23/05/2024

Graham Arnold has made "Aussie DNA" a talking point in the last month, but do his choices reflect it?(Image: Socceroos Twitter)

Despite entering as heavy underdogs, Graham Arnold's plucky Socceroos put their "Aussies DNA" on display and wrote themselves in the history books by pipping the strongly favoured Peru to a World Cup spot. Arnold now has a chance to show that he has learned from history to display an important, but often forgotten part of the "Aussie DNA" for the benefit of Australian football.

Despite entering as heavy underdogs, Graham Arnold’s plucky Socceroos put their “Aussies DNA” on display and wrote themselves in the history books by pipping the strongly favoured Peru to a World Cup spot.

Arnold now has a chance to show that he has learned from history to display an important, but often forgotten part of the “Aussie DNA” for the benefit of Australian football.

In the leadup to Australia’s do-or-die clash against Peru, the Australian football community lamented coach Graham Arnold and his solution when it came to the opposition’s perceived superiority. Instead of personnel, tactics, or any kind of specifics, Arnold leaned into patriotism.

β€œOur best chance is the Aussie DNA. If the boys run, fight, kick against the South Americans and play a physical game, I believe that type of thing will rattle those types of nations,” Arnold stated.

The quote frustrated Australian football stakeholders for multiple reasons and became part of the heated discourse in the lead-up to the Peru showdown.

Firstly, a fighting spirit is not something unique to Australia, if anything a country like Peru which has had to fight tooth and nail against South American heavy-hitters Argentina and Brazil is just as equipped to display it.

Secondly, this is the same coach who when hired stated with confidence that he wanted his side to play like JΓΌrgen Klopp’s Liverpool; such overbearing pragmatism in Australia’s most important game since the 2018 World Cup became a cause for indifference.

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The last laugh went the way of Graham Arnold.

Australia not only used its “Aussie DNA” to unsettle Peru but also proved to be the better side. Albeit not playing great football, while earning a win in the lottery that is the penalty shootout.

Despite the elation the Nation experienced in the early hours of Tuesday morning, it is important to remember that there is still important work to do for the good of Australian football and its much-maligned DNA.

Graham Arnold earned another shot at the Socceroos job as a result of his sustained excellence as Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC coach. Even though the silverware speaks for itself, there was a fatal flaw in Arnold’s plans as a coach in a league at the bottom of world football’s food chain which became apparent sooner or later after his exit.

Despite Arnold’s all-conquering reign in the A-League Men competition, he received criticism related to his lack of trust when it came to his young players. It was a flaw that could be easily brushed off when success arrived as a result of the strong recruitment of experienced players, but in the long term, Australian football was affected. The development of many capable young players was stifled.

By no means was Arnold the only coach to neglect his youth charges, the problem being an endemic one, but he is the one currently feeling the effects of years of neglect and the one with the capability to create cultural change at the highest level on the world game’s biggest stage.

Graham Arnold characterised Australians as fighters. An apt comparison, clearly evident during the Peru game. Even though it may be accurate, Australian culture goes deeper than a trait shared by most elite athletes in adversity. A crucial characteristic of Australian culture over its young history has been giving everyone “a fair go.”

While this has not always been accurate in the football world, if we want to focus on creating and maintaining an “Aussie DNA”, there’s no time to act like the present. Viewing Australia’s bench against Peru, fans could see an array of players such as Marco Tilio, Riley McGree, and Denis Genreau that have been knocking on the door for their own fair go.

Arnold could easily take his well-deserved bow at the World Cup and go down swinging while his side of consistently picked veterans displays the good-old “Australian” trait of fighting until the end and giving every game a red-hot crack. Instead, he can balance that with rewarding rapidly developing players like the ones mentioned above with opportunities.

Consistent opportunity for deserving players as a result of their strides in the football world will go further than just ticking the “fair go” box. It can ensure that these players are mentally prepared to face these challenges both at National Team and club level with benefit on the pitch arriving when players have mastered displaying their skills in a highly pressurised environment; this will inevitably lead to better players, physically and mentally.

It will negate the nonsensical “we don’t have the cattle” argument because we will be able to see the said cattle develop before our eyes. No player can show or develop their talent appropriately without being consistently backed with confidence and opportunity by their side’s hierarchy.

Of course, there is room for celebration, but World Cup qualification should not paper over well-defined cracks; we are flawed and to improve, those flaws have to be addressed, especially when the inconsistencies relate to our identity.

A change in focus would not only be a gift to future coaches, but it would set a strong example of best practices on how young players should be developed as they are coming through the ranks at club land.

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