In less than two months, Australia’s World Cup-bound soccer team has gone from having no coach to having two.
Graham Arnold is set to take over after Bert van Marwijk leads the Socceroos to Russia in June. On Thursday, Football Federation Australia said at a media conference in Sydney that Arnold, current coach of A-League champions Sydney FC, will become head coach on a four-year contract after the World Cup ends.
At the start of the year, Australia was without a coach. Ange Postecoglou quit in November shortly after Australia qualified for the World Cup with an intercontinental playoff win over Honduras.
After a near two-month wait, van Marwijk was named as Postecoglou’s replacement in late January, with the Dutchman’s tenure only for the World Cup.
Now Arnold, who played 56 internationals for Australia over 12 years and was head coach of the national team in 2006-07, is back in the top job.
“It feels like I have never left,” Arnold said Thursday. “I have been heavily involved in the Socceroos for a long time. I know what the job is about, I know it’s not an easy job, but I feel I’m definitely ready.”
The 54-year-old Arnold will leave Sydney FC after the A-League season ends in May. With five rounds to go in the regular schedule ahead of the playoffs, Arnold has Sydney in first place with an eight-point lead over second-place Newcastle.
“To be blunt, we didn’t want Graham to leave and we offered him a substantially bigger and longer contract to stay,” Sydney FC chairman Scott Barlow said. “But the lure of coaching his country has ultimately proven too much.”
FFA chairman Steven Lowy said Arnold was always the No. 1 candidate.
“We developed a set of criteria for the role,” Lowy said. “The long-term appointee did not have to be the best Australian; it had to be the best person when all factors were considered. That person was Graham Arnold.”
Arnold’s first major assignment will be Australia’s Asian Cup defense in the United Arab Emirates next January. His contract carries him through to the end of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
In the meantime, Arnold said he will not be interfering with any of van Marwijk’s preparations for Russia. Australia, currently ranked 36th, opens play in a tough and daunting Group C against ninth-ranked France on June 16 in Kazan, with later matches against No. 11-ranked Peru and No. 12 Denmark.
“After today I won’t be saying any more about the Socceroos until after the World Cup, out of respect for Sydney FC and out of respect for Bert van Marwijk,” Arnold said.
“I said at the time that I thought he (van Marwijk) was a great appointment to lead the Socceroos in Russia, and everything he has done since has reinforced that view. I won’t be getting under his feet but I will be cheering him and the team on from the stands.”