Graham Arnold isn’t Ange Postecoglou, but they’re not polar opposites

Tim Palmer Columnist

By Tim Palmer, Tim Palmer is a Roar Expert

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    Graham Arnold is more like Ange Postecoglou than you may think. (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

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    Graham Arnold’s appointment as the long-term Socceroos coach following the World Cup has been met with a surprising backlash.

    There is general disappointment that Arnold represents a move away from the ‘never take a backwards step’ culture of Ange Postecoglou.

    Postecoglou’s era was about changing the mentality of Australian football. He wanted the side to take the game to their opponents – no matter who they were – and always encouraged positive, attack-minded football, an attitude he felt was more reflective of the typical Australian culture, as opposed to previous, underdog approaches.

    By contrast, Arnold is a safety-first, cautious coach. This, however, is a simplistic analysis.

    To understand how the Socceroos have and will be shaped by the predecessor and the successor, it is important to acknowledge the differences, and appreciate the similarities, between Postecoglou and Arnold.

    Both coaches have similar long-term goals, but different mentalities in how to reach that goal.

    One of Postecoglou’s great strengths is his ability to sell a vision. He paints a clear picture of where he wants his team to go, and importantly, how they will get there.

    In his first press conference as Socceroos coach, he said he wanted to win the World Cup, and in the process of doing so, to restore pride and belief to the national team, and ensure they represent the core values of the country. Throughout his tenure, his decision-making process was based upon ‘never taking a backwards step’. This meant pursuing world-class infrastructure, playing a modern brand of football, and implementing best practice match and squad preparation.

    The goal was to win, but it was the way in which they won that mattered to Postecoglou. That vision, and emphasis on process, is significant.

    Newly appointed Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou gestures to the crowd

    Image: AAP/Joe Castro

    In an interesting parallel, Arnold outlined similarly lofty goals in his own initial press conference as Socceroos boss.

    “I dream of winning the Asian Cup and the World Cup. That’s what I’m going for. That’s what we’re here for,” the Sydney FC coach said.

    “We’re not going there to make up numbers and I know there’s a high expectation level in Australia and it should be because we have a winning mentality.

    “And that needs to continue.”

    That it needs to ‘continue’ is a curious choice of wording, because it shows that Arnold considered Postecoglou’s Socceroos possessed this quality. It also shows that it is something Arnold himself values.

    This is much is evident in the way his current Sydney FC side (as well as his Championship-winning Central Coast Mariners) are driven by a desire for continued excellence. It is a ruthless, resilient mentality, and one shared by Arnold and Postecoglou.

    Where they are different (and only subtly) is in how they approach this outcome.

    Postecoglou is driven by winning, in his eyes, “the perfect game”. He wants to win with a specific style of football, and by the dream of dominating the opponent through this style.

    Arnold, by comparison, is more pragmatic, less driven by the style of play. That is not to say he doesn’t have specific tactics and strategy (he certainly does – Sydney FC, for example, have a strikingly discernible playing style) but they are not wedded to the idea of executing that style perfectly in order to win.

    Winning, in itself, is enough. The style of play is a byproduct. For Postecoglou, it is the product.

    Sydney head coach Graham Arnold raises his arms as he celebrates victory at the final whistle during the FFA Cup Final between Sydney FC and Adelaide United at Allianz Stadium in Sydney, Saturday, November 121, 2017.

    AAP Image/David Moir

    Yet in terms of some aforementioned aspects of a high-performance environment, Arnold and Postecoglou are again strikingly similar.

    When Postecoglou got the national team role, he brought Peter Cklamovski on board to introduce video and athlete monitoring systems that were otherwise non-existent. Arnold did the same at Sydney, appointing Doug Kors to implement one of the most comprehensive analysis departments in the A-League, working alongside the A-League’s foremost sport scientist and strength and conditioning coach, Andrew Clark.

    Postecoglou and Arnold both appreciate the value of quality backroom staff and systems.

    The greatest and perhaps most obvious difference between the two coaches is in their style of play.

    Whereas Postecoglou’s approach was about quick, incisive attacking play, aggressive positioning high up the pitch and high pressing, Arnold is more structured – the side builds up slowly, ensures they are protected against counter-attacks and focus on getting talented attackers on the ball where they can be effective.

    Assuming Arnold continues with his usual template, in his first game in charge, the Socceroos will be structured and organised defensively – straight lines and rigid collective movement. Postecoglou’s first game was about going forward, fluidity and diagonal running.

    Regardless of what you consider the ‘right’ way to play, or even what the ‘right’ way for an Australian team to play, there are still core values that Arnold and Postecoglou share that can be considered Australian.

    While there can be debate and discussion about whether Arnold’s tactics are truly suited to an international level, it is difficult to see logic in some arguments that have suggested he is the antithesis of the previous regime.

    Graham Arnold may not be Ange Postecoglou, but he is still Australian.

    Tim Palmer
    Tim Palmer

    Tim is a football coach, writer, analyst and sports scientist. He has worked with the Socceroos in an analysis role, has completed the FFA B Licence, is currently a player in the Australian Deaf Football Team and coaches in the NSW NPL. You can follow him on Twitter @timpalmerftbl.

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    The Crowd Says (45)

    • March 14th 2018 @ 6:42am
      JonJax said | March 14th 2018 @ 6:42am | ! Report

      GA might be Australian, but his football philosophy is more attune with the Eddie Thompson era of Socceroo stewardship, hardly the aspirational statement espoused and practised by AP.

      • March 14th 2018 @ 8:33am
        punter said | March 14th 2018 @ 8:33am | ! Report

        I think Jon, you need to watch SFC play a bit more, yes no doubt Arnie is a bit more pragmatic then Ange, but SFC plays some very good passing game considering the limit in the salary cap.

    • March 14th 2018 @ 7:51am
      Kris said | March 14th 2018 @ 7:51am | ! Report

      Strawman argument. Tell us what we think, then tell us why we are wrong.

    • March 14th 2018 @ 8:00am
      j,binnie said | March 14th 2018 @ 8:00am | ! Report

      Tim- As a young pundit to the game your views are very admirable but the longer you are part of the world game the more you will come to realise that there are “many ways to skin a cat”.
      Ange and Graham are coaches,a breed of men and characters that say many things to their “press” and, through them, to their “fans”, but who in private ,have their own thoughts on how success can be achieved on the field.
      This is what makes the great game so interesting.
      Ange’s success story started at Brisbane Roar where, given a job by a management “at it’s wits end” , he proceeded to put together an eleven that enabled him to replicate his “perfect team”, the Barcelona of that day.
      That success proved to be the start of a “reputation for perfection” which was to last a few years before the ever changing development of tactics began to erode Barcelona’s invincibility.
      Graham on the other hand has stuck by a tried and tested formation with which he had achieved some success with a “lesser” club, not noted for it’s largesse in spending money it did not have.
      Upon leaving CCM and moving to a more affluent identity he set about ,not changing his system but fitting it out with better ,more talented,individuals. This is not as easy as some would have you believe but the last 18 months have shown that ,as far as the HAL was concerned, he was nearing what only could be described as the “acme” of his ideas.
      Now, a comparison between the two will have to be done based on a vastly different stage ,that of building a team in a totally different , environment, that of international football.
      As you are aware there are many people in the game who did not agree with Ange’s philosophy of using the same “game plan”, never mind how the opposition played. There are some who would describe that as an “arrogant” way to approach a game for there is little doubt, and figures prove it , that there are four of five countries whose football dominates world football,and has done so for years.
      If this is accepted then surely it is with more hope than fact that a country can ,almost overnight, challenge that dominance and go on to play such opponents on what could be deemed a “level” playing field.
      Time will tell of course, the AP “experiment” into the international scene was interesting, and now GA is facing the same dilemma,the huge jump from localised football to international football.
      No doubt an interesting time ahead. Cheers jb..

      • March 14th 2018 @ 8:31am
        punter said | March 14th 2018 @ 8:31am | ! Report

        JB, as per usual a very insightful comment, football continues to evolve & managers/teams will come up with new (old) ways to combat the current top teams, the Barcelona (sweeping all before them) today are different beast to the Barcelona under Pep. If would be interesting to see Barcelona v Man City meet in the champions league.

        • March 14th 2018 @ 9:26am
          Kangajets said | March 14th 2018 @ 9:26am | ! Report

          When you mention Barcelona and man city and guardiola , I think guardiola likes to have the best that money can by . Guardiola likes to drive a Ferrari and he drives it beautifully

          When I think of Arnold , I think of pragmatism, more like a Toyota Corolla , but with fake mag wheels for your Aussie affordable flashiness add a bit of bobo and Ninkovic and that should be the hottest car in suburbia .

          So to have the finer things in life takes money.

          Who do you want at the steering wheel of Australian football?

          A guardiola type coach , which costs the world would inspire a future generation of Aussie kids to be better would be ideal .

          I know of only one man in power of Australian football who had incredible funds st his disposal.
          What a legacy for Australian football that could have been to appoint a world class coach and show some ambition rather then pragmatism.

          • March 14th 2018 @ 10:51am
            Angry Kossie said | March 14th 2018 @ 10:51am | ! Report

            Wasn’t Terry Venables a world class coach?

            Arnie has always been a bit of a grump, maybe it stems from the Northern Spirit days. I wont bag him for the Asian Cup results as he took what was left of the Golden generation to a tournament where he may have had very little influence on the dressing room post Guus. In a salary cap league he’s done a good job at both the Mariners and Sydney to keep them not only competitive, but have them challenging most years. As a fan I do get annoyed by how narrow Sydney plays, particularly as i attend many Jets games and enjoy their transition speed and distribution across the field.

            It will be interesting to see how Arnie develops the National squad post WC where there will be a demand to end International careers and bring in fresh faces (farewell Cahill, Troisi, Kruse, Milligan, Jedinak). The post WC squad should allow Arnie greater flexibility to play with more width without being exposed between the lines, particularly as they will have younger legs than Sydney’s Brosque, Bobo, Ninkovic, Adrian. I do wish Ange had played more compact on our away legs!

            I do recall local fans thinking Merrick was a backward step when he was appointed by the Jets! Ernie would also be a pragmatic selection as National Mgr! BTW, what car is Ernie Merrick?

            • March 14th 2018 @ 12:19pm
              Kangajets said | March 14th 2018 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

              Ernie drives like a mustang, great acceleration from the engine , skilful manoeuvre ability with a beautiful asethic appeal to the legions of admirers.

          • March 14th 2018 @ 11:54am
            punter said | March 14th 2018 @ 11:54am | ! Report

            No doubting what you say Kanga, love to get a top notch coach, where money was not an option & that the coach took this as a challenge & not just for the money.

            • March 14th 2018 @ 1:45pm
              Kangajets said | March 14th 2018 @ 1:45pm | ! Report

              Our Asian neighbors Japan are 20 years ahead of Australia in their skill development, maybe the answer to advancement in the Socceroos lies closer to home in the J league or in the Japanese development structure .

              Food for thought.

      • March 15th 2018 @ 11:05am
        reuster75 said | March 15th 2018 @ 11:05am | ! Report

        “If this is accepted then surely it is with more hope than fact that a country can ,almost overnight, challenge that dominance and go on to play such opponents on what could be deemed a “level” playing field.” Very good point and this is what so much of the commentary in the media about Ange (and the FFA themselves) failed to grasp was that Ange knew it would take time and that it’s very difficult to do this with a top down approach. Ideally this process would’ve started a long time ago at underage level but Ange felt he had no choice but to take this top down approach because there was no adequare structure in place at the lower levels. He was also willing to risk his reputation for the benefit of progressing the game in this country by doing this so will be interesting to see if GA will be willing to take the same risk.

    • March 14th 2018 @ 9:18am
      Nemesis said | March 14th 2018 @ 9:18am | ! Report

      “Postecoglou’s approach was about quick, incisive attacking play, aggressive positioning high up the pitch and high pressing …

      Arnold is more structured – the side builds up slowly, ensures they are protected against counter-attacks and focus on getting talented attackers on the ball where they can be effective.”

      Ok, then.

      The very definition of “polar opposites”.

      Not saying that’s a bad thing. Maybe, Arnold’s tactics will be more successful at the international level – certainly during the Away Game.

    • March 14th 2018 @ 9:25am
      Square Nostrils said | March 14th 2018 @ 9:25am | ! Report

      Looking back on the Ange stint as Socceroo coach, I see a period when he talked the talk ,but didn’t walk the walk.
      As j,binnie indicates the longer your around football and in this case International football , you realise you cant just float in and put a dent into the hierachy of World Football. If that was the case England would have won the cup more than once and quite a few other European countries as well as a few South American and even African nations would have won the World Cup by now.
      I even see the same nonsense talked by Craig Foster the other day, where he bemoans the appointment of Arnie.
      This is part of what he said :-

      “Like the short-term appointment before, though, this is a departure from a consistent approach to national team play and a long-term plan.

      The new paradigm seems to be what we had before – back to the future – appoint the most successful coach of the day irrespective of approach to the game.

      Quite how this relates to junior national teams supposedly playing in a consistent manner to produce future senior internationals with the tools to harvest a national style of play is now a question left hanging uneasily.”

      Full article:-

      What do the above sentences mean? Puzzles me. Surely a National coaches job is to get the best out of the players available at any given stage in time. Its not to produce players playing in a consistent manner in order to produce a national style of play.
      I would have thought that was left to coaches further down the food chain.
      Guus Hiddink had zero knowledge of Australia’s junior system of producing players. He saw what was before him and got the most out of them according to his coaching expertise.
      So did Pim Verbeek and so did Holger Osieck, perhaps with lesser results we could argue. Ange stuck to his in hindsight
      flimsy philosophy. From about halfway through his tenure, his philosophy was a farce and he threw in the towel anyway under a whole lot of verbal mumbo jumbo.
      Whoever coached Italy ,Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay , France, Spain(England another story, a one off manager,home soil advantage) didn’t win because of a philosophy, they won because of their coaches capabilities and a football culture was ingrained into their psyche, which produces layers of understanding of the game that cant be reproduced by training drills, no matter how clever or sophisticated.
      Thats why its IMO more important to bring overseas players to the A-League who have this deep understanding of the game. Young players can learn from seeing them what the games about more than any junior training drill.
      Arnie will rise or fall like all generals , by how well he organises his troops on the park, what Ange or any of his predecessors did is irrelevant.

      • March 14th 2018 @ 11:17am
        Kangajets said | March 14th 2018 @ 11:17am | ! Report

        Forster opinions are usually idealistic without any solutions to provide for his ideal .

        Hospital Craig Foster is doing some great work with indigenous Australians in football, an area that is totally underdeveloped and surely a great pathway for the individuals and the collective football future

        • March 14th 2018 @ 1:48pm
          Kangajets said | March 14th 2018 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

          # however ( not hospital). Spellcheck arghh

      • Roar Guru

        March 14th 2018 @ 2:09pm
        Griffo said | March 14th 2018 @ 2:09pm | ! Report

        Foster is coaching FNSW youth teams I believe so time will tell how that pans out.

        I think it is a setup like Germany’s where the players are technically good and tactically flexible that helps allow a good coach to get the best from them. See Confederations Cup win.

        Ange had a national teams role to put an ‘Australian style’ over our U17 and up youth teams but how much of this was cemented, and how much will now be forgotten, remains to be seen.

        It’s up to Eric Abrams now I believe to take on the full Technical Director role rather than U16 development, so a big expectation in a back-to-the-future sense of what that position once was before split on his and Ange’s appointments.

        And Arnold to get the best out of players he selects which is a minimum.

    • March 14th 2018 @ 9:39am
      Mark said | March 14th 2018 @ 9:39am | ! Report

      If Ange’s results don’t improve soon, they may have a short and unsuccessful stint in Japan in common

      • March 14th 2018 @ 2:07pm
        Ry said | March 14th 2018 @ 2:07pm | ! Report

        Let’s hope that’s not the case!

        • March 14th 2018 @ 5:56pm
          LuckyEddie said | March 14th 2018 @ 5:56pm | ! Report

          Ange needs another Broich to make him look good.

          • March 14th 2018 @ 7:14pm
            Kangajets said | March 14th 2018 @ 7:14pm | ! Report

            Yet without Broich , Ange won the Asian cup .

            • March 14th 2018 @ 9:54pm
              LuckyEddie said | March 14th 2018 @ 9:54pm | ! Report

              Try again we are talking about club football. When big Ange coached the Roar if Broich did not play big Ange did not win the game. He had Broich at his absolute peak.

              As for the Asian cup Ange got a huge lucky break and avoided Japan, who would have slaughtered us.

              His team in Japan is third bottom and if his international or youth records are anything to go by he’ll be out in about 4 weeks.

              He is a bit of a con job who got lucky and plays the media. I mean if he was so great why did he run away from the WC. That’s right to spend more time with the family in — Japan?.

              • March 15th 2018 @ 7:15am
                Kangajets said | March 15th 2018 @ 7:15am | ! Report

                You are entitled to your opinion

                But the Asian cup will live long in my mind. Korea were excellent opposition and you can’t blame Ange for Japan going out .

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