Socceroos forced into coaching reshuffle ahead of World Cup qualifiers

Graham Arnold has been forced to re-jig his technical staff just days out from the resumption of the Socceroos’ World Cup qualification campaign after assistant coach Rene Meulensteen tested positive for asymptomatic COVID and Tony Vidmar was forced into 28-days of post-Olympic quarantine. 

Set to re-commence their 2022 World Cup qualification campaign against China on early Friday morning Australian-time, Arnold and his 27-player squad touched down in the Middle East at various points over the past few days — Seattle Sounders defender Brad Smith the last to arrive overnight. 

COVID protocols requiring the playing group to return a negative test before preparations could properly begin, the side’s first training session — sans Smith — took place on Tuesday evening local time as a result, with their second and final session before the clash with China set to take place this evening at the Khalifa International Stadium.

These sessions, however, are taking place without the oversight of regular assistants Meulensteen and Vidmar.  

See Also: Socceroos call on their Foreign Legion as Mooy, Rogic, Wright, and Arzani all return for World Cup qualifers

European-based Meulensteen, a one-time assistant under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, tested positive for COVID prior to his departure for the Middle East and was unable to travel as a result. The 57-year-old is fully vaccinated against the virus and is asymptomatic, but was not able to return a negative test in time to link up with the squad. 

Returning to Sydney after assisting Arnold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Vidmar underwent two-weeks of hotel quarantine but, due to South Australian requirements in the face of the Harbour City’s outbreak of the Delta variant of COVID, was forced to undergo another two weeks of quarantine in his home city — rendering him unable to assist in Doha. 

National Technical Director and Australian U17 coach Trevor Morgan, who in a previous life coached the likes of Mat Ryan, Aaron Mooy and Miloš Degenek at Westfield Sports High, received a late callup to serve as a super-sub assistant. He joins regular staff members John Crawley (Goalkeeper Coach), Andrew Clark (Head of S&C), Doug Kors (Technical Analyst), and Adam Barbera (Assistant Technical Analyst) in Doha.

“I have great trust in my staff,” Arnold said. 

See Also: After Toulouse move, Genreau keen to kick on with Socceroos

“Rene is a fantastic assistant. The fact that he can’t be here because he tested positive last week was a blow. Tony Vidmar having to go through the double quarantine after the Olympics is also a blow. 

“But they’re both still working for me remotely, on the Zoom calls, and we’re talking and communicating and coming up with a gameplan. The only difference is that I’m doing everything on the ground here. 

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“But again, it’s [about helping] the boys and supporting the boys. They’re in great spirits. Just to see the smiles on their faces when they walk into camp and see players they haven’t seen in 18 months — Tommy Rogic, Aaron Mooy, Bailey Wright. See some new players in Callum Elder, Paul Izzo, and Ryan Strain and welcome them into the Socceroo family. 

“Also seeing the boys that did great in Kuwait re-connecting. 

See Also: Australia’s World Cup qualifiers will test Socceroos’ squad depth

“That’s the most important thing.”

Beyond the issues in the dugout, one of the key questions facing the Socceros heading into the coming fixtures was the health of incumbent number one keeper and sometime captain Mat Ryan.

The custodian suffered a knee injury at training just weeks after joining La Liga side Real Sociedad from Premier League outfit Brighton just months ago, a malady that forced him under the knife in late July. 

The 29-year-old, however, was insistent that he would recover in time to feature for the national side and, while Arnold was cautious in re-inforcing that his side had only had one, light session and that he had yet to settle on a starting XI, the Socceroos coach was pleased by what he had seen. 

“Mat looks fantastic,” said Arnold. 

“We only had a restart session last night, so I can honestly sit here now and say that I haven’t decided on the full startling lineup. I’ve got to see them tonight in our one and only tactical session. 

“But Mat looks fantastic, he trained well last night.

“All the boys were fantastic last night. The energy was great and, as I said, for me it’s about just getting on that pitch and them enjoying themselves and making Australia proud.”

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Header Image Credit: Football Australia

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