“In my mindset, I believe that at the end of this we’ll be the greatest Socceroos team ever,” Graham Arnold said in the build-up to another World Cup campaign.
You know what? Good on him.
It’s not for me to sit here and bag a three-time A-League coach of the year, who has won championships with both the Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC and who is now enjoying his second stint in charge of the national team.
I do, however, have some questions.
Starting with an elementary one: when did positive affirmations become such a thing in modern sport?
You know the ones I mean.
“Expect to win, done done done!” is spouted so often by the ironic memesters on Twitter you’d want to hope Bradley C Stubbs has trademarked the phrase.
I have a few questions about the self-appointed ‘Coach Whisperer’ while I’m at it.
Like what was going on in May last year when Stubbs tweeted that Sydney FC’s record-breaking campaign was the result of Arnold reading his book The Science Of Belief and asking his staff and players to do the same, before Sydney FC replied with a tweet of their own a few days later stating that their “emotional intelligence services” were actually handled by a bloke named Mike Conway.
For the record @SydneyFC, its staff and its players have had an exclusive partnership for the last two seasons with @XVentureAus & Mike Conway for all of the club’s emotional intelligence services #SydneyIsSkyBlue pic.twitter.com/Rg9XGNPNRQ
— Sydney FC (@SydneyFC) May 31, 2018
Conway founded a company called XVenture and on their website he’s listed as Sydney FC’s “emotional intelligence, resilience and mental agility coach”.
He also works, according to the website, with current Socceroos goalkeeper Mat Ryan.
But as Arnold himself told Kieran Francis of Goal.com, he was at one time frequently in touch with Stubbs.
And I should make it clear I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
Many years ago I played cricket to a decent level, and even back then we were exposed to sports psychologists whose goal it was to help us think positively about the game.
So I’m not mocking the concept of sports psychology, and I don’t doubt that some players respond positively to mental conditioning.
I just wonder what sort of impact some of Arnold’s proclamations are having on the Socceroos’ opponents – particularly in Asia, where a perceived lack of humility is a sure-fire way to stir up some strong sentiments.
I’m hardly the only person to have noticed.
In February, Arnold’s friend and former Socceroos team-mate Robbie Slater told Fox Sports he thought Australia’s coach needed “to be humble” following Australia’s quarter-final exit at the Asian Cup.
That came after Arnold claimed the Socceroos would “dominate” Jordan in their tournament opener, only for the fired-up Jordanians to grind out a gritty 1-0 win.
“It’s very, very dangerous to talk like this,” said coach Vital Borkelmans in the wake of Jordan’s victory.
So what’s changed? Nothing much if proclamations about becoming “the greatest Socceroos team ever” are anything to go by.
And there are probably some pretty compelling reasons for that.
Who’s the biggest star named for the World Cup qualifier against Kuwait on September 11 (AEST)?
Mark Milligan? Mathew Leckie? Mat Ryan?
Because they are the three most experienced squad members by far, followed by new Maccabi Haifa signing and Arnold’s son-in-law Trent Sainsbury.
So the Socceroos aren’t necessarily blessed with an abundance of game-breaking talent.
And maybe trying to gain a psychological edge before a ball has even been kicked is the next most obvious tactic.
But in firing up the Socceroos, surely there’s a danger of firing up Australia’s opponents as well?
It’s happened a few times already. And the likes of Kuwait and fellow group-stage opponents Jordan are experienced enough to use Arnold’s words against him.
So the Aussies need to be good enough to beat their opponents on the pitch.
Let’s hope all the positive statements help, because we’re not the only ones who’ll take note of them.