Though his thoughts are primarily focused upon the commencement of World Cup Qualifying, dual Socceroos and Olyroos boss Graham Arnold will also be keeping a watchful eye on Australia’s best U23 talent in the coming months.
Arnold’s Socceroos are set to commence their road to Qatar 2022 when they travel to the Middle East to take on Kuwait on September 11, with the 56-year-old former Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC boss saying that he wanted his side to display a more ruthless edge across their coming slate of games.
Five days prior to the Socceroos fixture, however, Australia’s U23 side – the Olyroos – will also take the field when they run out against the U23 side of New Zealand at Wollongong’s WIN Stadium. A second meeting with the Oly-whites will then take place at Sydney’s Campbelltown Stadium on September 9.
That timing of those fixtures against New Zealand means that Arnold will miss them on Socceroos duty; Young Socceroos boss Gary van Egmond – who was appointed to that role in June – instead earmarked to lead Australia’s U23s.
With Arnold’s Socceroos set to take on Nepal (October 10), Taiwan (October 15) and Jordan (November 14) in the coming months, it appears likely that any further warm-up fixtures the Olyroos play before they commence Olympic qualifying at the AFC U23 Championships in January will also feature van Egmond in the dugout.
Arnold, speaking to a phone hook-up with journalists from England, said that the games lined up for Australia’s U23s would, despite his absence, serve as vital preparation for the squad ahead of the Championships.
“It’s all about preparation for the tournament in January for those kids,” Arnold began.
“In the past, there hasn’t been preparation, there’s been acclimatization and then they go and play. What I believe is that you can’t put the 23s together two days before a game and expect a miracle.
“If those kids can qualify for the Olympics that’s another 15-20 games – including the Olympics – at that level and then they’re ready for the Socceroos.
“That’s what it’s all about.”
The last time Arnold stalked the touchline of an Olyroos game was during the qualification for phase for the AFC U23 Championships back in March.
Wins over Cambodia and Taiwan and a draw with South Korea in those games eventually ensured the side progressed to the Championships as one of the four-best runners up from the 11 groups in action.
Standout defender Harry Souttar, who played his first matches for Australia at any level in those games after being lured away from Scotland, was then able to parlay his performances into a place in Arnold’s Socceroos squad for a June friendly against South Korea.
Though clear that he envisioned playing in the Olympics to be a finishing school before players moved into the senior national side, Arnold emphasised that the Olyroos to Socceroos pathway was one which he “won’t be afraid” to activate at any time.
“100%,” Arnold said when asked if standout performances against New Zealand could result in an immediate Socceroos call-up.
“As I said not long ago, the players have got to earn their shirts, they don’t own it.
“It’s all about form: it’s about them performing every time they come into camp and being ready to put in great performances.”
Arnold, who has already spoken on the need for young players to receive more opportunities to receive game time in the past, also weighed in on the topic of youth development.
“I’m not saying the kids need to play in the A-League; if they’re not good enough they shouldn’t play,” Arnold – who bridled when asked if he, as a former A-League coach, bore some blame for the opportunities for young players – said.
“But give them somewhere to play. Maybe a reserve-grade competition is a great opportunity or maybe, as the FFA’s talking about, a B-League [Second Divison].
“Something like that to get kids in a professional environment and to develop the kids so they have a chance to become professional footballers.
Arnold, who has spent a number of weeks in Europe scouting and meeting with European based members of the Socceroos squad, recounted a conversation he had had with former Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Werder Bremen and Standard Liège coach Aad de Mos about lessons that the Australian game could learn.
“I said to him, ‘What’s been the biggest turn in Dutch football [that helped you] bounce back?’” Arnold recalled
“He said, ‘We stopped trying to compete with the big-money nations, we lowered our expectations and decided to fund youth development and build a second division where all the great kids from Ajax, PSV and all that could play every week’
“He said Ajax has sold 350 million euros worth of players in the off-season.
“We stopped trying to compete [against the richer European leagues], we’re going to build the structures underneath the first division and all the good kids will come through. They play in that, and then get sold, and then we can put our funds back into the top league because everyone’s selling.”