The direction of Australian football — and particularly our national team — is up in the air, short and long-term.
The glory days of 2005 and World Cup qualification, 2006 and making the second round of the world’s biggest sporting event, and even 2015 and the breakthrough Asian Cup success, seem distant.
Instead, we have a side that limped to Russia 2018 with a less-than-impressive qualification process capped with a just as flaky playoff win against Honduras.
And now things are even worse, with a ludicrous coaching situation — a short-term World Cup manager Bert van Marwijk with Graham Arnold to take over after the tournament — suggesting the long-term progression of the side is by no means secure.
The move to bring in a home-grown national team manager Ange Postecoglou in 2013 and end a succession of foreign bosses — Pim Verbeek and Holger Osieck — was met positively.
Postecoglou was ambitious, seemingly had a plan for the mid to long-term future of football in Australia, and was even willing to back players from the A-League.
While Postecoglou delivered one of Australia’s best footballing moments with the Asian Cup win, Verbeek won 55 per cent of matches and Osieck 52, with Postecoglou lagging behind at 45 per cent.
He also struggled to qualify for the World Cup where previous managers had cruised through.
So when he departed his post in November, a new manager was needed as the side’s preparation for a difficult World Cup campaign got going.
The early favourite and leading candidate all the way through was Sydney FC’s Arnold, a testament to his continued success in the A-League.
But while interest was mutual, the idea of a short-term fill-in manager to take the side to the World Cup was raised, leading to current manager van Marwijk’s appointment.
Van Marwijk’s resume is strong, having won the UEFA Cup with Feyenoord in 2002, and taken the Netherlands to the World Cup final in 2010.
But the real questions emerged when Arnold was announced to be taking over the role after the World Cup — why in the world is the country’s new long-term manager, the man tasked with the future of football in the country, not taking his new side to this year’s tournament?
An adequate explanation has not been given by Football Federation Australia, but it makes one wonder if any thought has been given to this incredibly short-sighted plan.
Van Marwijk’s role is merely to take the side to the World Cup, so what exactly is in it for him?
Money seems the only answer, given we’ve appointed a bloke whose contract negotiations with Saudi Arabia allegedly broke down as he wouldn’t agree to a clause meaning he had to spend the majority of his time in the country.
His legacy won’t be affected unless he takes Australia to the deep stages of the tournament, a laughable proposition against a group stage line-up of France (world No.9), Peru (11) and Denmark (12).
With a five-month contract, how he could invest emotionally in the project is beyond me.
And if Arnold really does want the job as much as he claims, surely he would be willing to immediately leave his role in Sydney and take the reins.
If in discussions with the FFA, Arnold agreed to the job but asked to wait six months to take over, surely the answer as a self-respecting footballing nation would have been thanks Graham, but no thanks.
If you don’t want the job enough to leave your current post, then forget about it.
The World Cup surely presents Arnold with a golden opportunity to learn — not only about where his side is at, players at his disposal and how to get the best out of them, but personally how a manager should approach what is undoubtedly a tough tournament to lead.
If, not when, Australia makes the 2022 World Cup, Arnold can say he’s never coached the World Cup before, an in-built excuse again meaning failure will be acceptable.
The national team seems stuck in the mud, continually trotting out sides including near-40-year-old Tim Cahill and being good enough to sneak through to the World Cup, yet not able to make any meaningful impact while there.
Ultimately, Arnold is either the man for the job or he isn’t — if you can’t decide between a short-term and long-term approach and appoint two different managers, some might say you haven’t really appointed one.