Passport shredder: Souttar’s $23m EPL move shows why Socceroos must cast wide net

Adam Federici gave it all in his 16 caps for Australia, but his biggest contribution to the Socceroos could very well be remembered as a single phone call.

It was to Graham Arnold, just before he left Stoke City for the A-League’s Macarthur FC, to let him know about a Scottish beanpole in their academy system who just happened to have an Australian mum.

Harry Souttar became the most expensive Australian footballer of all time with his $23 million move to Leicester City.Credit:Leicester City FC

“He said, ‘Arnie, there’s a kid here in the under-21s team who’s got an Australian passport. He’s incredible. He’s six foot, six [inches tall], he’s a centre-back, and, mate, you need to grab him,’” Arnold said.

“I got [Socceroos’ assistant coach] Rene Meulensteen to go to him two days after to have a coffee with him, and we sold him the dream – he was all on board.”

Thank heavens. Where would Arnold and the Socceroos be now without Harry Souttar? Probably not basking in the afterglow of Australia’s best World Cup campaign, or celebrating the biggest transfer fee ever spent on an Aussie player.

Wednesday was the first official day of Arnold’s new contract at the helm of the national team, and Souttar’s record-breaking $23 million move to Leicester City on transfer deadline day – outstripping the previous mark set by Aaron Mooy’s move from Manchester City to Huddersfield Town in 2017 – got it off to a rip-snorting start.

Souttar is arguably Australia’s most important player – if there are any arguments to be had after his heroic performances in Qatar – and now he will be playing in the world’s strongest league, with and against some of the most elite talent in football. There have been no Aussies playing regular football in the English Premier League since Maty Ryan mysteriously fell out of favour at Brighton and Hove Albion, but now Arnold expects Souttar to take on a key role with the 14th-placed Foxes as they battle to stave off relegation under Brendan Rodgers in the second half of the season.

“It’s great news for Harry, but also Australian football and the Socceroos, because I truly believe he will have the [captain’s] armband on one day,” Arnold said.

“His passion to play for Australia is incredible; his mentality is so good. He’s perfectly made for the Premier League. I have met Brendan Rodgers a couple of times, I can see the way he coaches … he’s spent that much money, I can see Harry walking straight in. He’ll be one of the mainstays in that Leicester City squad.

“The harder the task, the higher level he goes, the better he will perform. He’s got that in him.”

There was no escaping the irony, though, that Australia’s newest most expensive footballer has only been in this country twice in his whole life. Both times after he decided to play for the Socceroos over Scotland, where he’s really from.

Not that there’s any doubting his commitment to his adopted nation – as evidenced by the posters on his bedroom wall as a child in Aberdeen, the coat of arms and cap number tattooed on his left calf, and the desperate goal-saving interventions he made against Tunisia and Denmark.

Arnold copped a lot during the past World Cup cycle – some of it deserved, some of it not. The criticism of his “” recruits, such as Souttar, Martin Boyle and most recently Jason Cummings – all of whom are Scottish through and through but qualify for the Socceroos via family ties – falls into the latter category.

While some argue this sort of foreign scouting can cheapen the jersey, Arnold isn’t about to stop, and nor should he. Especially since the Croatian federation was in Sydney and Melbourne last month running junior training camps with national team boss Zlatko Dalic and Josip Simunic, who is from Canberra but famously chose to represent the country of his heritage, and now coaches their under-19s.

Graham Arnold tipped English Premier League would be clamouring to sign Harry Souttar after his brilliant World Cup – and he was right.Credit:Getty

They said they weren’t here to steal talent from Australia, but they definitely weren’t selling the virtues of the Socceroos either.

“All countries do it,” Arnold said.

“People talk about us doing it, but Croatia did it to us with Simunic, [Anthony] Seric and Joey Didulica – they came through the Australian system, they were at the AIS down in Canberra and they chose to play for Croatia.

“In the ’80s, ’90s, even 2000s, a lot of other cultures came out here to Australia, and a lot of players throughout Europe are eligible to play for Australia. It’s something that we got to get onto and look at, as well as fix up our pathways and bring through our own talent.”

As Arnold maps out the road ahead for the Socceroos, his next three targets are clear: Parma defender Alessandro Circati, AS Roma sensation Cristian Volpato and Manchester City youngster Alex Robertson. All three were born and raised in Australia, and if their fledgling careers continue as they’ve started, could have roles to play at the 2026 World Cup – but the first two have been involved in Italy’s junior set-up and the latter has had his head turned by England’s under-20s.

Arnold even offered Volpato a spot in his World Cup squad, and was turned down, although the 19-year-old was reportedly spotted at live sites in Sydney watching the Socceroos play in Qatar, which suggests he could still be won over.

“A lot of times it’s where the player’s heart lies,” Arnold said. “When I get a bit of time, I’ll be jumping on the airplane and sitting with them face-to-face. I never got that chance with COVID restrictions and how busy I was.

“I’ve spoken to Circati, I’ve spoken a hell of a lot with Volpato, and I’ve been in touch with Robbo’s father. They’re young, they can play for other national teams, but we want them to play for Australia.”

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