We must resist slipping into Arzani-mania

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    In the opening 20 minutes against the Brisbane Roar on Sunday, Melbourne City made quite clear the newly minted value they’ve placed on Daniel Arzani.

    Forming one-fourth of a fluid attacking unit, Arzani enjoyed 26 unique touches in that opening stanza, 22 of them in the Brisbane half, more than any of his attacking colleagues.

    It was obvious City were making a concerted effort not just to involve Arzani, but to play through him, to seek him out. Luke Brattan made a number of diagonal passes out to the 19-year-old, from positions where a pass out to the other flank would have been equally viable.

    In just eight appearances – five starts – Arzani has taken a leading role in a team that has scored more goals and won more games than any other A-League team over the last six rounds.

    You can feel it, can’t you? That bubbling sensation, that effervescent, sugary fizz, that sweet, moreish delight we mustn’t let ourselves give in to. 

    Yes, Arzani is already one of the league’s best dribblers. In 401 minutes played, according to Fox Sports, he’s apparently evaded 12 tackles – only two fewer than James Troisi, who’s played more than three times as many league minutes this season. In fact, if we were to throw a rather ham-fisted ‘tackles-evaded-per-90-minutes’ stat together, Arzani would come out at 2.8, a better rate than the league’s slipperiest dribbler – by volume – Diego Castro, who sits at 27 evaded tackles this season, at a rate of 1.7.

    It’s not just Arzani’s ability with the ball at his feet that makes him such a threat though, it’s also how he prepares for the ball to arrive.

    Any winger worth their salt can receive the ball in this much space, touch it gently into the open field in front of them, and start running at a defender.

    But how many can accept a pass, speared into feet a little later that it might have been, and dance away from a marker with soft, quick touches, all while keeping possession?

    For a winger – especially if you’re a well-known, targeted threat – having the touch and timing required to first control the ball, under heavy pressure, is almost more important than having an arsenal of jinks and feints to dip into once you’ve controlled it.

    This rather unkind – but nonetheless hilarious – ‘tribute’ video made for Kwabena Appiah illustrates how important touch and awareness are for an attacker, regardless of their other physical assets.

    Out-of-control bolters are a dime-a-dozen in the A-League. Lethal, balanced dribblers are far more valuable.

    Arzani had some lovely moments against Brisbane, staging a running battle with Corey Brown, skirmishes he largely had the better of – at one point Brown was seen grinning and back-slapping with Arzani after successfully shepherding the ball out for a goal-kick.

    His value in the open field is striking; the way he sat down Avraam Papadopoulos, effectively running straight through the experienced Greek centre back on the break, was wonderfully effortless.

    Around the hour mark, having just got into a brief sulk after an exchange with the referee, Arzani took up the responsibility of finishing off a sudden counter-attack

    His sharp cut-and-shot was saved, and the rebound chalked off for offside, but the decisiveness and confidence shown to fashion an attempt was refreshing; so often counters like that are bogged down by over-elaboration in the critical final moments. 

    He’s 19, which isn’t wunderkind young, but it’s still young enough to expect Arzani to improve considerably as his career progresses. Players union chief John Didulica came out on Monday saying Australia should “act strategically” with regards to Arzani, and cap him early to ensure he can’t choose to represent Iran at senior international level. 

    Didulica, evidently, has succumbed to that fizzy feeling, and is allowing the mania to overcome his better judgement. Invariably, when young players – already arcing across the night sky thanks to their sparkling on-field efforts – are made the subjects of sensational off-field narratives as well, things tend to end badly.

    If Arzani really wants to represent Iran – his country of birth – then he can, as unlikely as it seems considering he has spent his entire sporting life here, coming through the AIS program. It would be regrettable – and only in largely hypothetical terms – but it wouldn’t be a disaster.

    There is no need to hysterically clamp him to the Socceroos with an acutely conspicuous and highly premature call-up during the first year of Bert van Marwijk’s reign, in a World Cup year. He’s made a pleasing impression on one-third of an A-League season, a cap – at this point, for these reasons – is unnecessary. 

    You don’t even need to look for cautionary examples among other young Australian footballers, just look at another young Australian footballer named Daniel.

    Daniel De Silva is repairing his slightly cracked young career back in the A-League with Central Coast, having suffered through a disjointed trip through Europe. A deal with Roma fell through, and a largely pointless two-year loan to Roda JC in the Eredivisie was cut short with six months to go.

    De Silva – still just 20 years old – was called up by Ange Postecoglou back in 2015, and sat on the bench in a match against Kyrgyzstan. He’s yet to earn another cap, but now appears to be back on the trajectory to do so, after nearly two years wandering through the too-much-too-soon wilderness. 

    So yes, we are allowed to sit and warm ourselves around the hopeful fire Arzani’s eight promising games for City have stoked – this article is not intended to douse it all in cold water.

    But we also don’t need to begin chanting ourselves into a frenzy, and fan the flames into an all-consuming inferno.

    A steady burn, not a flashbulb, is what we want for our bright young stars, and as bright and young as Arzani is, he could do with some more time in the shade. 

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

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    The Crowd Says (60)

    • February 7th 2018 @ 6:00am
      Fadida said | February 7th 2018 @ 6:00am | ! Report

      Usually I’m the most sceptical of people when it comes to the Next Big Thing. Then when you throw in the “cap him before X does” I really start to get annoyed.

      Remember when we were told we needed to cap Brad Smith before England did? The sensible among us said “he’s not even better than Enrique”, who was the (poor) Liverpool first choice left back. How is that going? Are England devastated they lost him?

      Remember when Greece were after Dean Bouzanis, the fight over Ersum Gullum? The desperate call to cap Richard Porta before Uruguay did!

      For every Harry Kewell there are dozens of Jamie McMasters (remember him), Nick Rizzos, Kaz Pataftas, the Next Big Things. Da Silva is looking more Patafta by the game.

      Chris Payne was supposedly the new Viduka. Then it was Eli Babalj. I was more than sceptical about these. With reason it turned out.

      Arzani? He looks like the Next Big Thing. Confidence, balance, technique, decision making, athleticism. He’s a game changer. Providing he gets the right career advice you could easily see him playing in one of the world’s top leagues in the next few years.

      Cap him. Keep him.

      • February 7th 2018 @ 8:41am
        chris said | February 7th 2018 @ 8:41am | ! Report

        Fad agreed. He does seem to be the real deal and not the next Patafta. Being with Melbourne City is a big plus for him with the connections the City Group have. I have a feeling Bert will put him on the plane to Russia

      • Roar Guru

        February 7th 2018 @ 10:38am
        That A-League Fan said | February 7th 2018 @ 10:38am | ! Report

        Yeah. Gotta keep him.

    • February 7th 2018 @ 7:27am
      LuckyEddie said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:27am | ! Report

      He certainly looks to be an exceptional player with an outstanding future. But first he has to play a lot more games and then make a move to a big overseas club to fulfill his potential.

      However, as he has only played a few games other players and managers are only now getting a good look at how he plays and what they can do to counter his skill. There has been busloads of players here and overseas who have had outstanding first seasons but come back to the field quickly as defenders and managers work them out. I think it will be different with this bloke but only time will tell.

      The sticking point for me is what country will he play for and why has he not made a decision. Why do the Australian taxpayers pay out money to develop a player/s, including the overseas jaunts, without getting them to sign that they will play for Australia. Surely it is not to much to ask any kid and their parents to sign a legally binding document to play for Australia before we the taxpayers fork out big bucks. If a player or family refuse phone up the next kid on the list.

      If no document is signed we start to look really stupid because the player could play for Iran, which would be a big loss for us. Secondly he will no doubt sign for a foreign club by the end of this season and we will not see him hear again until he comes back like a lot of other when he is thirty something.

      So it could be that in the end there maybe nothing for us to get excited about.

      • February 7th 2018 @ 11:23am
        Lionheart said | February 7th 2018 @ 11:23am | ! Report

        I’m surprised like you, that AIS graduates don’t have some pay-back or return of service. I guess it’s irrelevant now, but NZ NT has a couple of players who grew up here, attended QAS, no questions asked, and quite a few in other sports gain scholarships to Aus sports schools.

      • Roar Guru

        February 7th 2018 @ 4:04pm
        Kaks said | February 7th 2018 @ 4:04pm | ! Report

        Arzani is a family friend of mine, his father and my father know each other very well. His father is pushing him to play for Iran.

        “However, as he has only played a few games other players and managers are only now getting a good look at how he plays and what they can do to counter his skill.”

        Was thinking the same thing, he definitely has great balance, technique, skill and a footballing brain which you cant teach – however he was a bit unknown, now he is on everyone’s radar and teams will be looking to nullify him. If he can continue to dictate games then I will be very impressed.

    • February 7th 2018 @ 7:36am
      Waz said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:36am | ! Report

      The cynical side of me says Evan would be writing a different article were Arzani playing in Sydney blue instead of the Sky-blue of City lol.

      I watched Arzani on Sunday v Roar and he was worth the admission fee alone. His movement off the ball is excellent, his attacking intent superb, his competitive spirit impressive. He is definitely a young talent to be admired and enjoyed.

      • February 7th 2018 @ 7:55am
        Fadida said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:55am | ! Report

        Agree Waz. I made sure I didn’t miss the game and was disappointed he came off. It was like when Gilchrist used to get out and you felt like turning off the cricket!

        The kid is seriously talented. He reminds me of Nani, formerly of Manchester United. I honestly believe he could get to that level too.

        I’d love to see him play a full season of association football before he leaves this sunburnt land (for Lee). I think he could dominate like Mooy did in his last season.

        • February 7th 2018 @ 8:22am
          Kangajets said | February 7th 2018 @ 8:22am | ! Report

          Love the Gilchrist reference. I felt the same angst when Gilly got out .

    • Columnist

      February 7th 2018 @ 7:50am
      Stuart Thomas said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:50am | ! Report

      All really depends on where the mind of the man himself sits right now. If Iran is a serious consideration for him that changes selection a little. If he dreams of a long Socceroos career, that time in the shade might serve him well. Thanks Evan, enjoyable angle.

    • February 7th 2018 @ 8:14am
      Nemesis said | February 7th 2018 @ 8:14am | ! Report

      “he’s apparently evaded 12 tackles – only two fewer than James Troisi, who’s played more than three times as many league minutes this season”

      It’s nonsensical to compare Arzani & Troisi in this regard.

      Troisi plays central midfield for his team, Arzani plays on the wing. So, the nature of playing wide in attack means you have more opportunity to dribble.

      Rather, you should compare him to other wide attackers.

      Arzani is 19 years old. Yes, his technical attributes are at an extremely high level. His physical & tactical attributes also seem to be elite.

      Will he be an outstanding professional?

      That all depends on how badly he wants to be a professional. Over my football viewing life I’ve seen dozens of Arzani talents when watching u17 and u20 World Cups. Superbly technically talented kids, but they fail before the professional level.

      In the past 20 years, at Man United kids with sublime technical ability like: Luke Chadwick, Federico Macheda, Adnan Januzaj… all failed to take the next step.

      If you go through the list of u17 & u20 World Cup Champions, you’ll find the majority of names never took the next step at senior level. Champions of the world at ages 16-20; out of the industry a few years later.

      Arzani has the right foundation. Does he take the next step? How badly does he want it?

      This discussion is worth a look.

    • February 7th 2018 @ 8:21am
      Kangajets said | February 7th 2018 @ 8:21am | ! Report

      Give him a chance with the Socceroos friendly in March . While his confidence is sky high

      I remember when Venables gave a very confident 18 year old called Harry Kewell a game for Australia, his confidence rubbed off on all the players around him .

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