Socceroos coach Graham Arnold is a very resilient bloke – and given his challenging upbringing, it is easy to see why.
Growing up in Sydney’s south, it was obvious to many the youngest son of Faye and Barry Arnold was a talent on the pitch.
But whatever Graham did on the soccer field in his formative years, it seemingly wasn’t good enough for his father, who was an alcoholic.
Aged eight, the budding striker – who went onto play professionally in Holland, Belgium and Japan – was once left to walk home 5km following a performance that didn’t please Arnold snr.
Even as an adult – and playing for Australia – Arnold’s old man wasn’t one to hand out praise.
On March 12 in 1989, his son had scored two goals in the Socceroos’ 4-1 win over New Zealand in a World Cup qualifier at the Sydney Football Stadium.
Graham Arnold is loved by his players – and wears his heart on his sleeve (pictured, with Ajdin Hrustic after beating Peru in June)
Arnold was Guus Hiddink’s assistant at the 2006 World Cup – and the Dutch maestro returned the favour in a recent friendly versus New Zealand at Suncorp Stadium
The following day Graham called his dad to gauge his thoughts on the Trans-Tasman clash.
Despite finishing with a brace to his name, Barry Arnold labelled his son an ’embarrassment’ and placed focus ‘on the two he missed’ before hanging up.
Talk about tough love.
Arnold’s beloved mother died when he was just 20 from cancer – and before she passed away, she had some life advice which he took on board.
‘You’ve got something special,’ she told him in his teens. ‘Make the most of it. Don’t be a bum like your mates.’
Arnold listened. The drinking stopped, as did working as a carpenter.
He dedicated himself to be a professional footballer, and after making his name with Sydney United in the National Soccer League, Europe was the next step.
Roda in the Dutch Eredivisie followed, with further successful stints with Liège and Charleroi as well as NAC Breda and Sanfrecce Hiroshima in Japan.
Arnold returned to be captain-coach of Northern Spirit in the NSL back in 1998 – and while that experience was a mixed success, it planted the seed for fulltime coaching.
In 2000, the father of three became an assistant coach of the Socceroos, and eventually he had a crack in the A-League as a head coach with Central Coast from 2010 onwards.
Along with Ange Postegoclou, he is arguably the competition’s best ever manager, winning titles with the Mariners and Sydney FC.
Arnold endured 20 matches – in 10 countries – over 1008 days before qualifying for the 2022 World Cup
Four years ago he replaced Postegoclou at the helm of the Socceroos – and against all the odds, qualified for Qatar in June.
A total of 20 matches – in 10 countries – across 1008 days tells the story.
When attention soon turns to the Middle East, it will be Australia’s fifth successive World Cup – a far cry from the ongoing disappointment between 1974 and 2006.
But despite his achievements in the world game, Arnold remains a polarising figure.
Being a national team head coach, it comes with the territory, but the criticism he receives is scathing and often unrelenting.
Even former Socceroo teammates have kicked Arnold while he has been down, notably goalkeeper Mark Bosnich.
After the 2-2 draw with Oman in February, plenty called for Arnold to quit – and the one time Manchester United shot-stopper didn’t mince his words on SEN Radio.
Arnold has had plenty of detractors, including former Socceroos teammate Mark Bosnich
Emerging talent Garang Kuol hasn’t started a professional match in his career – but his x-factor was enough for Arnold to name him in his World Cup squad
‘This comes down to the manager,’ Bosnich said at the time.
‘I have known Graham Arnold since I was 14, we have had good and bad moments.
‘I really do think that Football Australia need to have a serious think, if we go into the play-off, if Graham Arnold is the right man to lead us into those play-off games.’
Given Arnold supported Bosnich through his drug shame where he was sacked by Chelsea, it was a strange move from the Stan Sport personality.
Come those must win play-off games in Doha, UAE were the first obstacle for the Socceroos, with a gritty 2-1 victory on June 8 setting up a showdown with Peru.
The cagey encounter six days later – where Australia were the better side – went to penalties, with Arnold producing the biggest gamble of his coaching career – replacing Mat Ryan with A-League journeyman Andrew Redmayne.
It wasn’t an impulsive decision, Arnold and goalkeeping coach John Crawley concocted the idea, well aware the goal-line dancing antics of the ‘Grey Wiggle’ could rattle the Peruvians.
Scores of football fans were stunned, and if the Socceroos had lost, Arnold believes he would have been ‘the most hated man in Australia.’
Andrew Redmayne was the unexpected hero for the Socceroos in their epic World Cup qualifying win over Peru in June via a penalty shootout – and he will warm the bench in Qatar
Defender Trent Sainsbury (pictured, right with wife Elissa) is Graham Arnold’s son in law – but family ties weren’t enough to see the 30-year-old on the plane to Qatar with Australia’s World Cup squad
Lucky for him, they won in epic fashion, with Redmayne denying Alex Valera from 12 yards to spark euphoric celebrations.
Arnold had defied the critics yet again, but the detractors have again been out in force leading into the World Cup in Qatar.
‘Worst Australian team ever’ has been the view of many keyboard warriors on social media, with other haters going a step further, brutally declaring the Socceroos won’t score a goal against France, Tunisia and Denmark in Group D.
Like he always does, Arnold will galvanise his squad, and prepare them to shock the world.
Legendary Dutch manager Guus Hiddink, who had Arnold as his right man for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, is immensely proud of his former protégé.
‘You work with people, not machines,’ Hiddink told the Sydney Morning Herald.
‘After that World Cup (2006), Arnie said to me, ‘Is coaching my job? Is it what I should do?’ I said, ‘Of course it is.’ (And) he has developed himself perfectly.’