Friday 28 December 2018, 00:04

Arnold: There is no added pressure as Asian champions

  • Australia coach Graham Arnold chats to ahead of the Asian Cup

  • The Socceroos head to United Arab Emirates as defending champions

  • “We have good young players who will be given their chance”

Australia head to the upcoming AFC Asian Cup as defending champions with a new coach and a rejuvenated squad. Graham Arnold took the reins following the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ for his second stint at the helm, following a short role as interim coach in a period which included the 2007 Asian Cup.

A former long-serving Socceroo striker during the 1980s and 90s, Arnold enjoyed a long apprenticeship as national team assistant coach, including at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, working under the likes of Guus Hiddink. Arnold has since carved out a hugely successful coaching career in the A-League, winning championships at Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC, with his teams playing a modern fast-paced brand of football.

Australia head to United Arab Emirates for the newly-enhanced 24-nation Asian Cup with a significantly changed squad to that which won their maiden continental title on home soil four years ago. Headlining the absentees are retired duo Tim Cahill and Mile Jedinak, who contributed 40 per cent of the team’s goals over the past World Cup cycle.

Arnold tells of his ambitions for the team, football philosophy, managing a period of change and expectations for the continental championship. What does it mean to you personally as a former Socceroo to be coaching the national team? Graham Arnold: It’s a great honour. As a player when you are a kid and you go through all the grassroots and the pathways of junior representative football it is always an ambition to play for your country, and it’s the highest accolade you can have. And then to be a coach of the country as well after 18 years of coaching it is a great honour and it is one that is very special to me.

How much have you grown as a coach since having the role on an interim basis in 2007? You could probably relate that to ‘how much do you improve as a player from a seven-year-old to an 18-year-old?’ You obviously learn a lot along the way, you learn from your mistakes, you get older, you get more experienced, and therefore it is hard to even compare.

How important is it to you to keep the history and value of the Socceroo shirt highly valued among modern players? It’s everything. Sometimes players need to be reminded how fortunate they are and how they are adored by the public and the fans when they pull on that Australian jersey. There is nothing more special. You can play for ten clubs during your career or more, but you can only play for one country so that is always a very special moment.

After a couple of high-profile retirement, how strong is the platform you have looking ahead to the next World Cup cycle? Unfortunately everyone has their day and has to retire and Mile [Jedinak] and Timmy [Cahill] have been great for the Socceroos over a long time and were great leaders but no one is irreplaceable. Everyone has their strengths and their values and I believe that we have some good young players, fresh players coming through at the moment and they will be given the opportunity.

Is there added pressure entering the Asian Cup as champions? No, not on my side of it. If it was one year ago that we won the Asian Cup then maybe, but it was four years ago and a lot happens in life over four years. In that time we have been to a World Cup with other Asian nations where the other Asian nations won games and we didn’t. It is about going to the Asian Cup and giving our best efforts and performances.

What added challenges are there playing in west Asia? Playing in west Asia is probably better suited to us than east Asia due to the lack of humidity [early in the year]. The time of the year playing in the UAE the weather is going to be fantastic, the pitches are going to be great, so it is easy to adjust to.