Socceroos head coach Graham Arnold has delivered a powerful, honest reflection on his coaching journey as he prepares to make history on Thursday night.
A World Cup qualifier against Bangladesh in Melbourne on Thursday night brings Arnold back to where his first stint in charge of the Socceroos began in 2006, replacing Guus Hiddink in an interim role after serving as his assistant at the World Cup in Germany.
More than 17 years on from his first game at the helm, Arnold is about to oversee his 59th Australia ‘A’ international, overtaking Frank Farina to hold the outright record of any coach in the long history of the Socceroos.
The milestone brought about a frank assessment of his own development as a coach, sparked by a question from the media in the build-up to Thursday’s clash.
“How much have you learned in the media from 10 years ago?” Arnold asked.
“A lot,” the journalist answered.
“Exactly. That wasn’t a jab… it’s life,” continued Arnold.
“I openly admit I wasn’t ready (in 2006). I did it to help try and help the organisation at the time. Dick Advocaat had already signed a contract and was ready to take over after Guus Hiddink. I was in contact with Dick Advocaat about the team he wanted me to take to the Asian Cup.
“So it was an interim role that I just did to try and help the organisation while I was doing the Olympic team, but what I can say is, what I learned in that period, just those 10-12 months, is probably the best lesson I could’ve ever learned.
“I tried to be someone I wasn’t as a human being. I tried to be Guus Hiddink. To be hard and all that stuff.
I’m not saying on the man management side but I honestly say the boys didn’t respect me as a coach in those days. They were right because I hadn’t done anything as a coach.”
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Arnold took over from Hiddink after the highs of the 2006 World Cup, navigated through qualification for Australia’s first tilt at an Asian Cup, and then took the Socceroos to the 2007 continental tournament. The Socceroos were eliminated in the quarter-finals by Japan via a penalty shootout.
“It was a really telling moment,” Arnold continued.
“In (those) 12 months, after I finished that Asian Cup it was like: ‘Do I really want to be a coach?’
“With all the criticism and all that you get, I started feeling if I really wanted to and then I decided to myself I wanted to do it. I had to improve because otherwise you don’t last long in this industry.
“If I reflect back today, I still remember clearly the results. We ended up losing against Japan in a penalty shootout in the quarter-final, we were a man short after 60 minutes. We played 60 minutes against Japan and had a 1-1 draw and lost a penalty shootout.
“Losing against Iraq 3-1 and that you still have those memories, but a lot you reflect back to those times and what I did those days that today you just don’t do at all. Especially with the new generation of people in the game.”
Twelve years after the 2006 World Cup, history repeated when the completion of the 2018 edition of the tournament led to Arnold’s appointment as head coach – this time in a permanent role. A Round of 16 finish at the 2022 World Cup is the highlight moment of a coaching tenure that has seen Arnold cement himself as one of the most important figures in the Socceroos’ history.
And now, a new chapter is to be written as the Socceroos set off in pursuit of a spot at the 2026 World Cup, under the man who on Thursday night will go where no other coach of the national team has gone before.
Sat next to his captain Mat Ryan on Wednesday afternoon, Arnold confirmed the goalkeeper would start against Bangladesh at AAMI Park; forward Martin Boyle did not travel Down Under for the first of two qualifiers in this window, but will join the squad in Kuwait to take on Palestine on Tuesday, November 22.
Kusini Yengi looms as a potential debutant, and is a player Arnold says will give the Socceroos another option in the final third.
Socceroos v Bangladesh
Thursday, 16 November 2023, AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 8.OOpm AEDT
Tickets: via Ticketek
Broadcast: Network 10 and Paramount+
Palestine v Socceroos
Tuesday, 22 November 2023, Jaber Al-Ahmed International Stadium, Kuwait
Kick-off: 1am AEDT
Broadcast: Network 10 and Paramount+