Many Journeys; One Jersey. Our Strength is Our Desire to Win. Insights on a Top ten FIFA World Cup Coach Part 2

Part 2 of a biography of Graham Arnold written by Mike Conway, EQ and Mind Coach, Socceroos 7 days prior to the 2022 World Cup

Missed Part 1? Start HERE

Surround yourself with good people

One of the key strategies that Arnie has adopted over the last decade is that he surrounds himself with people who bring something unique to a team, are hardworking, committed, fun and most importantly he can trust.  This is not just the players.  It’s also the staff.  

This really emerged in his Grand Final winning team at the Central Coast Mariners and continued into Sydney FC and then the Socceroos too. 

Arnie has drawn a significant group together all of whom he seeks counsel from regularly. Criticising Arnie means criticising the team.  Rene Meulensteen sits at Arnie’s right hand.  He brings so much to our team. Experience and a winning mentality.  Six years as Head Coach to Sir Alex Ferguson: European Championship and EPL wins included  so not  a bad person to have in your Socceroo corner. He says that the Socceroo environment reminds him of how it felt at Manchester United.  Not a bad rap.  To the left – Tony Vidmar.  European experience as a player and a Socceroo legend with a fine football brain.   He knows how successful teams work too.   

Then there’s John Crawley: a goalkeeper coach who has been instrumental in the careers of Maty Ryan, Danny Vukovic, Andrew Redmayne, and many others.  Highly regarded globally as a goalkeeper coach. Critical to the work is Doug and Adam , our analysts who provide critical technical and tactical information for training and game day .I haven’t the space to go through every staff member but  Strength and conditioning coaches, Fabian and Andrew, Doctor Mark Jones, physios Kurt and Kieran and massage therapist Vince, to the chef Vini, security lead Mark Saliba and Kersten, the kitman Dom, football operations lead James, the media and pr team including Zappas and Rich: every person brings something unique.  Each and everyone have a role to play with the vast majority staying the cause through the ups and downs on the road to the World Cup.   

 Goal Driven

Typical of Arnie he’s very goal driven.  From the beginning, the goal was to achieve the World Cup Finals.  No one predicted how hard it would be, but it was always his and our goal.  

When I started work at Sydney FC, he presented clear goals to me:  reduce the team goals against by 20%, increase  goals scored by 20%, reduce the number of times the team let goals in the last ten minutes to zero  and not lose to Melbourne Victory in the season!  A tall ask but I took on the role. 

This focus on goals is a constant.   He has  regular conversations about picking up X number of points and Y goal differences.  I remember in the 2-2 draw against Oman, he was very aware of the need to maintain that result to secure a third placing. 

There are always goals along the way.  Getting to the Olympics; being the first Socceroo team to win in Jordan.  Let’s not forget the international record the Socceroos achieved along the way to qualification.  Eight games won in a row!     

 Hard work, detail, preparation and practice

Arnie has a hard work ethic.   This is deep within his DNA.  From humble beginnings and dealing with much adversity in his younger years to making a successful career as one of the early Aussies plying his trade abroad.  Arnie’s expectations of everyone who participates in one of his teams, is of absolute commitment and hard work.  

The days are long and an almost “on the spectrum” attention to detail is key to the cause.  It’s not untypical that four or five different scenarios  are all prepared for a game.  Reviews of our team at training takes place straight after training and adjustments made for the day after. Reviews of the opposition are undertaken daily and with the analyst team breaking down all the passages of play, with the tech team, Arnie leads the discussion on how best to tackle the next game.  If that’s not enough, he reviews many other team performances to find new solutions, early morning, late at night  get the most important pieces turned into clips to share and then delivers all this in group sessions leading up to the games.  In between time, he’s checking up on players individually, speaking to their coaches to ensure he’s armed with information necessary to get the best out of them.  

The public see the tiger either in front of the camera or immersed up and down the touchline, but much of the work has been done well before then. 

 On the outside looking in you might see a man who is a streetwise knock about, very confident of what he’s saying and what he expects.  But this comes from  a man who prepares himself for a battle with every detail. Preparation is significant. Being adaptable to different conditions is something he’s become dept at in recent years.  Both individually and seeking perspectives from many. A much more inclusive style than any outsider would think. 

I took this photo in Qatar in June, just after a training session.  In the background captain Maty Ryan is leading the team in a motivational talk.  Meanwhile, Arnie is already undertaking a review of the training session which finished five minutes earlier. 

 Credit: Mike Conway

One of the most challenging aspects of international coaching is the little time available for rehearsing and practicing with the team.  Players often arrive from the corners of the globe on Tuesday for an international match on Thursday.  So, the need to impart knowledge and encourage players to practice and improve skills upon their return to their clubs is an important part of the jigsaw.   

I remember a particular moment after our “friendly” v South Korea in Bhusan.  We lost the game 1-0 but played and competed well. The following day I was having a cup of coffee with  Arnie.  We discussed how we could score more goals.  I asked him how he did it?  He said he always felt confident in front of goals – why -because he regularly practiced.   A light bulb moment.  Many players aren’t given the time to practice goal scoring at clubs.  Arnie was onto this like a flash, bringing the whole team together, benchmarking the goalscoring practice time and working with Rene to build a shooting program.