Coaching drama, again, was the big story this week -- albeit of the variety that didn't end with the Socceroos waiting at the altar like the poor Newcastle Jets. Just in case you missed it, though, here's the latest edition of the ESPN Australia and New Zealand Football Wrap to let you know what you missed and try to figure out what's ahead.
The Phantom Pain
Twenty-four hours can be a long time in Australian football.
However, reports from both Australia and Korea then emerged stating that Arnold had already turned down the offer from the six-time Korean champions; an official from the club telling Sports Kyunghyang that "it is true that Arnold was in the managerial candidate, but he is missing from the current list."
Arnold's agent Tony Rallis then confirmed the rejection to News Corp on Wednesday, saying: "It was a great offer, but it just sprung up on him." Rallis declined to comment when reached by ESPN.
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Reports surrounding the saga have suggested that Arnold's flirtation with club football come as a result of increasing frustrations at the dearth of games for the Socceroos over the past year -- a surge in COVID-cases in the United Kingdom cancelling planned fixtures against the United States and England -- as well as deep cuts to the national teams' budget in the midst of World Cup qualifying and Olympic campaigns.
On the flip side, reportedly key in keeping him in the national teams' setup was a reluctance to walk away from the Olyroos before the Tokyo Olympics. The Socceroos boss has been increasingly vocal about the dire state of Australian youth development since he took up the under-23s role alongside his senior duties and, alongside FFA senior technical analyst Doug Kors and academies and youth men's national teams manager James Duvcevski, helped spearhead FFA research that highlighted the issues faced by Australian youth development.
Ultimately, while the FFA cannot be blamed for a pandemic blowing a hole in the international calendar, the reports surrounding the FC Seoul offer and the underlying motives behind Arnold's flirtations means that unless steps are taken to address his misgivings, further offers will likely flow.
There are currently two MLS sides guided by interim-coaches, Atlanta United and D.C. United, while expansion sides Charlotte FC (joining in 2022 and the future home of Riley McGree) and St. Louis City SC (joining in 2023) have both yet to name coaches for their first campaigns.
Guns of the Patriots
Of course, it's always fun to speculate, and if Arnold does depart the Socceroos, what is the likeliest outcome in replacing him?
No doubt encouraged by their increasingly tightening purse strings, the prevailing trend of the FFA in recent years has been to look in-house to fill roles: Arnold taking up the Olyroos job while Socceroos gaffer, Trevor Morgan tapped as interim national technical director and under-17 boys head coach, and Rae Downer named both a women's technical adviser and under-17 girls coach.
One of the few exceptions to the rule is new Matildas boss Tony Gustavsson, who previously won Women's World Cups as an assistant with the USWNT. The different outlooks and expectations facing the Socceroos and Matildas over the next few years, though, suggest that a similar move -- although not to be counted out given the impressive contacts list FFA CEO James Johnson holds -- would be unlikely.
Former Manchester United assistant Rene Meulensteen, ex-Socceroo Tony Vidmar and ex-Perth Glory boss Kenny Lowe have all taken up places on the bench in recent Socceroos fixtures, while former Newcastle Jets boss and Matildas assistant Gary van Egmond is in charge of the Young Socceroos.
With the FFA having twice dipped into the A-League coaching ranks to find its national team coach -- Arnold in 2018 and Ange Postecoglou in 2013 -- in recent years, Steve Corica, as the longest tenured and most successful of the current crop, would represent the most likely candidate should they go that route. The Sydney FC boss would offer a continuation of the Arnold system, but a lack of experience outside of a Sky Blues context would likely count against him.
Former Young Socceroos and Central Coast Mariners boss Paul Okon is a free agent, as is John Aloisi -- although the latter lacks managerial experience at international level. Aurelio Vidmar previously took charge of the Socceroos for a single game following the ouster of Holger Osieck in 2013, but is currently in charge of Singaporean side Lion City Sailors FC.
Should poor starts to the campaign cost Harry Kewell or Kevin Muscat their positions at Oldham Athletic and Sint-Truidense, respectively, both would arrive with an in-depth understanding of what it means to represent the Socceroos and a relatively affordable price tag.
Sons of Liberty
Conversely, should a hypothetical move to the MLS eventuate, what sort of expectations would Arnold carry?
A three-time A-League premiership winner, two-time A-League champion, one-time FFA Cup winner and three-time A-League coach of the year, he has the kind of resume worthy of overseas consideration; likely only eclipsed by Postecoglou when it comes to success among the current cohort of Australian coaches.
And in an inverse of the way the new Western Sydney Wanderers boss Carl Robinson's experience with Vancouver Whitecaps places him in good stead to succeed in the A-League, Arnold's ability to succeed in an arcanely regulated, salary-capped, promotion and relegation free environment in Australia would carry over to the MLS in a much more conducive way than it did for his unhappy stint in Japan.
"I watch MLS, [it's] at a perfect kickoff time during the day [in Australia], at 10 or 11 o'clock in the morning," Arnold said at the time. "The league, the standard is growing and growing. The crowds are fantastic.
"Brad Smith has shown you, and probably a lot of Australian boys, the pathway to the U.S. They've got great training facilities; they've got everything that you need. Culturally, it's very similar to Australia. It is another good avenue for Australian players to go."
As Victoria continues to slowly progress toward what premier Daniel Andrews has called "COVID normal," the likelihood that the A-League's three Melbourne sides will be able to stage home games, albeit with significant restrictions, is increasing.
Speaking to ESPN, CEO Chris Pehlivanis confirmed that the club was in the final stages of negotiations over the staging of its home games for the coming season and that despite the pandemic its multiground strategy featuring games in Melbourne, Geelong and Ballarat would remain.
Complications surrounding expected crowd limits at games have thrown up barriers, but Pehlivanis expects to finalise availability in the coming weeks as the finishing touches are put on the A-League scheme.
Elsewhere, Adelaide United are believed to have interest in Melbourne City scholar Yaya Dukuly, with sources telling ESPN that City have toyed with the possibility of organising a swap deal for the Under-17 World Cup representative with the Reds.
Up north, Oliver Bozanic returned to the Central Coast on a multiyear deal, while Andy Keogh, Brandon Wilson, Jonathan Aspropotamitis and Nick Sullivan inked deals with Perth Glory, Joe Caletti moved to Adelaide and Macarthur continued to buck A-League trends by bringing in internationals Loic Puyo and, reportedly, Andre Fomitschow.
If you'd been paying much attention to the social media accounts of various Australian diplomats over the past month (no doubt an area of keen interest for the average football fan), one would have been hard-pressed to miss a deluge of postings welcoming new Matildas' head coach.
"FFA may be the first sporting organisation to have conducted a head coach announcement at an Australian post overseas, completed in collaboration with the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT)," an FFA spokesperson told ESPN. "We had the Australian high commissioner, HE George Brandis QC, himself a former Australian government minister, playing an integral role in the announcement. A number of posts across the diplomatic network have issued social media in different languages to promote the appointment, highlighting the truly global nature of football and interest in the Matildas."
As its own unique area of study, sports diplomacy is relatively new in western international relations theory -- even if examples of it can be retroactively found from antiquity to modern day. As the name suggests, it revolves around using sport as a vehicle to conduct diplomacy; in theory the former a neutral playing field that transcends traditional points of difference between groups that is thus an ideal forum to build and improve connections and relationships between governments, leaders and people. Given its popularity among the masses, it also serves as a useful means of carrying messages (both spoken and unspoken), applying informal diplomatic pressure or -- very frequently these days -- laundering reputations.
Ostensibly, the coming Women's World Cup, as well as junior AFC youth tournaments set for Shepparton and Cessnock in early 2021, represents a perfect opportunity for football to integrate itself further into the halls of Australian government by taking a lead in the practice -- especially as the latter looks to re-engage with Asia and the Pacific as the world begins to reopen in the wake of COVID-19.
Integration, in turn, can be harnessed when it comes to pursuing funding and partnerships that will directly benefit the game for years to come, as well as enabling football to use the once-in-a-lifetime Women's World Cup to play a stronger role in advocating for social justice, climate advocacy, human rights and regional development.
For a code that, constantly, bemoans a lack of respect when it comes to funding and respect, it's a once in a lifetime chance that must be taken.
"We are in discussions with the Federal Government and DFAT about the role that the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 can play in the Sports Diplomacy 2030 Strategy, and other sports diplomacy initiatives," FFA said.
"Over the past few years we have worked closely with Australian Embassies and High Commissions to promote the 'As One 2023' Bid and the announcement of the decision, and that close alignment will continue with them through to 2023 and beyond.
"As international travel resumes and teams look at potential pretournament camps in Australia, we believe a bevy of sports diplomacy opportunities will open up, which can be beneficial for government at all levels, FFA, and Australia broadly.
"Football can and will play an important role in supporting Australia and Australians through COVID-19 and we are looking at ways our game can assist with the nation's longer-term COVID-19 recovery plan. Importantly, the hosting of these two tournaments aligns with our mission, outlined within the XI Principles for the future of Australian football for Australia, to become the centre of women's football in the Asia-Pacific region."