Though ultimately successful in steering the Socceroos to Qatar courtesy of a bare-knuckle penalty shootout ride in their intercontinental playoff against Peru, Arnold’s achievement has gone under-valued and under-appreciated, according to former Manchester United assistant Meulensteen.


  • Graham Arnold faced a torrent of criticism during Australia's roller-coaster World Cup qualification journey, which assistant Rene Meulensteen insists was misplaced.
  • The Socceroos coach has kept a dignified silence concerning his detractors but Meulensteen is forthright in his repudiation of the snipers.
  • The Dutchman believes the Socceroos coach is under-valued and under-appreciated by large swathes of the Australian public and others within the game.


There was talk of the 58-year-old being unseated as the Socceroos stumbled to third place in the Asian qualifying group behind Saudi Arabia and Japan.

But he survived to mastermind the 5-4 shootout victory over Peru, despite traversing a route peppered with land-mines during a torturous 20-game, Covid-ravaged journey which featured just four home games.

Meulensteen, who sat in the Old Trafford dugout alongside the imperious Alex Ferguson for six years, is perplexed by the indifference and often undiluted antipathy endured by Arnold along the way.

The Arnold baiters have fallen silent, but the phenomenon has Meulensteen scratching his head.

“As an outsider looking in I find it strange the lack of widespread support for Arnie - and at times the team as well - during a very difficult and challenging campaign,” Meulensteen told FTBL.

“There are even some who said we only made it through because Peru were that bad. There’s been a fickleness rather than respect for the coach.

“The thing is there are people out there who have unrealistic expectations of the national team. On what basis do they expect Australia to simply stroll into every World Cup?

“That shows a disconnect with the rest of Asia which is now really strong, even beyond (traditional regional powers like) Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.

“It shows a lack of understanding where Australia sits (in the global pecking order), the quite mediocre ranking of the A-League and the fact we don’t have an abundance of players in the world’s top leagues right now.

“In my eyes - considering all the pitfalls he’s faced - it’s a huge achievement by Arnie in leading Australia to the World Cup. There’s never a divine right there.

“It really baffles me that some people don’t appreciate or understand that.”

Meulensteen also pointed to a record breaking run of wins early in the campaign, before momentum shifted, as another milestone ignored by the Arnold sceptics.

“I think there needs to be a change of outlook and appreciation, not just for Arnie, but the players and what they’ve accomplished,” he added.

“There’s a huge loyalty aspect in the way everyone stuck together among the players and staff, no matter what the critics said.

“The work Arnie and his staff have done in bringing so many players up through the Olyroos to the Socceroos should also be acknowledged because they’re the future of the national team.

“We actually both worked together with boys at the Japan Games for no pay because we wanted to help them develop and reach their highest potential.

“It was about creating depth and you saw that with nine former Olyroos in our squad against Peru. That’s a success in itself.”

Meulensteen typifies the conviction to the cause which has now borne fruit with France, Denmark and Tunisia awaiting in the group stage in Doha in November-December.

Over the past four years he’s fielded several “tempting offers”. But he didn’t budge.

“Yes, I was approached several times and could easily have walked away many times but I didn’t,” he revealed.

“There were some tempting offers but the thought (of leaving) never entered my head because I wanted to see this journey through and the determination and desire to go to the World Cup was just so strong.

“I never ever wanted to miss that opportunity. And to get to the World Cup in the fashion that we did it makes it so much sweeter.”



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