Arnold gives little away in first words as Socceroos manager

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

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

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    “It’s a special day for myself” said Graham Arnold, opening his first media conference as Socceroos manager.

    Ah, yes, the classic sportsperson’s misuse of the reflexive pronoun “myself”, when “me” would surely have done; the sort of formal detachment this phrase broadcasts, as if the speaker is narrating his own life while actually living it, set a tone that carried through the fairly measured 20-minute presser.

    Arnold introduced his coaching team, including rattling off the extremely impressive-sounding resume of the newly acquired René Meulensteen, former Manchester United assistant coach, a man responsible, we were told, for developing Cristiano Ronaldo.

    Assistant coach Andrew Clarke and analyst Doug Kors, both former members of Arnold’s Sydney FC staff, were also mentioned, as was Phil Coles, former physio and performance manager for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, who has joined Arnold’s team as coordinator of physiotherapy. 

    Arnold then announced that he and his team would, in addition to taking control of the Roos, also take control of the Olyroos, the U23 national team, and will guide them through Olympic qualifying.

    Arnold said he’d called “at least ten” of the 2006 golden generation of players, seeking to find out what stage of their careers they thought was the most crucial developmental pivot point, to which, Arnold said, most of them pointing to the period from the U-20 until U-23 stages.

    Arnold then pointed out that by the time Brett Emerton was 23, he’d played in 76 internationals across the various age brackets, and that of this year’s squad, when they were 23, Matt Leckie was the leading cap-earner at 41; this was described by Arnold as having “looked at stats”.

    As fairly arbitrary as this comparison is – Emerton was an extremely prolific youth international, playing at least 11 games for Australia at U17, U20 and U23 level, whereas Leckie, like most other current senior Roos, was not – there is nonetheless undeniable wisdom in drawing together the youth and senior sections of the national set-up.

    Whether that means, as Arnold evidently thinks, having both sides controlled by one manager, or simply a need for a more strongly codified, implemented national approach, the details of the point can be debated, but not the point itself. 

    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)

    Arnold then placed himself in the Goldilocks medium that’s just right, between, as he said, the more defensive-minded Bert van Marwijk and the more attack-minded Ange Postecoglou.

    His words were a wash of coaching buzz-terminology; “when to defend, how to press … how to get our key players on the ball, how to get the ball in goal-scoring areas…”. These were his principles, but he also emphasised that he’s “a winning coach”.

    There was hint of the Arnold bristle with those words of winning, and in truth if Postecoglou’s remarkable success with Brisbane Roar formed the most compelling part of his case to be Socceroos manager, then Arnold’s work at Sydney FC – less aesthetic an argument, sure – is just as compelling.

    The last two years of success he’s had as Sky Blues manager is rivalled only by Postecoglou’s Brisbane run.

    Of course, one of the hallmarks of his Sydney team was an ability to score well-timed goals, that would often end up making the crucial narrow difference in tight games.

    He had Golden Boot Bobo; he does not have a striker as potent among the national team pool, and as he confirmed that Tim Cahill would be given a farewell testimonial international later this year, that reality was further cemented.

    “Football’s not about one person,” Arnold said, talking about Cahill. “The way that we’ve played, it was very heavily reliant on Timmy to score those goals,” Arnold said.

    “I will do that differently,” he added, a point rather more convincingly reinforced by Cahill’s retirement than it was any tactical reasoning given here.

    But Arnold certainly was emphatic on the problem of goal-shyness; “That will not be an issue here.”

    Arnold was then adamant that, among the youth ranks, he could see a conveyor belt of talent creeping towards the senior team, ready to solve the goal-dearth the Roos suffered in Russia.

    One wonders, looking down the list of recent U23 call-ups – Jashua Sotirio, Bruce Kamau, George Blackwood, and others – if Arnold’s looking at the same set of players.

    “The kids are coming, they’re coming through. We have to believe it,” Arnold argued. “And I can see it,” he added.

    A journalist tried to coax out some more tactical specifics, asking Arnold to elaborate further on something he’d mentioned but in more technical terms.

    He’d said that the team should play in “the Australian way”, by which Arnold meant playing bravely, with belief, with spirit, and other slightly lame, emotive locutions more appropriately seen being cannoned out of the flapping gob of some motivational speaker bouncing like a maniac on a mini-tramp than out of the mouth of a man charged with arranging a football team to defend the Asian Cup.

    “Be brave to play, to have no fea-…” Arnold began to say again, before the journalist reemphasised a translation of terms he’d asked for.

    “Technically, as I said, you know… if you look at the France team, and if you look at the other teams, technically we have the quality,” Arnold said. “I do believe that.”

    He spoke of the promise he’s seen at U17 level. He mentioned Mooy, Rogic and Arzani, all as adept attackers capable of delivering the ball to goal-scorers in the #RightAreas. He said the discipline and commitment for which the team had been praised at the World Cup was “the least I expect.”

    Arnold was also at pains to state how different a coach he is now from the man that failed so badly in his first crack at national team management.

    “I see some of those guys that I coached [back then], and I’m actually embarrassed to say that I coached them!” Arnold chortled.

    While the overstatement here felt tactical, a partition deliberately slid across to obscure the ugly past, there is no reason we should expect Arnold not to have learnt from the many mistakes he made ten years ago.

    Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold

    (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    Some wally asked Arnold about Bolt: “Everyone says I need a goalscorer, and Usain hasn’t been capped by Jamaica, so that might be a possibility. That was a joke!” Arnold quipped, almost drowned out by the thunderous ripping sound heard as sides split across the country. 

    And tactically? “For me, it’s about being flexible,” Arnold replied lightly. “Some games you may need to play a back-three, and some games you play a back four. The most important thing is that principles are kept the same.”

    Then the pertinent quote of the afternoon; “We can sit here and talk about systems; systems don’t make players, players make systems,” Arnold declared, a statement that ran in through the ears and bounced around the foggy images of Matt Leckie playing as a wing-back, or Bailey Wright facing down a winger one-on-one that are still kept in the mind. Pragmatism was always likely to be an arrow in Arnold’s quiver.

    There were a few compliments for his predecessors, he dodged a question about the FFA congress crisis, and then the occasion wrapped.

    Nothing much was given away, not that we should have expected too much meat in his first presser as manager.

    Twitter is already throwing up vibrating Technicolor projections of what’s to come, of future calamities or glories.

    Arnold now has control over the top two levels of national team, and so it’s to his wagon we’re now hitched, for better or worse.

    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 (11)

    • August 10th 2018 @ 6:55am
      Jack said | August 10th 2018 @ 6:55am | ! Report

      Any one know when next friendly is?
      I am pumped to see how he goes

    • August 10th 2018 @ 8:35am
      Nick Symonds said | August 10th 2018 @ 8:35am | ! Report

      “Some wally asked Arnold about Bolt: “Everyone says I need a goalscorer, and Usain hasn’t been capped by Jamaica, so that might be a possibility. That was a joke!” Arnold quipped, almost drowned out by the thunderous ripping sound heard as sides split across the country.”

      I wonder if Bolt actually could be capped by Jamaica?

      If he does well at CCM then Arnold might just have to cap him first so that we don’t lose him.

      • Roar Guru

        August 10th 2018 @ 9:14am
        Kaks said | August 10th 2018 @ 9:14am | ! Report

        “I wonder if Bolt actually could be capped by Jamaica?

        If he does well at CCM then Arnold might just have to cap him first so that we don’t lose him.”

        I’ve lost all faith in the A-league and Australian football.

    • August 10th 2018 @ 10:05am
      Kangas said | August 10th 2018 @ 10:05am | ! Report

      The ausdie under 20 teams made semi finals in 1991 and 1993 . The 91 team lost to Portugal in Lisbon in front of 90000 , that Portugal team was to be their golden generation. The 93 lost to Brazil in an outstanding tournament in Australia. Brazil went on to beat Ghana in a brilliant final

      The point being ,, I remember that the Aussie under 20 s were like a club team … they played 20-30 matches a season on tour playing regularly against European club opponents, gathering lots of game time . Whether that’s practical these days I don’t know .

      • August 10th 2018 @ 2:30pm
        Brian said | August 10th 2018 @ 2:30pm | ! Report

        True but those 91 and 93 teams were not the golden generation of 2006. Those were more the failed qualifers of 1998 and 2002. Bosnich, Corica, Okon etc. It is certainyl worth examing why in 1991 and 1993 we made the semi-finals, we beat Yugoslavia to make the quarters in Seoul 1988 and beat the Netherlands to make the 1992 Olympics. Yet now with football bigger and our population larger we lose to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and can’t even qualify

        • August 10th 2018 @ 4:21pm
          Nick Symonds said | August 10th 2018 @ 4:21pm | ! Report

          “The point being ,, I remember that the Aussie under 20 s were like a club team … they played 20-30 matches a season on tour playing regularly against European club opponents, gathering lots of game time .”

          What about the senior squad?

          There were 22 matches in the world cup qualifying campaign for Russia, plus friendlies.

          • August 10th 2018 @ 5:43pm
            Kangas said | August 10th 2018 @ 5:43pm | ! Report

            No comparison to a club side
            The senior side didn’t go away a single away tour

            The 22 matches were divided 2 at a time with a massive change of lineup, nothing like a club side at all

        • August 10th 2018 @ 8:38pm
          Bent Iniesta said | August 10th 2018 @ 8:38pm | ! Report

          Yugoslavia is a country that doesn’t even exist anymore and the Netherlands is a small country that’s never won the World Cup!

          So what if we beat them – completely meaningless!

    • August 10th 2018 @ 12:03pm
      mattq said | August 10th 2018 @ 12:03pm | ! Report

      why is this article so overtly negative towards Arnold? From everything he said it sounds promising. And I’m so sick of seeing Twitter put on a pedestal as if it’s the barometer for fan feelings. I’d vouch more people don’t use the rubbish platform than those that do.

      • Roar Guru

        August 10th 2018 @ 5:06pm
        Cousin Claudio said | August 10th 2018 @ 5:06pm | ! Report

        Spot on.

        2018-2019 is shaping up as one of the best seasons for the A-League, with a big growth in interest after the World Cup, according to the Herald Sun. There have also been a number of good signings and marquee players that have created interest all around the world.

        Even greater anticipation building for the 2019 Asian Cup which kicks off for the Footballroos as the current holders on 6 January when we take on Jordan in Round 1. Really looking forward to seeing how Arnie acquits himself.

        The A-league and Australian football has a big, bright future in Australia.

    • August 11th 2018 @ 11:05pm
      Josh said | August 11th 2018 @ 11:05pm | ! Report

      Thanks for taking Arnold’s lead and saying just as much (or should that be just as a little?) over the course of an overly long article.

      As for substance, I for one found Arnold’s comments insightful – “the team has to believe it can win, and we’ll be flexible based on the circumstances (players available and opponents).” Seems like a reasonable approach to me compared to the “Brad Smith must play, no matter the cost” years that we have thankfully left in our wake.

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