arnold will not be managing the Socceroos in Russia.

      However, I have always firmly believed that all our national coaches (in any sport) should be Australian. Bring in as many foreign coaches as we like, along with consultants, but the head honcho must be Australian.

      If other countries want to disgrace themselves with mercenaries at the helm… so be it. It just reeks of a weak and insecure nation/sport.

      • January 23rd 2018 @ 1:58pm
        marcel said | January 23rd 2018 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

        Rather Id say, its the sign of a mature nation to recognise that foreign nationals may have greater expertise in a given field.

        • Roar Guru

          January 23rd 2018 @ 4:44pm
          Rick Disnick said | January 23rd 2018 @ 4:44pm | ! Report

          Yes, I’d agree if we’re talking about serious stuff where jobs or lives are at risk. Best person for the job, definately.

          However, we’re not in this case… it’s football. The person who manages the national side should be of the same nationality as the very people they’re managing along with their fans.

          You can’t have a Brazilian playing for Australia (within reason) so I see no reason why the rules should allow for mercenary managers from other countries.

          It’s the first thing I’d change in world football.

    • January 23rd 2018 @ 7:42am
      bobb said | January 23rd 2018 @ 7:42am | ! Report

      looks like Van Marwijk is the bookies favourite and probably the most affordable for the FFA

      • January 23rd 2018 @ 12:52pm
        Albo said | January 23rd 2018 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

        And probably the best choice, if he is fair dinkum in wanting the job ! He has World Cup experience & success, and the Dutch connection seems to work for the Socceroos ?

    • January 23rd 2018 @ 7:46am
      punter said | January 23rd 2018 @ 7:46am | ! Report

      I would love Bielsa. though his English not the strongest & our media may not deal with that.

      • January 23rd 2018 @ 8:12am
        AGO74 said | January 23rd 2018 @ 8:12am | ! Report

        I can’t work out if I am for or against bielsa. Intuitively it seems like the most high risk but with some of the limitations of our team has that maybe what we need to help get us to next round. His football also seems more aligned to Ange’s philosophy.

        I’m not sure a manager who speaks the same language is as big an issue as we think. Obviously it’s not ideal but the football world is so global now there are so many players who don’t speak same language as coaches. He’s also spent last 3 years in France and Italy – not sure what is French and Italian is like.

        What’s of more concern to me is that is that he hasn’t lasted less than 1 year in each of his last 3 jobs at Lille Lazio and Marseille and all have ended in conflict and/or lawsuits not just dismissal. Is there a risk that football is outgrowing his style/tactics/man management skills?

        • January 23rd 2018 @ 9:35am
          reuster75 said | January 23rd 2018 @ 9:35am | ! Report

          Bielsa’s methods might not be best suited to club football as from what I gather he’s a very intense personailty and day in day out that may become difficult for players and officals to deal with. Perhaps his style is better suited to international management where the contact with players isn’t as frequent. I think he’d be an excellent choice as he represents the best continuation of Ange’s philosophy and the general techincal direction Australian football wants to head.

      • Roar Guru

        January 23rd 2018 @ 2:02pm
        Griffo said | January 23rd 2018 @ 2:02pm | ! Report

        I have been clamoring for Bielsa for ages, but I hold similar thoughts to AGO74 – he is a bit of an unknown, and these days if the FFA refused to offer the sort of help with the NT he needed, he is just as likely to walk mid-campaign.

        Still I don’t think a lack of English is as big a problem as potentially would be made out but some areas.

        If he could inspire the players and adapt his philosophy to our mentality, it could be very potent.

        Still I am also a little disappointed that Rangnick doesn’t appear to be on the list (or didn’t want the role), as he seemed potentially an ideal possibility for a reasonable wage, compared to Bielsa.

        Mancini seems to have priced himself out of the running.

        The FFA wage fund is going to be a hard limit on who really is in the running.

    • January 23rd 2018 @ 7:53am
      AGO74 said | January 23rd 2018 @ 7:53am | ! Report

      I think the FFA are on the right track with the foreigner World Cup appointment and (likely) appointment of Arnie post World Cup for a few reasons.

      Firstly the circumstances are different. the crowd was screaming for Ange 4 years ago after the verbeek/osieck eras. A coach who understood the Australian mentality (which neither osieck or verbeek neither understood or bought into) and who had clear success at domestic level. Stuart noted arok, Thomson etc and whilst they were not born on these shores and even later moved on to other countries post Socceroos it cannot be argued that they did not understood the Australian mentality and more importantly bought into it.. It seems cliche to talk about the mentality but it is an important component which the coaches between hiddink and Ange did not get.

      After the Ange era I also think this team needs a bit of a circuit breaker and Arnie is not quite that – at least not yet. An international coach with zero ties to previous assists in doing this.

      The benefit of this appointment right now is that the World Cup is in less than six months so we are an attractive proposition for the right international coach (whoever that may be) and – presumably- take Arnie along for the journey.

      I do believe Arnie is the best for long term post World Cup. People don’t like him because he’s a bit gruff (sounds like the last 18 months of the Ange era) and is seen to play unattractive football (just on that has anybody been watching Sydney fc this year?) but his success is inarguable at both CCM and Sydney. You won’t see fans of CCM or Sydney talking badly of him.

      He’s proven his ability to help develop unknowns into star players (Ryan sainsbury rogic to name but a few) and to turn average to good players to another level (vukovic, Jurman brillante). People also talk about the imports but remember that all comes down to the ability to recruit effectively (eg both Adrian and ninko came as unknowns and inside the salary cap not as marquees). For every ninkovic or Adrian there has been a piovacarri, cutie Saba or budzinski elsewhere. He has proven himself over a long time at both big and small clubs. If FFA is serious he has to be the next coach. If not they run the risk of ending up (when you consider salary offered) of another osieck or verbeek.

      Lastly I’d say that the only real negative that came of Ange’s appointment last time was the disruption that it did cause to Victory. The logic to me is suggesting that that FFa are conscious of this in choosing a new coach but I cannot be certain given it is the FFA.

      • January 23rd 2018 @ 8:07am
        punter said | January 23rd 2018 @ 8:07am | ! Report

        Well put Ago74!!! A lot of unfair criticism of Arnie.

      • January 23rd 2018 @ 10:13am
        Fadida said | January 23rd 2018 @ 10:13am | ! Report

        Great post. I can’t believe people still talk about the style that Sydney play. Arnold has shown he can build on a workmanlike base, adding layers of flair. He’s become more adaptable.

      • January 23rd 2018 @ 12:38pm
        Midfielder said | January 23rd 2018 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

        Agree AG

      • January 23rd 2018 @ 12:56pm
        Lionheart said | January 23rd 2018 @ 12:56pm | ! Report

        fair call
        It’s not that he’s gruff that concerns me, but his demeanour on the sideline, his inevitable criticism of the opponent and willing excuses when his team is below par, and his use of cynical tactics in defence (less so this year).
        I don’t think he’ll enhance our reputation in Asia somehow, but I will be thrilled to be wrong.

      • Roar Guru

        January 23rd 2018 @ 1:58pm
        Griffo said | January 23rd 2018 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

        AGO74 – judging from his previous national appointment, I don’t think he has really been challenged as keenly when the pressure was on from poor results since that time. I think that persona would emerge again with a poor run of national results.

        Still Arnold has come along way since then, at least as a club coach, but how will that translate to the National Team long term remains to be seen.

        An earlier post below I think we are better off long term keeping a foundation (some) of what Ange built and build it up some more, at least from an FFA perspective.

        If they are just purely going for a foreign named coach for short term marketing then that is poor.

        If a foreign coach does well and wants to stay with the pay on offer, is that going to be a good decision if it is Pim-era defensive counter attack rather than the attack mantra we have been used to (if somewhat nullified by poorer strike rate and defensive lapses)?

    • January 23rd 2018 @ 7:58am
      chris said | January 23rd 2018 @ 7:58am | ! Report

      “among whom there would have been many well satisfied with failure, such is the ignorance and distain towards the game in this country”. Bogan media so what did you expect?
      Mancini would be my choice. Wonder if he’d go with a back 3? : )

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