Socceroos built for Asian Cup success with or without Aaron Mooy: Sydney FC’s Rhyan Grant
Rhyan Grant made his Socceroos debut this year after continued great form for Sydney FC. (AAP: Brendan Esposito)
Socceroos defender Rhyan Grant insists the side will travel to the UAE for next month’s Asian Cup certain they have both the players and game plan to win back-to-back continental titles.
“You’re always going to be confident coming off being defending champions,” Grant told the ABC.
“Just being involved in the latest camp, the boys are very upbeat. We’re all set to go and play well at this tournament. And there’s no doubt we can go there and win it. There’s no other reason to go there.”
Coach Graham Arnold’s planning has been clouded by injury concerns over a number of key creative players, with exciting young prospect Daniel Arzani ruled out after picking up the serious knee injury that abruptly ended his first season in Europe with Celtic.
Midfield pivots Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic have been named in the official 23-man squad, despite the former being ruled out for “six to eight weeks” by his Premier League club Huddersfield Town after picking up a knock playing against Arsenal last week.
That prognosis would see him miss the early stages of the competition at least — though Arnold has dispatched an independent medical expert to Yorkshire who will report back at the end of this week with their assessment of Mooy’s fitness.
Aaron Mooy has been included in the Socceroos Asian Cup squad despite currently being injured. (AAP: Darren England)
Such is the value of the midfielder to the squad that he will be given as long as possible to prove he can play at least some part. The Socceroos have until January 5 to make changes to their squad if necessary.
Rogic is set to return for Celtic over the Christmas period, with possible surgery to an ongoing knee complaint put off until the end of the season.
Regardless of the pair’s state of health, however, Grant believes there is enough talent within the squad to cover should they be required, pointing to the success of Massimo Luongo — instrumental in securing ultimate victory in 2005 — despite being a relative unknown going into that competition.
“It’s never good news for the boys to go down injured,” Grant said. “Especially with Daniel, who had a very serious injury just as he was starting to kick off.
“Everyone would want [Mooy and Rogic] to be there — whether as a teammate or a fan, you want to see the best Australian players playing.
“But in saying that, there is very good depth. If they aren’t able to play at any point there are definitely boys who can do the job.
“Look at the last Asian Cup. [Massimo] Luongo had a fantastic tournament. He was always a good player but perhaps a lot of fans didn’t really know him [before then].
“You never know if that’s just around the corner for someone else this time.”
Overnight success a decade in the making
Grant made his debut for Australia in its recent 3-0 friendly victory over Lebanon and did enough then — and across this season for Sydney FC — to convince Arnold to get him on the plane.
It adds to a memorable week for the 27-year-old, who on Friday will mark 10 years playing for Sydney FC — the first player to do so at the club and only the third in A-League history — by featuring against Perth, the same side he made his debut for as a fresh-faced teenager.
The journey has not been smooth for one of the most likeable players in the A-League, with two separate ACL injuries ripping time out of a career that earlier this year tipped past 150 appearances for his sole club.
Massimo Luongo celebrates after scoring during the 2015 Asian Cup final against South Korea in Sydney. (Reuters: Steve Christo)
That double misfortune threatened to derail a career that had long looked like including international honours when he was invited to the AIS soccer program back in 2008.
Two domestic titles in his time with Sydney FC underline his value on the right side of defence when fit. Now with a wealth of experience (“both good and bad”) behind him, he is in the form of his life, with the best years of his career immediately ahead of him.
“Being at one club for 10 years, especially a big one like Sydney FC, is something to be proud of,” he said.
“[Managing the injuries was] difficult, but it’s just one of those things. You’ve just got to deal with it and get your head down.
“But obviously there were a few tough times there where you’re pretty angry about it and not real happy. You’ve got to move on and get the work done otherwise you’re never going to get better or get back to where you want to be.
“I was fortunate that the Sydney FC boys looked after me. As much as it’s hard work, behind the scenes I’ve got a lot of people who helped me come through it.
“And the knees are holding up pretty well now.”
Dawn of the Arnold era
After the short-term appointment of Bert van Marwijk for a World Cup that showcased Australian endeavour and effort but failed to reach the heights, January brings the first real test for new manager Arnold.
It will be the first major tournament in which neither Tim Cahill or Mile Jedinak have featured in almost 15 years, and so the squad is one in transition while still carrying the weight of expectation.
Arnold has spent his first six months in charge casting his eye over as many players a possible either in training camps or in friendlies, looking to build depth as well as identify the players best suited to his high-energy counterattacking style.
Rhyan Grant (23) and Sydney FC won the 2017 A-League Grand Final on penalties under the guidance of current Socceroos boss Graham Arnold. (AAP: Dean Lewins)
Grant falls neatly into that. Having worked with Arnold during a successful spell at Sydney FC, the right back’s energy up and down the flanks is well known to the national team manager.
“His record speaks for itself,” said Grant of his former — and now current — boss.
“At Sydney he was always a very positive coach. A good man manager, who knows how to talk with players and take them under his wing and get the best out of them.
“He wants to make sure everyone is enjoying themselves but working hard.
“I had probably my best ever season under him. [And] it definitely suits my game the way Arnie wants to play — or at least I’m hoping he thinks that.
“I learnt my trade from him, so if it clicks again hopefully we can work together going in to the future. “
That future begins now, of course.
The Socceroos have just a single warm-up match, against former Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek’s Oman in Dubai on December 30.
After that they open their Asian Cup campaign against Jordan on January 6, before further group fixtures against Palestine and Syria.