What the Socceroos achieved in Qatar at the 2022 FIFA World Cup was nothing short of extraordinary. With a team of young players, many of whom are a far cry from the household names of Kewell or Cahill, critics had largely written them off altogether. They may have shouldered the expectations and pressures of a nation watching back at home, but at Qatar the Socceroos were merely an afterthought to the likes of France, Portugal and Argentina – teams boasting the kind of star power only the biggest icons of the sport can achieve.
And yet, with the coaching genius and discipline of Graham Arnold, the Socceroos blocked out the noise and delivered a gutsy performance that spoke to their potential and the exciting future we are sure to see in Australian football. After falling to Argentina in the round of 16, all eyes now turn to Arnold as the question of his future as coach looms large.
Having spent four years honing the skills of the Socceroos to get them to Qatar, Arnold guided the team to their best World Cup result: winning two matches and qualifying for the Round of 16. Arnold’s contract, which expired following the tournament exit, will now be reviewed by Football Australia as they look to make a decision on whether to extend it or find a replacement coach. Naturally, fans and players alike are rooting for Arnold and believe the team’s best success lies with him as their coach. But with the review expected to take until January 2023 for a decision to be made, offers from overseas are around coming in thick and fast.
According to reports from The Daily Telegraph, multiple rival nations have expressed interest in signing Arnold to head their national teams. The publication also suggests that two overseas clubs have approached Arnold prior to the World Cup and now, given his success, are working overtime to entice him. Meanwhile, it’s to be expected that further interest in Arnold’s coaching comes on the back of the Socceroos’ success in Qatar, which cemented his name as one of the greats on the world stage.
As Arnold’s agent, Tony Rallis, told The Daily Telegraph, “There was some initial dialogue (with FA) pre-World Cup where we were told KPIs had to be met before any contract discussions could occur, but there has been no direct offer.”
Rallis added, “There was pre-World Cup interest from a couple of clubs and two national federations are interested in talking to us post-World Cup.”
Meanwhile, Arnold will now enjoy a six week break over Christmas which will see him travel to England. As he expressed, “I just want to go away, have a good holiday, have a break and see what happens. I haven’t even thought about it (my future). I need a rest and no doubt I will have good discussions then with the organisation.”
According to former Socceroo Robbie Slater, who is also a good friend of his former international teammate and coach, Arnold will be looking to extend his time as head coach of Australia’s men’s team. Speaking on the Fox Football Podcast, Slater expressed: “I know Arnie very well, he wants it…Talking to him last night, I think he wants it.”
Rumours have been circulating regarding who FA might replace Arnold with should they choose to move in that direction, with some suggesting that there were talks of installing former Socceroo, John Aloisi, as his replacement after the tournament, given that Aloisi led Western United to an A-League championship last season.
Speaking about any such rumours, Aloisi told RSN Breakfast Club: “If Graham Arnold wants to stay on, I think he should stay on. I think that’s up to him, they should offer him a new deal. If he’s willing to stay then that would be great. If he decided to move on and it does become open and someone approaches me, I’d definitely be interested. It’s an ambition of mine to coach the Socceroos one day. Whether that’s now or in the future, I’d definitely love to.”
As Slater explained: “I think the game’s changed a little bit now. You listen to the players, you listen to the people…I think he deserves it. Why would you go off in a different direction.”
Now, it’s been revealed that Football Australia is looking to continue its relationship with Arnold and will offer a fresh contract, with informal negotiations underway. FA chief executive officer James Johnson has revealed that the organisation will not hear of any other potential coaching candidates until it holds talks with Arnold following his return from holiday.
“We are in touch with Graham about what his involvement over the next four years will look like,” Johnson told the AAP. “Sure, having some stability with this team, given the rise, is a good thing and we will talk to Arnie about that.”
“We won’t talk to others until we have finished talking to Arnie. But…we have got to be realistic, Arnie’s value has increased but so has the Australian game, and the Socceroos…let’s see where we land, but I must say I am very proud of Graham.”
Johnson went on to add, “We’re in regular contact, we have a great relationship. I have just said, ‘Mate, go and have a break, we’re not going to market, we will be talking to you but let us finish our review…and then we will get together and have a beer and have a conversation around your future when you get back. That is what we intend to do. We don’t want to rush the decision.”
Praising Arnold’s success with the Socceroos – in which he not only saw them achieve stellar performances in Qatar but also qualify for the tournament after a difficult 20-game campaign – Johnson said it was impossible to underestimate the significance of Arnold’s impact on the team and its players. “He has succeeded – and not only with the [World Cup] result but also how he got there. That was the hardest and most complex campaign we have had and it’s the best performance at a World Cup that we have had, so Arnie has done a fantastic job.”