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Arnie’s search for taegeuk in his Socceroos squad

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5th June, 2019
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Taegeuk is a traditional Korean symbol. It appears on the Korea Republic flag, and with its equally weighted red and blue components, refers to a sense of balance in the universe.

The red represents positive forces while the blue symbolises the negative energy that creates the tension and imbalance between the two.

Such thinking is fundamental to Korean culture and also lies at the centre of the religious lives of those who adhere to the principles of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism.

As with life, striking a balance in football is key to success and happiness.

On Friday night in Busan, the Socceroos face Korea Republic in a curious clash, where a new-look squad will take on the Taegeuk Warriors.

Sounding a little spiritual from the outset of his reign, Socceroos manager Graham Arnold spoke prior to the Asian Cup of curing Australia’s goal-scoring issues with positive thinking and visualisation techniques.

As much as I like a little hippie culture and Dalai Lama-style thinking in my football, I was sceptical.

Needless to say, it didn’t work.

The recent history of the Socceroos has been the embodiment of imbalance. After teeter-tottering through Asian qualification, the national team has failed to stamp a definitive presence ever since the Asian Cup triumph of 2015.

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For all the criticism of Ange Postecoglou, there was never any doubt to his plan and vision. He trialled just about every male in Australia between the ages of 18 and 35 for a potential spot in his squad, worked out who he liked and built a team that knew itself and its mission.

Head coach of the Australian football team, Ange Postecoglou celebrates after the 2015 Asia Cup Final win against South Korea.

(Photo by Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Then Bert van Marwijk played the ultimate cameo in Russia, denying important developmental minutes to Massimo Luongo, Jamie Maclaren and Dimi Petratos. Van Marwijk was always a stop-gap appointment and the task of reshaping and developing a balanced squad for the short-term challenges lying ahead would naturally fall to his replacement.

With an eye to the future, Arnold has picked something of an experimental Socceroos team with the intention of building a depth and competitiveness in the squad that can cope with injury, retirement and unavailability.

The coach was categorical in his claim that the match “would bring the maximum out of every player and it will create a lot more depth in the squad”.

That is a huge expectation for a single friendly, however, go Arnie. Think big.

Arnold spoke of a desire to not rely on the “same 14, 15 players over the next four years”. His positive approach to the task ahead was in no way cloaked when he stated ambitiously, “I truly believe to be the greatest Socceroos team in history, we need depth”.

Strewth! We’ll need a lot more than depth. Let’s start with a stable back four, a midfield that moves the ball forward at speed and a couple of guys up from who can sniff a goal and finish it before the defence has caught on to the fact.

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That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Graham Arnold

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

As a result of Arnold’s visionary agenda, he has selected an incredible squad. Two Brandons – Borrello and O’Neill – along with Andrew Redmayne, Lawrence Thomas, Harry Souttar and Ryan Williams are uncapped at Socceroo level.

With 12 other members of the squad possessing less than ten caps, the inexperienced nature of the line-up is clear. However, with inexperience comes opportunity and it is likely that at least one young man in green and gold will grasp it with both hands on Friday.

Just Bailey Wright, Matthew Spiranovic and Aziz Behich have in excess of 20 caps for the Socceroos.

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Arnold’s plan appears to be Postecoglou-like in his willingness to present opportunity. His task will then be to blend those who win his faith with the men he has already pencilled in to his team sheet for September’s first World Cup qualifier.

No doubt Mathew Ryan, Rhyan Grant, Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic, Trent Sainsbury, Mathew Leckie plus both Maclaren and Luongo will feature in Arnold’s preferred squad.

Friday night is the first step in search of his own Taegeuk. He has the reins and now controls the narrative in the job in which he has always wanted to succeed.

Aside from the treasured golden generation squads at the dawn of the new century, the Socceroos have always looked off balance.

Friday night will be the first step in a long journey towards the 2022 World Cup. Let’s hope a few of the young men on display against South Korea will eventually make the trip to Qatar.

Sticking with the existing peripheral members of the squad might prove disastrous.