COVID has ruled Graham Arnold out of action at one of the most crucial times of his coaching career as he approaches a 10-day period which could make or break Australia’s hopes of qualifying for a fifth successive World Cup.
But despite his diagnosis, which presents the team with a headache it certainly doesn’t need, Socceroos boss Arnold is certain of one thing – win, lose or draw – the results against Vietnam in Melbourne on Thursday and Oman in Muscat six days later will not define his career.
“If I gave up, if I retired tomorrow, I’ve been pretty happy with what I’ve done in my life in Australian football. You know, I’ve been to two World Cups, I’ve been to four Olympics, I’ve won trophies and played overseas. For my potential, I had a very good playing career. So I’d be pretty happy, ” Arnold said looking ahead to the critical matches.
Socceroos boss Graham Arnold.Credit:Kate Geraghty
Still, the primacy of the national team in public consciousness, its performances and achievements tend to overshadow what happens in the domestic game. As a consequence, a coach’s tenure in the Socceroos hot seat tends to shape the way they are widely remembered, certainly by fans who are only casual followers of the A-League.
The pressure is thus on Arnold’s men to deliver at AAMI Park on Thursday against a Vietnamese side which has lost all six of its games so far, despite having been highly competitive against all opponents in the group (Saudi Arabia, Japan, Oman and China, as well as Australia).
The task becomes even harder in Oman, who face their own moment of truth in the early hours of Friday when they take on Saudi Arabia, the group leaders.
But, the coach stresses, whatever happens he will not be defined by World Cup success (of which he is confident) or failure. He is comfortable in his skin and with what he has achieved in a lifetime in the game.
“I’ve got to live with myself after this. My goals and my ambitions, and my passion will never change,” he said. “We will get to the World Cup. We will get to Qatar [and] I am doing everything through a pandemic possible to make that happen. And I’m working my arse off every day to make that happen. I can only help what I can control. What I can control is what I’m doing here with the staff and the players.
“I’m old enough and experienced enough to know that’s [criticism] out there, and it always will be … that’s the trade I’m in.
“Mentally all I have to do is appease myself and I can get on with the rest of my life. And I’m doing my best here to help kids.
“Yes, I enjoy winning premierships (which he achieved with Central Coast and Sydney FC) but if you asked me what I preferred – I prefer to see [Socceroos goalkeeper] Maty Ryan playing for Brighton in the Premier League every week like he was, and seeing players that I coached becoming millionaires and achieving great things in life over me winning a trophy.”
Arnold won two A-League premierships and a grand final with Sydney FC.Credit:Christopher Pearce
Arnold admits that he is, however, “pretty proud” of the Socceroos’ world record-breaking run of 11 straight wins in World Cup qualifiers, even if they have come up short subsequently, losing to Japan and drawing with Saudi Arabia and China. Those results, he says, were learning opportunities for the tests that loom now. After the Vietnam and Oman matches, his team faces the top two teams in the group – Japan at home and Saudi Arabia away.
“The one we lost [to Japan] was [due to an] an own goal, and we played 12 [matches] away from home, so we’ve got everything in our own hands, and I’ve got a lot of belief and a lot of confidence in this group of players.
“Everything happens for a reason, and with everything we’ll move forward. We’ve learned lessons, not only how to prepare and be ready for games from only one training session, but also we’ve had [experience] in Qatar when we played over there.”
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