Socceroos coach Graham Arnold will sit out Wednesday’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Vietnam in Melbourne after testing positive for COVID-19.
So long a poisoned chalice, the Socceroos coaching job is now ripe for the picking.
Ange Postecoglou’s shocking exit, followed by a tumultuous Socceroos World Cup experience has – somewhat perversely – created an ideal platform for Graham Arnold’s second stint in charge.
In the wake of the World Cup, Postecoglou increasingly appears as Australian football’s sacrificial lamb and Arnold as the main beneficiary.
Of course, Postecoglou had big ideas for the game in this country.
Not least his determination for the Socceroos to shake the ‘honest battler’ tag and play a more expansive style of football.
Australian football’s singular focus on World Cup qualification – rather than producing football capable of making significant inroads in the tournament – was anathema to him.
Yet, it was Postecoglou’s adherence to this philosophy – despite a workmanlike squad and a teetering qualifying campaign – that ultimately sowed the seeds of his demise.
Having become a lightning rod for media criticism and feeling unsupported by the FFA, Postecoglou (whether justified or not) abruptly walked.
Perhaps if Bert Van Marwijk had steered the Socceroos to the promised land of the World Cup knockout stages it might have been different.
But in overseeing what in large part amounted to an exercise in toothless pragmatism in Russia, the Dutchman provided a belated vindication of Postecoglou’s grand vision.
No longer satisfied with short-term World Cup qualifying mediocrity, Australian football suddenly dared to want more.
Leading the chorus for change, SBS analyst, Craig Foster slammed the Socceroos’ unadventurous approach in Russia.
Ironically, it was Foster’s brutal on-air takedown of Postecoglou during that infamous interview between the two twelve years ago that Postecoglou cited – in the context of his treatment by the local media more generally – as a factor in his decision to quit.
And so having potentially chased Australian football’s Messiah out of town, the football media and the FFA are now on notice.
Arnold can expect to enjoy significantly more leeway than his local predecessor, particularly in transitioning to his mooted “possession-based game”.
The lack of eyebrows raised at Arnold’s recent claim that the Socceroos’ World Cup scoring woes owed more to mentality than talent – despite the glaring absence of a quality striker – perhaps an early sign of the ‘gently gently’ treatment he can look forward to receiving.
And the good news for Arnold doesn’t end there.
Tim Cahill’s much celebrated international retirement will provide the national set-up with even more clean air.
For while having long enjoyed – and richly deserved – favourite son status in this country, Cahill has become somewhat of a sideshow in recent times.
There was his hasty Melbourne City exit, complete with a thinly veiled swipe at the relative professionalism of the A-League.
This was followed by a largely sedentary stint at Millwall which made a mockery of the loud calls for greater playing time in Russia.
The size of the shadow Cahill had come to cast over the Socceroos evident in the buzz around Cahill potentially joining the elite four World Cup scorers club on the eve of the France opener.
A buzz that Cahill did little to quieten and which appeared to fly very much in the face of Van Marwijk’s team-first mantra.
Yet, of most benefit to Arnold will likely be the fact that he has of course been here before and has the scars to prove it.
His first stint in charge of the Socceroos ended in acrimony after calling out his players and suffering a breakdown in relations with the media.
Arnie 2.0 is surely far better equipped to navigate the pitfalls of the top job this time around, particularly in the far cushier current environment.
But only time will tell whether he can fulfil the dreams of newly aspirational Australian football.