Graham Arnold has revealed his ‘massive concerns’ for the future of football in Australia, and the competitiveness of the Socceroos, while calling for a major overhaul of the country’s youth development systems.
Australia’s success in Qatar – where they broke a 12-year drought with their brilliant victory over Tunisia – is a credit to the tireless efforts of Arnold, his support staff and every player who featured throughout their arduous qualifying process.
But as Arnold says, it is simply the “icing on the cake” when it comes to football in Australia.
The real work happens in every tier below the Socceroos and Matildas, and this is where Arnold’s fears lie.
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“The Socceroos are just the icing on the cake – and whatever that icing, whether it tastes good or bad, the most important thing is the ingredients,” Arnold said.
“The ingredients are junior development, junior national teams. If that’s not right, the icing will not taste very good.”
Arnold has not just steered Australia through some rocky waters over the past four and a half years to get them to this World Cup, he’s also taken on the role of head coach of the Olyroos – the nation’s under-23 side, which he guided to last year’s Tokyo Olympics and an unlikely win over Argentina.
Nothing has come easy, however.
Arnold was in Russia four years ago when Bert van Marwijk took the Socceroos to a group stage exit.
And what Arnold saw concerned him – an ageing squad, spearheaded by the 37-year-old Tim Cahill.
“I could see straight away that Cahill, (Mile) Jedinak, (Mark) Milligan, (Robbie) Kruse… (it was) an ageing squad,” Arnold said.
“I’d already taken the job, I needed to find players. And when I started looking, there was nothing coming through.
“When you’re ringing A-League coaches, and you’re talking about two players per club, I barely could put a squad together to go to Thailand, and even to Cambodia (for Olympic qualifiers). That’s not right.
“We need more kids given an opportunity in Australia. For me, there’s massive concerns for the future moving forward, unless it’s fixed.”
WHAT ARNIE WANTS TO ACHIEVE
Asked about his goals for this team, Arnold has repeatedly said he simply wants to put smiles on the faces of Australians. The fact that likely comes with victories, like against Tunisia, is simply more icing for Arnold’s Australian football cake.
But there’s more that can be born from this World Cup run: a legacy, like that which the Golden Generation’s 2006 delivered.
“To leave a legacy is huge. 2006, and what that generation did, all the kids that grew up… that’s these kids, this generation,” Arnold said, with 31-year-old Mat Leckie sitting alongside him.
“They were 10 years of age watching these guys do what they did in 2006. Those guys were their inspiration. When you sit around in the lunchroom now, this generation is talking about emulating the 2006 squad and achieving the same goals they saw when they were 10 years of age.
“It’s about putting the game on the map a bit more in Australia, but there’s so much more work to do and to look at.”
But to capitalise on the interest this World Cup has generated, money is important.
Saudi Arabia has poured in funds to build their football program, and subsequently earned direct qualification ahead of Australia – highlighting the progress of Asian nations, and what Australia needs to do to keep pace.
“Asia is growing so quickly,” Arnold says.
“People can sit back at home and their opinion is maybe Saudi is not that good, or Japan. Look at what they’ve done. Beaten Argentina. Beaten Germany. Asia is throwing a lot of money into football and we need to catch-up.”
Originally published as World Cup 2022: Australia vs Denmark live score updates for Socceroos, stream, watch live