Despite his willingness to select and believe in A-League players in the past, Socceroo manager Graham Arnold appears unlikely to do so for the upcoming World Cup.
Despite Jamie Maclaren, Craig Goodwin, Mathew Leckie, Marco Tilio, Nicholas D’Agostino and ultimate hero Andrew Redmayne all being part of the group that travelled to Qatar to face Peru on June 8, Arnold has expressed a clear view that his hands appear somewhat tied when it comes to considering them for selection this time around.
With only a handful of Australia Cup and/or pre-season trials under their belts as preparation for the new A-League season that begins on October 7 with a grand final replay between Western United and Melbourne City, the manager is openly unconvinced that such a preparation is enough to command a seat on the plane.
That reads forebodingly for the players listed above.
Whether two or three impressive performances across the opening weeks of the season will be enough to alter Arnold’s view that he “can’t possibly” pick A-League players without an appropriate fitness base is unknown.
In recent comments, the Socceroos boss has been stern in his view that the June to September A-League season break “destroys” national teams.
As much of the football globe participates in domestic competitions that are now well and truly underway, players are reaching peak condition and national team managers are scouring the globe, watching and monitoring the ones they have on their short lists for potential selection.
Rather unfortunately, some of the elite Socceroo talent remains essentially idle when it comes to top-flight play, something that simply cannot be replaced by fitness, gym sessions and strength work in training.
Months back, Arnold had sought consideration from Football Australia for a potential earlier start to the domestic season, in anticipation of the exact scenario he now faces.
Perhaps an extra month of play would have made an important difference, yet the Australian Professional Leagues and Football Australia subsequently decided to return the opening round of play to its traditional and pre-COVID place, on the weekend following the NRL Grand Final.
Whilst A-League players would potentially have a maximum of four games in their legs before the time came to pack for the trip to the Middle East, one of Arnold’s key concerns is the impossibility of selecting those players for the two friendlies against New Zealand in late September.
In all likelihood, the Socceroo squad that plays at Suncorp Stadium and then ventures across the Tasman will be an overseas-based one, especially when considered in light of the categorical comments emanating from Arnold.
His calls for a season that runs from April through to November would garner much support from many fans; aligning the game far more neatly with European leagues and thus eliminating the issue that arises when major international tournaments are played across the Australian spring or early summer.
However, that discussion is the oldest chestnut in the game, with Arnold’s national team interests potentially at odds with those of the A-League; a competition that many believe enjoys and deserves some of the clear air received whilst being played without direct competition with other popular and powerful winter football codes.
Regardless of the views held in either corner, Arnold faces the tricky task of gathering together his best available talent from abroad for the matches against New Zealand, with a potential softening of his approach required should some players fail in their attempts to be released from their home clubs.
However, should the manager stand by his comments and select none of the men still champing at the bit in the Australian pre-season, the chances of Goodwin, Maclaren and co earning a spot in Arnold’s final squad slim further, with Redmayne a potential exception considering the position he plays and his intended role.
More positively, names like Riley McGree, Martin Boyle, Denis Genreau, Jackson Irvine, Aaron Mooy and Mathew Ryan are humming along well in Europe and are certain to form the nucleus of Arnold’s squad.
Sadly, those down under remain well off the coach’s radar and will have little time and opportunity to impress him through October.
Should a like-for-like selection decision be required, logic suggests that the extra kilometres in the legs of the men well into their seasons could be the deciding factor.