Socceroos Head Coach Graham Arnold: “We need to do what’s best for the game and not what’s best for commercial or politics”

Socceroos Head Coach Graham Arnold has voiced a call to action for Australia’s clubs, associations and member federations to come together in order to effectively determine the upward growth of Australian football.

Speaking as part of Football Victoria’s Community in Business (CIB) Full-Time Luncheon at Hyatt Place in Essendon Fields, Arnold touched on the Socceroos’ formidable journey through a COVID-19 affected qualification for Qatar 2022, the role clubs and associations play in the development of players, and how Australia’s historic football clubs can be critical to shaping the future of the code here.

For Arnold, the priority for Australia’s youth development pathways needn’t be anything but the overall prosperity and growth of its playing cohort.

“Everyone has a role to play to help people. And if I can say there’s one thing that really irks me in Australian football – it’s that we don’t care enough for the kids. The kids are the game, and for all the kids that play the game we should be treating them as our own kids, and helping those kids fulfil their dreams and have great lives. Because I can sit here today and say no matter what happens, football’s given me a great life,” Arnold said to CIB guests.

“We have a role in clubs, federations and in associations that you are like the father of those kids. However many is in your association or your club, you’ve got to behave like a father to help those kids achieve and fulfil their dreams.”

Graham Arnold speaking with host Michael Zappone

When questioned about National Premier League clubs having a greater influence on the production line of Australia’s future Socceroos and Matildas players, Arnold drew on his own experiences as a player and coach in Australia’s system.

“Our development side of things has gone down since the A-League started. I coached the team to the Olympics in 2008 where the players in the qualified team had played three minutes. We played against Argentina and we lost 1-0 against Lionel Messi and I had five players on the team sheet that didn’t have a club,” he said.

“We just don’t play enough football in this country, it’s crazy. When we talk about promotion and relegation, we’ve become America. And when I say that I mean we follow America’s way of having no relegation, and looking at our elite sports of AFL, cricket, NRL, rugby union – no one has relegation.

“So, one of the hardest things to drive for me, even when I was coaching in the A-League, is the winning mentality. Because when you’re sitting up in the grandstand and you’re still getting paid the same as what you’d be getting paid on the pitch playing, you don’t hurt when you lose.

“In my days of playing in the old NSL you’d get a $20,000 or $30,000 sign-on fee, and then win or draw bonuses but you’d get nothing for a loss. There’s no hurt when you lose now.”

Arnold went on to identify the necessity to push aside commercial interests and political squabbling within the game in order to facilitate its ultimate success.

“During COVID, I sat with all of the state federations about what I think and believe it’s quite easy to fix. For me personally, it’s to help the kids. And that requires all NPL clubs right around the country to lift and raise their resources and standards. And then all NPL all around Australia should play minimum 30-33 games. We don’t play enough football – right from grassroots all the way up to senior level.

“You look at the kids from the Olympic team that I’ve just recently worked with, 10 of them have gone overseas where they’re playing 48 games a year. That’s two full seasons in the A-League.

“You’ve just seen Oakleigh Cannons and Sydney United do what they’ve done in the Australia Cup, well can you imagine A-League Under-23 year olds playing against grown men? It’s already there, so, it’s not hard to fix. We just need to work together as a nation and do what’s best for the game, and not what’s best for commercial or politics.”

You can stay up to date with CIB news and upcoming events here.

The story of Kamal Ibrahim: An inspiration to young migrants

The founder of One Ball, Kamal Ibrahim, understands that football is a beacon of light for him and the people that experience adversity and hardship in their countries.

Along with his family, Ibrahim migrated from Ethiopia in 2003 for a new life in Australia at the age of 12 to flee the civil war.

By not understanding a word of English along with the difficulties of settling into the cultural ways of life in Australia, that’s when he turned his passion for football as a form of expressing himself and communicating with his new community.

His football career began for his local team, Port Melbourne Soccer Club, the noble act from the NPL club to pay for his membership, providing him with his uniform and most significantly making him feel welcome instantly the moment that he had arrived was an admirable act of generosity.

Looking back on his playing career, Ibrahim talked about the life skills football gave him, not only on the pitch but also off it.

“Through football I learnt skills that helped me on and off the field. I looked forward to my games each week, my team was my ‘family’, I had a sense of acceptance and a way of communicating without having to speak, I learnt how to work as a team, improve myself as an individual, I was supported in a fun and safe environment.

“Football has given me opportunities that I never expected. Football gave me the opportunity to represent Australia and Victoria on a national level and I was given the opportunity to travel the world. It gave me that sense of encouragement to do more with my life and that with hard work anything can be achieved.”

He has gone on to make appearances for Melbourne Heart (now known as Melbourne City) in 2010-2012 and representing the youth team of Australia, but his career was at an all-time high when playing for Port Melbourne Sharks, which is where he won the 2015 NPL’s best and fairest award.

Now Ibrahim has decided to show his admiration for the sport, by starting a program designed for children and adolescences between the ages of 5-17 year olds.

The program is open to all people, especially those from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) nationalities from all over Melbourne to play football in a social and friendly environment, no matter their religion, culture or gender.

The mission of this program is to encourage children to be fit and active, as well as supporting their physical and psychological health and well-being, One Ball also aims to guide and empower young individuals to develop personal qualities such as cooperation, self-control, respect and integrity by playing football with others along with the mentoring they receive from their coaches.

Ibrahim explains why he started One Ball.

“I started One Ball trying to not only help the best players, but the overall community. Kids who have never played soccer before, kids who have the passion but they can’t play for a soccer club because they will be told they aren’t good forward or who aren’t good enough to play for an NPL club or a community club, so One Ball was established for that reason,” he said.

“As human beings when we realise belong in the community, we feel a part of the society, then we can achieve things. Every kid who comes to our program gets a uniform just like they are part of their soccer club, they feel like they can belong at that club.”

The PFA’s Footballers Trust supports One Ball and other similar organisations, giving an opportunity for players to give back to their communities in a positive and impactful way.

It was established by former footballer Mark Milligan prior to the 2019 Asian Cup, ever since then it has grown remarkably to the extent where they have partnered with over 10 various player-driven charity initiatives.

10-year milestone of Australia Cup achieved with ongoing benefits for semi-professionals

The Australia Cup is the nation’s premier knockout cup competition which has reached its 10th year of existence.

The competition was founded as the Football Federation Australia (FFA) Cup and has been won by five different clubs, with nine unique sides appearing in its respective finals down the years.

Knockout cup football before the reintroduction of it was something which remained an unappreciated element of Australian football with the first attempt of sustaining a competition occurring back in the 1960s with the Australia Cup – the first and only national club knockout competition which was held from 1962 until 1968.

The FFA Cup was ultimately renamed to the Australia Cup in 2022, suiting as a more fitting title for what has become an important piece of silverware within Australian football.

The competition has contributed immensely to the sport in a variety of aspects. Semi-professional clubs across the country have the opportunity to compete against the nation’s best upon their entry in the round of 32, providing spectators with the possibility of witnessing a David and Goliath like matchup. The ‘cupsets’ provide a sense of urgent, frantic football in which fans are jubilant to receive.

Those at the business end of the competition are recipients of prize money, with the winners claiming a cheque worth $131,000. As of 2021, competition winners are placed into continental football play-offs within Asia. Due to the consistent restructure of Asian continental club football, winners of the Australia Cup from 2021 were eligible to qualify for the Asian Champions League via a playoff position, in 2022 the AFC Cup playoffs were up for grabs, with the latter to be changed to the third instalment of Asian football being the newly founded tournament, the AFC Champions League 2.

10 years of cup magic within Australian football has complimented the competitiveness across the sport. The mind races back to all the ‘cupsets’ witnessed throughout the years including the notorious Green Gully victory over the Central Coast Mariners in 2015 where Liam Boland scored from his own half. Not to mention in more recent history, in the cup run Sydney United 58 had gone on.

For lower-ranked clubs across the nation to have the opportunity to compete with professional established clubs has not only provided fans with nostalgic moments, but has opened the another gateway into competing across the continent. The Cup has established itself amongst a trophy of significance in that has also acted as an attraction for international marquee players to venture to Australia from overseas, knowing there’s now three different titles within the sport they can compete for.

The more frequency of football – combined with the magic of the cup – will only serve to open more financial and beneficial opportunities within the sport across the nation.

Based upon its first decade, it’s safe to say its presence has been palpable.

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