Graham Arnold calls for more resources and reform in Australian football

<span>Photograph: Christopher Lee/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Graham Arnold has expressed “massive concerns” over the state of football development in Australia, putting the onus on the national governing body on the eve of the Socceroos’ decisive World Cup group match with Denmark.

In what could be the final pre-match press conference of his four-and-a-half-year tenure, Arnold put forward his views on the state of the nation and called on Football Australia to conduct a thorough review.

When the 59-year-old replaced the interim coach Bert van Marwijk after the 2018 World Cup, he and his assistant, René Meulensteen, also took charge of the national under-23s team with a view to breaking the Olyroos’ 12-year-old Olympics drought and transitioning those younger players into the national team.

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“It was a quick fix and it’s not right,” Arnold said on Wednesday. “Whatever happens with this World Cup, I think the organisation needs a review of what’s going on in junior development. Because when I went to Russia in 2018, when I first got appointed to the job, and I watched the them play, I could see straight away that Cahill, Jedinak, Milligan, Kruse – an ageing squad was there.

“I’d already taken the job and I needed to find players, and then when I started looking there was nothing coming through. And when you’re ringing A-League coaches – and you are talking about two players per club – I could barely put a squad together to go to [Olympic qualifiers in] Thailand and even to Cambodia.”

Related: Graham Arnold warns Socceroos of social media perils before crunch World Cup game

Nine of the under-23 players who competed in the Tokyo 2020 Games last year are in the 26-man senior squad in Qatar – the faces of a new generation exceeding expectations.

But Arnold said the stopgap salve – which also includes selecting players born and bred overseas, particularly in Scotland – would not stand the test of time if resourcing is not increased and existing infrastructure not reformed.

Having spent years coaching in the A-League with Sydney FC and Central Coast, he has spoken repeatedly about the lack of sufficient game time for young players in Australia’s 26-round top-tier competition and the yawning gap in resources between that and the semi-professional second-tier National Premier Leagues.

Further down still, children’s development at the grassroots is often blocked because of exorbitant registration costs and academies not always harnessing the best young talent.

“You need more kids to give an opportunity in Australia,” Arnold said. “For me there’s massive concerns for the future, moving forward, unless it’s fixed. It was a quick fix, and that’s why I did the Olympic thing for nothing. I asked the organisation: ‘What’s the Olympic program?’ – and it’s 10 days’ preparation and they didn’t even have a coach two months before.

“At least now Tony Vidmar’s in charge of that. The Socceroos are just the icing on the cake and whatever that icing, whether it tastes good or bad, the most important thing is the ingredients. The ingredients are junior development and junior national teams, and if that’s not right and the icing will not taste very good.”

Arnold said he would “hire about 150 people” if hypothetically given the reins to make meaningful change but clarified his future remains undecided – whether Football Australia offers him a new contract or not.

“At this moment I’m focused on this, then I’m focused on having a break,” he said. “The game is growing and growing right across the world, and Asia is growing so quickly.

“People can sit back at home and their opinion is maybe Saudi and Japan are not that good, but look what they’ve done – they’ve beaten Argentina and they’ve beaten Germany. Asia is throwing a lot of money into football and we need to catch up and do the same thing.”