Graham Arnold admits he behaved like an ‘actor’ before he really learned how to coach – as he pinpoints why getting Covid twice made him a far better mentor to the Socceroos

During Graham Arnold’s first stint as Socceroos coach he was a grumpy mentor guilty of suffering from imposter syndrome before eventually being punted for an overseas option.

How things have changed. As Australia prepares for its fifth consecutive FIFA World Cup and a showdown with defending champions France on November 23, Arnold has opened up on the seismic shift that ultimately made him a better coach.

The 59-year-old had a long apprenticeship as an assistant with the Socceroos and was caretaker coach in 2006–2007 when Australia bowed out of the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup against Japan.

Arnold instructs his players during the Olympic Games qualifying match between the Australian Olyroos and Iraq during his more fiery days

Arnold instructs his players during the Olympic Games qualifying match between the Australian Olyroos and Iraq during his more fiery days

Dutch coach Pim Verbeek – who tragically died of cancer in 2019 – took the reins afterwards and Arnold has had plenty of time to reflect on how he could have done things differently.

‘From 2007 to 2012, I was an actor and I changed into a coach,’ Arnold told foxsports.com.au.

‘And I think I’ve gotten even worse now. I think I’ve now gone from a coach to a father.’

Back then Arnold ruled with an iron first. It was debatable who smiled more, Arnold or the NRL’s greatest poker face, Wayne Bennett.

These days, players gravitate to him and consider him a friend, with some of the young stars trying to find their feet in world football regarding him as a father figure.

For Arnold, it has been a journey to find the right balance – and Covid fast-tracked his ability to communicate with players because of global restrictions. 

‘I’m still hard when I need to be hard and I’m still set in my ways. But because of Covid, I’ve learned to communicate much more because it wasn’t just a matter of picking the player and the player turning up. You needed to be much more supportive to the player,’ he said.

Arnold celebrates with Martin Boyle after winning the penalty shootout of the FIFA World Cup 2022 Intercontinental playoff qualifying soccer match between Australia and Peru

Arnold celebrates with Martin Boyle after winning the penalty shootout of the FIFA World Cup 2022 Intercontinental playoff qualifying soccer match between Australia and Peru

Arnold and Socceroos player Ajdin Hrustic

Arnold lets the emotion of qualifying for the World Cup sink in

Arnold with Socceroos player Ajdin Hrustic and letting the emotion of qualifying for the World Cup sink in

‘My principles, my philosophy of coaching are still there in terms of the way we want to play and all that and the culture side. But on the management side, I think Covid has really helped me.’

Long conversations on Zoom, monitoring, analysing and speaking to a new crop of players around the world helped change Arnold.

Two frustrating bouts of the virus that excluded him from the training paddock also helped teach him the value of man management.

Australia's striker Tim Cahill is congratulated by Verbeek at the end of the Group D first round 2010 World Cup football match between Australia and Serbia

Australia’s striker Tim Cahill is congratulated by Verbeek at the end of the Group D first round 2010 World Cup football match between Australia and Serbia

But his journey toward investing in his players and softening his old school approach began under Verbeek. 

‘Pim Verbeek was probably the first one that showed me a little bit of that,’ Arnold said.

‘Probably when I went to the A-League, I was still 75-25, the old way.

‘But then gradually as I’ve gotten older I’ve changed. There’s still that mongrel in me when I need it. And I’m prepared to make tough decisions and hard decisions.

Socceroos players celebrate qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar under the coaching of Arnold

Socceroos players celebrate qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar under the coaching of Arnold

‘But I feel good in myself that if I make a hard decision, I communicate it to that person. A lot of coaches will make a hard decision, not speak to the player or person and then it causes friction.

 ‘So if I’m going to be prepared to make the hard decision then I’ve got to tell him why, and we can talk about it. Before I wouldn’t have done that.’

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