Four years on, Maclaren feeling “more valued” heading into Socceroos’ World Cup tilt

As he seeks to put the final flourishes on his case for Qatar, Melbourne City striker Jamie Maclaren says that he feels like a more “more valued” of the Socceroos squad coming to the end of the 2022 World Cup cycle. 

What a difference four years can make.

Despite a strong run of form at the end of his season with Scottish side Hibernian, Maclaren was initially left out of Bert van Marwijk’s 26-player squad that headed to Turkey for a pre-World Cup training camp and was only called in as injury cover for Tomi Juric. 

He subsequently secured a spot in the final 23 players that headed to Russia for the tournament proper but didn’t feature in any of the Socceroos’ three games.

This time around, however, the Melbourne City striker has been a regular part of current-Socceroos boss Graham Arnold’s squads throughout qualifying. The 29-year-old has netted seven times in qualifying and scored one of the penalties that saw Australia down Peru in an intercontinental playoff to book their place in Qatar. 

Now, having been granted early leave to depart the Socceroos camp during the last window alongside other key members of the squad and with three goals in two games this A-League Men season, he looms as a likely member of the squad that will be named on November 8.  

“Last World Cup  – you could write a book in my case,” Maclaren told journalists on Tuesday. 

“But it’s part of the journey, as a footballer you go through ups and downs and that was the best feeling ever, being selected in that final squad because of what I went through. 

“But now, I’ve felt more valued in this Socceroos environment under Graham Arnold because he’s given me those chances. Me and Harry Souttar I think have scored the most goals in qualification and that’s something I take pride in. 

“Not every game I’m going to start, I understand that, but when I do play I need to make an impact. I’m really just looking forward to the next few games and whenever the squad’s announced, just, hopefully, my name’s there.”

One of the most obvious differences between the Socceroos’ build-up for the World Cup in 2022 compared to 2018 is the coaching situation. 

Wherein Ange Postecoglou’s resignation following successful qualification for Russia led to Dutchman van Marwijk being parachuted in as a late band-aid solution, Arnold has been with the squad for the entire four-year cycle. 

“Yeah I think so,” Maclaren said when asked if the vibe in the squad was different compared to four years ago. 

“I mean, Arnie’s Australian: he’s proud and he knows a lot of us from the younger ages and he’s seen us play in the A-Leagues. 

“Where Bert didn’t have those personal relationships in a sense where Arnie will pick up the phone and call you and let you know things you’ve done well in the games in A-League games or things you can work on. 

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“I think that’s one thing he’s prided himself on is being approachable and younger players. That’s why he’s probably (been) working with the Olyroos too, to be approachable from those sorts of players. 

“So he’s all ears, whether  an older generation player or a younger one, so yeah, he’s a good man manager.”

Nonetheless, with Arnold submitting a list of 55 potential members of his squad to FIFA on the same day that he was speaking to the press, Maclaren didn’t want to get too ahead of himself when asked about his own chances of being in the final 26.

“It’s a difficult one to answer,” he said. “You’ve got to keep your form and make sure you’re, you’re playing well your body’s healthy, which I am and your confidence is high, which it is.

“So at the same time, there’s a lot of boys putting their hands up in all positions and all I can control is my performances for City. 

“But it’s been a long journey. Four years of qualifying, you did the quarantines; I sat in a hotel when my team was playing in a grand final. So all those things add up and we’ve now got to the final point. All I can do is be in the box for the chances that come my way and if Arnie selects me then great.”

Maclaren’s next opportunity to impress the Socceroos boss will come this Saturday in the Melbourne Derby, in which he will come up against another, albeit at much longer-odds, centre-forward candidate for the World Cup in Nick D’Agostino. 

The 24-year-old created some rumblings when netted in Victory’s season-opening ALM win over Sydney FC with a powerful header, but will be looking to bounce back on Saturday after, much like his teammates, being blunted against Western Sydney Wanderers last Saturday.

“Of course, I always put my case forward,” D’Agostino said on Tuesday.  “I love a challenge like I’ve said many. many times over the years and I just look forward to it and I embrace it. 

“Obviously, I want to lead the line over at Melbourne Victory, it’s the biggest club in the league and I’m taking a lot of responsibility and I love that challenge.”

Previously a member of Graham Arnold’s squad for the Tokyo Olympics, D’Agostino received his first senior international call-up for the Socceroos World Cup qualifiers against Japan and Saudi Arabia and subsequently made his international debut with 45 minutes against the latter. 

He was then part of the squad that Arnold took to Qatar for do-or-die intercontinental playoffs against the UAE and Peru, but only featured in the preceding warm-up fixture against Jordan.  

“I’ll always know he’s watching,” D’Agostino said of Arnold.  

“I know he was in Sydney and watching us against Sydney in the first round and I think he’ll be at as many games as he possibly can be. Obviously, it’s not long to go so yeah, I just obviously have to perform well and score goals.”

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Header Image Credit: Football Australia

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