The Moot Point: Arnold and Gustavsson have reached a fork-in-the-road

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Graham Arnold and Tony Gustavsson, who are respectively in charge of the Socceroos and the Matildas, have probably received their fair share of advice recently.

And, like in every debate, there’s always two sides.

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The key is whether or not Australia will go forward with these coaches? This is a real fork-in-the-road moment for Football Australia. If the answers are in the affirmative, then there’s no more to be discussed. Let’s support them and it’s full steam ahead to the World Cups in 2022 and 2023.

If the answers are not so clear, then some tough decisions need to be made. And not by Arnold or Gustavsson. Australia cannot rely on them sacking themselves. Football Australia needs to step in and step in very quickly indeed.

On the Matildas front there is still a bit of time. The loss in the quarter-final of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, when clearly Australia was one of the tournament’s favourites, gives us an idea about Gustavsson, his tactics and whether or not he could successfully lead the Matildas in the 2023 World Cup on home soil.

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Who are the alternatives should Gustavsson be shown the door? Not sure really except to say that I would love to see a woman in charge; perhaps someone like Carolina Morace who is a permanent resident of Australia and has had a stellar coaching career at international level or a great former Matilda – of which there are a number to choose from.

But the Socceroos are a more pressing problem. March 24 is D-Day – Stadium Australia against Japan and anything except a win will see Australia possibly miss a World Cup for the first time in 20 years. A true return to the bad old days of play-offs and a possible South American opponent. So is Arnold up to the task?

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One thing is clear – he hasn’t got the cattle with the players that he is selecting and, as such, a miracle worker would be more appropriate than a coach. There are some exceptions of course but they are too few to bring home the bacon.

Arnold needs to look closely at the A-League and select from there. Marco Tilio is one such shining example. Rhyan Grant is another. And you can’t tell me that Alex Wilkinson is not one of the best defenders in Australia even at his age. Chris Ikonomidis is definitely another.

Add in Craig Goodwin, Jamie Maclaren, and Dimitri Petratos and you have a good starting point. The overseas based contingent of Mat Ryan, Tom Rogic, and Martin Boyle would bring the international flavour.

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The bottom line is that Australia needs to beat Japan in less than six weeks. If Arnold is shown the door, would there be an appropriate coach ready to step in and take the team forward?

Over the years Australia has experimented unsuccessfully with B-grade overseas coaches. The only truly great ones were Terry Venables and of course Guus Hiddink. The local ones such as Ange Postecoglou produced the greatest results.

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In the past Rale Rasic, Frank Arok, and Eddie Thomson were fabulous but one could argue that those local coaches were part of a different, less globalised era for the Socceroos. However, their records are there and cannot be changed.

But back to the present. If we need to fish more closely in the A-League for players, then the same could be said for a coach. In my humble opinion it’s time for Tony Popovic to be given the gig.

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Western Sydney Wanderers, Perth Glory, and Melbourne Victory are proof of his success. Popovic was one of our most decorated Socceroos and he has a reputation as a meticulous coach with his preparation. Should Australia lose to Japan, it’s a no-brainer. Arnold cannot simply go on.

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Joe Russo
Joe Russo
Joe is a football supporter who accidentally fell into covering the great game. When he grew up it was called soccer but accepts the modern reality of football. After annoying editors, he was finally given the opportunity of contributing to the famous old paper Australian & British Soccer Weekly where he remained for 12 years. The rest as they say is history; Joe has featured on radio programs, websites, match day programs and Italian language publications covering the sport he loves. And, a quarter of a century later, he continues to chase the dream.

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