Bryleeh Henry and Ashlie Crofts epitomise the Western Sydney Wanderers’ philosophy of building their senior teams using a local flavour.
Philippines women’s national team assistant coach Nahuel ‘Naz’ Arrarte admits he is enjoying his sides preparations for the Asian Cup, which will take place in India early next year.
The Argentina-born former Marconi and East Timor midfielder is currently working with Philippines head coach Alen Stajcic, with whom he was involved in the Matildas’ set-up in 2018 and 2019, and also at the Central Coast Mariners during the 2020-21 A-League Men season.
The Asian Cup, which also serves as a qualifying tournament for the 2023 World Cup, will see the Philippines attempt to qualify for a World Cup for the first time ever in what will be their fourth attempt.
“It’s an opportunity to qualify for the World Cup, it’s not going to be an easy task but that is the ultimate goal and what we are working towards,” said Arrarte, from the team’s training base in California, USA.
“There are a lot of quality teams and with Australia hosting the World Cup, it’s an opportunity for another Asian team to qualify.”
In a group draw that was destined to happen, the Philippines will face Australia in their second game in India, however Arrarte stressed he and Stajcic won’t be distracted by the task at hand.
“Every game and opponent you have to treat with the utmost respect,” he said.
“Our first game is Thailand and we need to focus on them. They will be a difficult opponent.
“We have a job and responsibility with the Philippines. We won’t treat the Matildas any differently to Thailand or Indonesia.
“Australia is ranked number 11 and have some of the best players in the world, so it will be a great challenge and a great experience.
“But we won’t get ahead of ourselves and will focus on the Thailand game, which is our first hurdle, after that we will worry about Australia. We will take it a game at a time.”
The Philippines are currently ranked number 64 in the world. The top five teams at the Asian Cup will make it to Australia and New Zealand in 2023. The sixth-placed team will also qualify if Australia finish in the top five.
Prior to taking up his current role, Arrarte was an assistant at the Western Sydney Wanderers with their A-League Women team.
He admits he enjoyed his time there and had no issue with the club’s culture, which has come under intense public scrutiny in recent weeks.
“I can only speak from the women’s side, and a few years ago I was involved with the youth and academy with Trevor Morgan and Ian Crook,” said Arrarte.
“I had no issue from the cultural perspective there.
“With the women’s perspective with Cath Cannuli, I enjoyed my time there. We still keep in touch on a daily basis and help each other out and rub ideas off each other.
“She is creating a good environment for the players and staff as well. For her first year she is doing a good job.
“She is always open to learning. The players, coaching and medical staff were welcoming from day one … I enjoyed my few months there.
“I watch their games still when I can.”
Arrarte also offered a pragmatic view about the state of the A-League Women competition, which has come under scrutiny itself, with the quality dropping in recent years.
“The inability to bring foreigners in due to COVID has made it difficult,” he admitted.
“Also our best local girls are overseas now in the top European leagues, which is fantastic, but makes it difficult.
“But the most positive thing is that it gives the younger girls more opportunity to play at a higher level and showcase their talent.
“We must remember the current crop of Matilda players started in the W-League. When ‘Staj’ was at Sydney FC, they had a lot of 19-20-year-old girls back when they were successful.
“If you look then and you look now, it gave them the opportunity to play week in, week out on the big stage.
“They all started there and were able to learn.”
Arrarte encouraged the APL to use its recent $140 million Silver Lake equity deal to build the A-League Women competition and take it to that next level.
“We need to become full-time,” he said.
“A lot of these girls are training and then going to work, which is not easy and is very demanding.
“To only play 12-14 games a season at the top level is not enough, they need to play in that competition longer.
“The standard is increasing and getting better but in order to go to that next level, we need full-time programs to develop the players.
“As coaches we can actually assist in that development and we can increase squad numbers and have a reserve grade competition as well. It’s fragmented at the moment.”
Arrarte pointed to overseas competitions, particularly in some parts of Europe, who have grown significantly over the past few years.
He believes a full-time competition in Australia will attract the best players and in turn the fans.
“We see overseas, we look at the English league a few years ago, to where it is now,” he said.
“The Spanish league and Italian league have gone professional. It all came from the injection of finances.
“They have also attracted star players. They have a chance to play Champions League and 30-plus games now with different competitions and cups.
“If we can do that in Australia we can entice players to stay here and also attract good foreigners, by giving them good competition week in, week out.
“We can then attract crowds as well that way, by getting the best players.”
Arrarte also made the point that a full-time set-up helps coaching and support staff.
There have been many rumblings within the A-League Women about the lack of remuneration and certainty for coaches and medical staff, many of whom need to work elsewhere to make ends meet.
“When you are asking staff members to work and then go to training, whether it’s a coach or physio, it’s hard to expect them to devote themselves 100 per cent to the game, when they need to juggle two, three, four jobs,” said Arrarte.
“It’s difficult so you start to cut corners, so you don’t get the quality.”
For now Arrarte is focused on the task at hand, with the Philippines taking on Thailand on 21 January in Navi Mumbai in their Asian Cup opener.
The big clash with the Matildas is three days later, also in Mumbai. Their final group game is against Indonesia on 27 January.