Australia World Cup history-maker Graham Arnold is a good fit for Scottish clubs
The recent Australian influx in Scotland encompasses almost half the Premiership clubs. It is perhaps slightly surprising, therefore, that no-one has yet enticed national coach Graham Arnold to these shores. Analyse his CV and experience and it amounts to an astute footballing figurehead.
Many Aberdeen and Hibs fans are currently calling for new managers due to poor recent results. Arnold, at 59, would surely be worth considering for any top-flight chairman. Ange Postecoglou’s success at Celtic proves Aussie coaches with little European experience can thrive at the summit of the Scottish Professional Football League system. Arnold is not simply another Postecoglou, though. He has never worked on this continent but his achievements, particularly at international level, underline his capabilities.
Only twice have Australia made history by reaching the World Cup knockout phase and Arnold was heavily involved on both occasions. At Germany 2006, he assisted Guus Hiddink as the Socceroos lost to eventual winners Italy in the round of 16. As head coach in Qatar just a few weeks ago, he oversaw another minor miracle as Australia finished level on group points with holders France before losing out again to eventual champions Argentina in the first knockout round. For a squad containing players from world football heavyweights like St Mirren, Adelaide United and Machida Zelvia of Japan, it was a remarkable achievement.
Arnold has won three Australian Premiership titles, two Championship titles and an FFA Cup with clubs Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC. However, his only job outside his homeland was a brief spell in charge of Vegalta Sendai of Japan in 2014. Players working under him speak of a warm but motivated manager who likes a balance of camaraderie and professional unity within his squad.
The Hearts quartet of Kye Rowles, Cammy Devlin, Nathaniel Atkinson and on-loan Garang Kuol were all part of the Socceroos group in Qatar. As were Celtic’s Aaron Mooy, St Mirren’s Keanu Baccus and Aziz Behich of Dundee United – not to mention a certain Jason Cummings. Arnold is well-versed in the Scottish football culture despite never having worked here. There is surprise within the Australian footballing community that UK or European clubs aren’t taking a serious look at him.
“Yeah, definitely,” said Rowles, promoted from Australia’s 2020 Olympic squad by Arnold. “He’s given massive opportunities to a lot of the Olympic boys from the Under-23s, myself included. I’m really happy that we had such a good run at the World Cup. We all knew we could do it as a group and we all believed in the coaching staff. They believed in us as well. I know that, not only him [Arnold], but a lot of us boys cop a bit of flak from back home. It was good to make the country proud.
“I’m sure he has had a couple of feelers out there. I think he’s a great coach and I’m massively grateful for the opportunities he gave me. He tactically got us right in pretty much every game on the biggest stage at the World Cup. These are the most pressured moments, not only in a player’s career but in a coach’s career as well. You are really on the chopping block. He showed how much knowledge he has of the game with how he set us up to play. If he did go anywhere, I think he would do an awesome job wherever he went.”
The Socceroos World Cup squad announcement videos offered a priceless insight into Arnold’s psyche and man-management methods. After calling Cummings with the news that he was going to Qatar, he then prompted the striker to “give us a bit of Greased Lightning”. Cummings did not need a second invitation to sing the John Travolta hit down the phone.
Arnold then rang Devlin to tell the Hearts player that he, too, was in the squad. “What we need is that little kicking Cam Devlin at the World Cup who’s going to run like a lunatic for 90 minutes,” explained Arnold. Devlin blurted out a few expletives in shock and then gratefully accepted. He didn’t feature in Australia’s games but would have travelled to the Middle East feeling ready to take on the world thanks to the manager’s belief. Arnold likes to build players’ confidence by getting to know them personally whilst harnessing the togetherness within the Socceroos.
“It's probably up there with one of the best football cultures I’ve been involved in,” continued Rowles. “There is a lot of chill-out time but there is video and you know that when it’s game time, it’s the most intense and switched-on period. Then, when you are out of football, it’s important you relax. Everyone gets along well and Arnie is massive on the boys hanging out, getting to know everyone on a personal level. That’s how you get that belief and trust in each other and you get to that fighting level.
“I just loved it. The environment he has created with the Socceroos is just a really fun one to be part of. It’s always better when you do have that success like we did. It was just amazing. He really gives you that confidence that you can be around the best players in the world. Obviously there were some top quality countries like France and Argentina, but the gap is not as big as some people might think. You don’t really know until you get given that chance. I’m lost for words when I think about it because it all happened so quickly for me. I only made my Australia debut in June, then by November I’m at the World Cup.”
Approaching the business end of the season, clubs often decide now is the time for managerial change. Whether to halt a recent malaise, ignite a push for success or avoid relegation, tough decisions are often taken in January, February and March. Anyone needing a new coach could do worse than call Football Federation Australia.