Ex-Australia skipper Mark Milligan believes Football Australia should bluntly ask Graham Arnold whether he can “get any more” out of his beleaguered Socceroos, amid widespread speculation the coach is on the brink of being axed.
Now a budding coach in his own right with NSW NPL side St George, 80-cap Milligan says a candid conversation needs to be had between Arnold and the governing body to drill down on his strategy moving into the perilous playoff stage on the treacherous road to this year’s World Cup in Qatar.
TIME TO ASK ARNIE TOUGH QUESTIONS
- Former Socceroos skipper Mark Milligan wants FA to quiz under-fire coach Graham Arnold over whether he can summon any more from his struggling side.
- Milligan doesn't favour dispensing with the coach as a knee-jerk reaction to missing out on direct World Cup qualification.
- But he wants to know whether Arnold's mindset is right for the play-offs which lie ahead in June.
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Multiple reports suggest that Arnold’s four-year tenure could be cut short after Wednesday’s now meaningless qualifier against Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, last week’s toothless 2-0 home loss to Japan all but sealing his fate.
Though far removed from the vociferous "Arnold out” lobby on social media and beyond, Milligan said the “writing has been on the wall” after a dismal run of results cost Australia direct qualification to Qatar, consigning them to sudden-death duels against an Asian opponent and potentially the fifth-placed team from Latin America.
“If it’s down to me, and I’m on the FA board, then you sit down with Arnie and you have a good chat about the way the team is playing, and the fact that obviously at the moment something is missing,” Milligan told FTBL.
“It’s clear we need to find a way to get more out of the Socceroos team, and you need to ask Arnie whether he thinks he can do that. That’s a conversation you could have.
“You sit down and you say ‘do you have more to offer, can you get something extra out of this group?
“Arnie has been around a long time, he’s very experienced, and I’m sure you’d get a more than an honest answer.”
Should FA, as anticipated, pull the rug from under Arnold, no matter what the outcome in Riyadh, Milligan claims his successor might be “on a hiding to nothing”.
“It’s difficult because if you go down that route whoever comes in for (possibly) two games (in June) has to quickly unpack and unpick what Arnie has been working on for four years,” he argued.
“They’d have to put their own stamp on things in literally three days with the squad, and then go and win two of the biggest games of the year (a week apart).
“You’re sort of on a hiding to nothing if you’re the one coming in. I personally feel if there was any change to be made it was needed to be have been done well before now.
“If we’re being totally honest, looking at the last three or four performances the writing has been on the wall a little bit.”
Whilst Arnold must be granted the mitigation of a savagely depleted starting XI against the Samurai Blue, Milligan saw only meekness and risk-aversion when courage was called for.
“Looking at the Japan game, other than a 10-minute spell after half-time, It felt a bit like a match we didn’t want to lose rather than one we needed to win,” he said.
“It’s hard to look in from the outside and pinpoint things but I have no doubt on the inside there are more answers to be had.
“Everybody knew what was at stake against Japan and it was hard to understand that we looked like a team accepting of the fact that Japan are a very good side and we left them to do a little bit what they wanted.
“The most concerning thing is that although Japan are a very good side, they’re potentially not the best side we’re going to face this year.
“So what happens when we come up against a stronger outfit? I just don’t see what’s next.
“If a new coach were to come in that can bring a new energy - but that whole process comes with positives and negatives because you have boys that maybe have been playing regularly and a new coach has totally different ideas.
“The effect can be short-lived but maybe in the short-term that could be good enough.”
Milligan questions, though, what firing Arnold would actually achieve at this late stage.
“We put our faith in Arnie at the start of this journey and I don’t know how much benefit you get by replacing him now,” he added.
“The FA is between a rock and a hard place and to be honest they may have put themselves there.
“You hear things about whether Arnie has got the backing he needed throughout the campaign. If that is the case then the only people that put us in the situation is ourselves.
“That said, no one person knows the full story and that’s why there is so much speculation.
“The FA obviously put him in charge for a reason, they know the way Arnie likes to play and wants to play.
“Right now the Socceroos are coming up short, and whether that’s a tactical thing I’m not sure.
“We know how tough this period has been but it’s been tough for everybody and when we played Oman (in the previous window) they had seven or eight stars missing (through Covid) yet still managed to get a (2-2) result against us.”
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