Olyroos coach Graham Arnold is well known for making grandiose statements and predictions. Sadly, most fail to materialise despite his hard work and commitment to our national teams.
Australian football supporters don’t mind his aggressive and ambitious commentary too much. In fact, with an in-built inferiority complex, there is something quite appealing, liberating and hopeful about an Olyroos/Socceroos manager who dares to dream of achievements seemingly well beyond the capabilities of the troops at his disposal.
Last Tuesday, Arnold informed the nation that the Olyroos were ready to “shock the world” at the Olympic Games.
He doubled down by stating unapologetically that he expects his squad “to do something special,” as Australia’s under-23s return to the Olympic stage for the first time in 13 years.
Where Arnold locates such a belief is hard to pin point. No doubt, his squad is blessed with a depth of talent better than the nation has seen in some years.
Names like Riley McGree, Reno Piscopo, Daniel Arzani and Nathaniel Atkinson stand to form part of the Socceroos’ nucleus over the next five years.
Throw in the irrefutable gifts possessed by Keanu Baccus, Thomas Glover, Thomas Deng, Harry Souttar and teenager Marco Tilio and Arnold does appear to have a serious palette with which to work in the short-term future.
Arnold reiterated his emphatic belief in the squad when he said: “We come into this tournament with great expectations. In the past, over the last 20 years, it was seen as a success to just make the Olympics.”
He continued: “But we’re not here to make up the numbers. We’re here to show the rest of the world what we can do and what I expect we will do.”
In part, this is inspiring talk and likely to lift expectation come the Olyroos’ Thursday night clash with Argentina to open the tournament. Yet sadly, we have heard similar talk from Arnold before.
He was open in his hopes and expectations of Sydney FC venturing into the Asian Champions League and becoming the best team in the region while he stood at the helm between 2014 and 2018.
Soon after taking the reins of the Socceroos and in an attempt to produce the goals that had dried up to the point of non-existence, Arnold cited a simple belief in seeing the ball hit the back of the net as being a potential cure to his team’s goal-scoring woes.
Both prophecies failed to materialise, yet we all love Arnie, his positivity and his passion that drives a determination to see Australian football be better than it has ever been.
The Olyroos’ squad enters the Olympic village with high hopes and a humbling realisation considering the teams they will face in the group stage.
Argentina is a two-time Olympic champion, Spain’s squad is stacked with a host of players coming off considerable influence in the Euro 2020 tournament where La Roja reached the semi-finals and Egypt loom as a more than tricky opponent, even without Mo Salah.
Arnold has either analysed the squads and factually convinced himself that the Olyroos are indeed excellent chances to advance to the knockout phase or is flat out distorting the truth in the hope of producing a result based on nothing more than will.
Either way, I like his style.
Should the brilliant young men wearing the famous Socceroos strip be sent packing by two teams that look far superior and manage nothing more than a point against an Egyptian team ranked 46 in the world, the campaign will be another in a long line that brings nothing but disappointment.
However, perhaps this is the moment for Arnold to finally have a win and bring to pass one of the prophecies he often makes when it comes to representation of his teams in big tournaments.
There is only one bigger than the Olympics and should the 57-year-old finally produce a performance for the ages and guide the Olyroos to the knock-out phase, his slightly unnerving and almost insane positivity might finally have paid dividends.
It appears likely the Olyroos will hoe a tough road against three very talented teams and two unlikely to slip up against lesser opposition.
Yet after all his predictions, and the considerable scepticism that followed, it would be great to see the coach achieve what would be the greatest moment in recent Australian football history.
Don’t hold your breath, but you never know.