Graham Arnold has blasted the state of Australian football in a stunning move ahead of the Socceroos' clash with Denmark at the World Cup. A win or draw on Wednesday (Thursday morning AEDT) will send Australia into the knockout stage for just the second time in World Cup history.
But Arnold has fired an extraordinary broadside at officials back home, demanding an exhaustive review of Australian football. Speaking in a press conference in Qatar on Tuesday, Arnold said he fears for the future, alarmed at a lack of junior development as the sport in Australia trails in the wake of cashed-up Asian nations.
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"The Socceroos are just the icing on the cake," Arnold told reporters. "And whatever that icing, whether it tastes good or bad, the most important thing is the ingredients. The ingredient is junior development, junior national teams. If that's not right, the icing will not taste very good."
Arnold could coach the Socceroos for the last time in their clash against Denmark. But even if the Socceroos win and advance to the knockout stages, he says deep-seated issues remain for Football Australia. "Whatever happens with this World Cup, I think the organisation needs a review of what is going on in junior development," he said.
Arnold's tenure as Australia's coach started after the 2018 World Cup in Russia - he attended the tournament and was immediately concerned. "I could see straight away that (Tim) Cahill, (Mile) Jedinak, (Mark) Milligan, (Robbie) Kruse, an ageing squad was there," he said. "I had already taken the job. I needed to find players.
"And when I started looking, there was nothing coming through. When you're ringing A-League coaches and you're talking about two players per club ... it's not right. We need more kids given an opportunity in Australia. For me, there is massive concern for the future unless it's fixed."
Arnold took on the job as coach of Australia's under 23 side in addition to the Socceroos as a "quick fix" talent search. "That's why I did the Olympic team for nothing, that's why I had to do it," he said.
"When I asked the organisation 'what is the Olympic program?', and it's 10 days preparation with a team that didn't have a coach two months before. Those type of things are not right."
Arnold said he wanted his legacy to be an improved status of football in Australia. "Football in Australia is probably the fourth or fifth main sport after AFL, rugby league, rugby union, cricket ... then there's football - they call it soccer, it's football," he said.
"So to leave a legacy is huge. It's about putting the game on the map a bit more in Australia but there's so much more work to do and to look at."
Asked what should be a first priority, Arnold replied: "Hire about 150 people. The game is growing and growing. Asia is growing so quickly.
"People can sit back at home and their opinion is maybe Saudi (Arabia) is not that good or Japan. Look at what they have done (in Qatar) - beaten Argentina, beaten Germany. Asia is throwing a lot of money into football and we need to catch up."
Graham Arnold keeping starting lineup under wraps
On the eve of every game in his four and a half year tenure, Arnold has announced his starting line-up to his players. But not this time.
"We need that extra bit of time to see how the boys pulled up," he told reporters. Arnold declined to divulge specifics as the Australians prepare for their third game in nine days in Qatar.
And a draw with the Danes will be enough should reigning champions France down Tunisia in a match kicking off at the same time (0200 AEDT Thursday).
"I have never coached for a draw, it's all about winning," Arnold said. "We want to go for it, to get two wins. In '06 we got one win and one draw. And our mission now is to get two wins and have the most wins ever at the one World Cup."
Arnold said his over-riding emotion ahead of possibly his last game as Socceroos coach - his contract expires at the end of Australia's campaign - was excitement. "It's not often you get to go to a World Cup and I have been saying this to the boys, to enjoy the journey, enjoy the ride," he said.
"We have gone through, over four and half years, some difficult periods. Obviously through the (Covid-19) pandemic, and we only played four games out of 20 at home (during qualifying).
"So for the boys, just enjoy this ride. It's all about the belief within the group, it's about the energy in the players ... and then the full focus is on ourselves and getting our game right. I feel really relaxed and ready."
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