So, the Socceroos bow out at the Group Stage, again. I, for one, think Bert van Marwijk did a fantastic job in a short time. He set the team up well enough to stand toe to toe with three of the best teams in the world, and one of the main beneficiaries could well be Graham Arnold.
After the heavy going we made of qualification, the premature departure of Ange Postecoglou and the relative FIFA rankings, Australia was always going to struggle to get out of the group. Many I spoke with before the tournament feared not so much failure as total humiliation against the likes of France, Denmark and Peru so the fact we looked the part, and even bossed every match for long periods, speaks volumes both for the quality of Australian footballers and van Marwijk’s ability to diagnose the needs of a team and implement so effectively.
But now the Age of Arnie commences, and the first thing to note is that van Marwijk’s 4-2-3-1 system is exactly the system preferred by Arnie at both the Mariners and Sydney FC. It was also the system used by Ange during the Asian Cup and in the first stages of qualification for Russia before he changed to 3-5-2. (Enough has already been written about that.)
Arnie’s first order of business will be to ascertain (or even decide) the playing futures of certain aging individuals ahead of the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates next January. Being only six months away, the likes of Jedinak, Milligan and Cahill may well decide they’d rather go out on a high (or something approaching a high) rather than the disappointment of Russia.
Arnie will be galvanised by the fact that certain members of the team have more or less reached their prime as footballers. Mat Ryan, Trent Sainsbury, Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic and Matt Leckie can form the foundation for a new Golden Generation if we can unearth a few more players going forward. Aziz Behich has locked down the left back spot and we have some quality in most other positions.
The clear deficiency is in the final third. Bearing in mind that Tim Cahill is more of an attacking midfielder who can jump, rather than a genuine striker, the sad reality is that we haven’t had a striker worth the name since Mark Viduka.
I do hope that, as an ex-striker himself, Arnie will be adept at identifying and developing goal scorers. In recent years he’s brought in goal scorers from overseas, but he does have some form with Australians. He reinvigorated Daniel McBreen at the Mariners, got the best out of Matt Simon and turned Bernie Ibini into an (occasionally) lethal finisher. If Ibini could just find some consistency he’d be a very good player.
In other positions, Arnie has a great record in the A-League for bringing good, young players through and it’s to the youth we need to look (certainly in the medium term) for our new stars. Daniel Arzani has everyone excited (the Australian Messi) but it’s unlikely there’ll be too many more like him discovered in time for the Asian Cup.
We have to work with what we’ve got and that effectively means Nabbout, Juric, Maclaren, and not too many others (although Kwame Yeboah and Brandon Borello might be worth a look). Can Arnie give any of these the tips, tricks and attitude to make them more effective? Could he experiment with Rogic as a false nine? That would allow him to use Irvine as a ten also.
What Arnie (the most successful coach in A-League history) will bring to his tenure is the same qualities he brought to the Mariners and Sydney. Everyone knows the team structure and system and knows exactly their own role. Arnie’s teams are super-organised in defence – moving about the park in a tight formation that makes it hard to play through the lines. They work really hard to win possession and, depending on the personnel available, snap into transition with a single forward pass.
With the ball, Arnie tends to like fast overlapping fullbacks getting early balls into the middle. This might resurrect the hopes of Alex Gersbach who is a fast ball player and might combine well with Arzani. Risdon did fairly well at the World Cup but he still needs improvement – his crossing could be better and he gets lost ball-watching sometimes. Arnie will insist he knows his role in both attack and defence.
But how much will Arnie change, at least in the short term? Several of the players talked about what they’d learned under van Marwijk and the messages regarding confidence and body language should not be lost. Arnie is wise enough to keep what worked and hopefully able to convert his A-League success into Socceroo glory.
He will also be very motivated to exorcise the ghosts of his last Asian Cup campaign.
I expect Arnie to make a much better fist of his Second Coming and predict some very strong showings over the next four years.
We just need to find some strikers.
Adrian’s latest book The Fighting Man is in the shops right now or available through Booktopia. Adrian also wrote Mr Cleansheets.