Anyone who was expecting A-League tipping to be easier in 2019/20 is probably feeling like a bit of a goose right now.
At the end of the 2018 World Cup, Daniel Arzani’s stock was high.
After a stellar breakthrough season with Melbourne City, the young forward found himself on the plane to Russia. Despite Australia exiting in the group stages, Arzani won plenty of plaudits for his impressive cameos from the substitute bench, becoming the tournament’s youngest player to boot.
It wasn’t long after that Arzani was snapped up by Manchester City, the club of course enjoying a shared relationship with Melbourne through the City Football Group. He was then subsequently loaned out on a two-year deal to Scottish giants Celtic.
At the time there were some murmurs as how much say the then-Bhoys manager Brendan Rodgers had on the deal. Some pointed to the fact that Celtic CEO Peter Lawwell’s son Mark was head of recruitment and scouting at the Citizens.
Nevertheless Arzani landed in Glasgow and was eventually handed a debut by Rodgers off the bench against Dundee.
Alas, as we all know, football can be a cruel game.
Less than 20 minutes after entering the fray the youngster slipped and tore his ACL. A lengthy stay on the sidelines and months of rehabilitation ensued.
Fast forward nearly a year and a fully fit Arzani has so far this season been unable to force his way into Celtic boss Neil Lennon’s plans. This lack of game time prompted Socceroos coach Graham Arnold this week to issue a stark warning to the precocious 20-year-old: start playing regularly or risk being frozen out of the national team.
But how likely is it that the Aussie starlet can nail down a starting role at Celtic Park? It would seem slim to say the least.
The Scottish champions like to operate a fluid 4-2-3-1 system. For Arzani – a winger known to be equally adept on either flank or operating as a number ten – this would seemingly play to his strengths.
However, competition for places is fierce. Currently Odsonne Edouard is leading the line with the impressive Ryan Christie tucked in behind. James Forrest is a mainstay on the right flank, with new arrival Mohamed Elyounoussi – who starred in their recent Europa League victory against CFR Cluj – on the left.
Also waiting in the wings (pardon the pun), Arzani is up against Scott Sinclair and Lewis Morgan, of whom Lennon is known to be a fan. Throw in Jonny Hayes and the soon-to-be-returning-from-injury Mikey Johnston, and you can see the Aussie’s predicament.
Despite minutes for Celtic’s reserve side, Arzani needs regular first-team football fast. Perhaps an early termination of his loan deal may suit all parties concerned.
Although somewhat unlikely, a short term move back to Melbourne City might help him rediscover his mojo, being back in familiar surroundings. On the eve of the new A-League season it would certainly help generate some further buzz too.
Whether Manchester City view that as being beneficial for his development would remain to be seen.
Arzani may find some willing suitors back in England in the EFL Championship. With his pace, deft touch and eye for an assist, there’s no doubt that a fully fit and firing Arzani would grace many teams. The youngster is now faced with the challenge of knuckling down and trying to earn a spot at Celtic Park or looking for an escape route.
An Australia under-23 training camp next week in Doha will provide Arzani an opportunity to impress under the watchful eye of Arnold.
There’s no doubt the young forward is one of the brightest prospects to come out of this country in many years, but he and his advisors must ensure his next move is one that will guarantee him much needed game time.
Socceroos fans will also be itching to see Arzani back in full flow and terrorising defences once more in the green and gold.
This talent must not be allowed to go out to pasture, so let’s hope he can resolve his short-term future soon and be able to flourish once more.