By Steve Wilson
Graham Arnold (C) speaks at the announcement of his appointment as Socceroos coach. (ABC News: Patrick Galloway)
As Graham Arnold was unveiled as Ange Postecoglou’s permanent successor as Socceroos coach, he had the air of a man who had already made himself at home.
Relaxed and ambitious.
So ambitious that he even suggested the Socceroos had ultimate victory as a genuine aim in both the next Asian Cup and the World Cup in 2022, once the current crop of youngsters mature.
Comfortable in his surroundings.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, having held the same post a decade previously — albeit for just 14 games as a caretaker.
A callow coach at the time, he was unable to guide a talented team to success at the 2007 Asian Cup after stepping up from an assistant’s role between the reigns of Dutch pair Guus Hiddink and Pim Verbeek.
His success or failure this time around, once he takes over from Bert van Marwijk at the conclusion of the World Cup, then, will rest on whether or not today’s Arnold is not just older but also wiser.
“I’m the first to admit I did my career back to front,” Arnold said.
“Normally you go through the coaching badges and start off as an assistant. I started off as a player-coach [at Northern Spirit] and I didn’t coach a club team, properly, then went straight in to the national team as an assistant.”
Arnold was with the national set-up in one form or another from 2006 to 2010, after playing with some distinction for the Socceroos 54 times between 1985 and 1997, scoring 19 times.
“I learnt a hell of a lot from my mistakes in 2007,” Arnold admitted.
“You can’t hide from that. But I know I am a different person today.
“I’ve learnt so much in the last few years and I’ve got such good mentors around me. If I have any issues I speak to those type of people. You never stop learning.
“If you don’t learn then there’s a problem.”
Personal growth and learning from mistakes was a constant theme of Arnold’s first public appearance since the news of his appointment was made. As was having the right people around him.
An examination of the keys behind his recent phenomenal success with Sydney FC suggests they are not hollow platitudes, either.
Graham Arnold’s Sydney FC racked up a record points haul en route to sweeping all before them in the A-League last season. (AAP: Brendan Esposito)
Last May, Arnold received the top coaching prize at the Dolan Warren end-of-season awards, and was at pains to give credit to others.
Mike Conway, one of his staff was lauded for developing his players’ mental resistance, and Bradley Charles Stubbs, a coaching mentor with experience from NRL and rugby union, an aid in Arnold’s personal growth.
Arnold turned to them at the end of a failure of the 2015/16 season to fix not the team but himself.
“Personally I had a real good hard look at myself,” Arnold said at the time.
“I wasn’t happy with my performance last year and the leadership I have to give is something that rubs off on the team.
“I went away and came back with different ideas of what I need done. I’m much more relaxed this year and it’s down to those two guys.”
It was a remarkable admission of previous failings, but also a level of self-awareness and personal insight at odds with the gruff, belligerent caricature he is often painted as.
And that may be the root of his supreme confidence that he will “do a great job” this time around with the Socceroos.
There is little argument Arnold is the most compelling candidate from the pool of local coaches.
His Sydney FC side have pre-eminence locked down in the A-League, and he took the unfashionable Central Coast Mariners to the Premier’s plate in 2012/13, with a team that included current Socceroos Mat Ryan and Trent Sainsbury.
Arnold wants to continue ‘Postecoglou’s legacy’
Whether or not the Football Federation Australia (FFA) net would have been cast wider and caught a bigger fish had they the resources to do so is a moot point.
“I’m pleased it is an Australian,” FFA chief executive David Gallop said.
“Someone who knows what it means to wear the green and gold.”
Graham Arnold feels he has improved as a coach since his first stint in charge of the Soceroos. (Reuters: Jerry Lampden, File)
For his part Arnold spoke of continuing “Postecoglou’s legacy of being proud Australians” every time players pull on the green and gold.
Reluctant to discuss his playing approach while another man was in charge of the team, and revealing he will be the most engaged of Socceroos fans sat in the stands of stadiums across Russia, Arnold struck a note of optimism and genuine excitement.
As excited as his weather-worn face is able to convey, at least.
He believes he is a different man than he was when the role first landed unexpectedly in his lap, even if some things have stayed the same.
“It feels like I never left,” Arnold said looking around FFA headquarters on Thursday.
“I walked in here and said my office used to be down there, and it’s still there.”
If the fixtures and fittings at FFA headquarters have been left largely untouched, much has changed for Arnold since he last picked a side for an international fixture.
How that journey has impacted on his ability to get the job done we will begin to learn later this year.