FOCUS ON THE FIELD
Coach’s man-management skills tested
FOOTBALL: He says it’s one of his strengths, and Graham Arnold’s man-management skills are getting a workout at a major tournament coinciding with the transfer window and rife with selection headaches.
If the new Socceroos coach didn’t already have enough on his plate under the weight of expectation reserved for defending Asian Cup champions, the distraction of lucrative club offers on the table for some of his squad adds a new element.
Rumours of Milos Degenek’s recently announced transfer to cashed-up Saudi powerhouse Al-Hilal have followed the departing Red Star Belgrade centre-back since the beginning of camp.
Melbourne City are believed to be targeting striker Jamie Maclaren, currently on loan with Hibernian from German club Darmstadt, and also have Urawa Red Diamonds forward Andrew Nabbout on their wishlist.
And Norway-based Alex Gersbach is reportedly in talks about a contract with NAC Breda.
Some have made moves themselves to curb the interruption – it’s understood Degenek wanted Al-Hilal to hold off announcing his switch until after the tournament.
Nevertheless, it’s presented a unique challenge as the team navigates a less-than-straightforward group stage culminating in tonight’s decisive clash with Syria in Al Ain.
“It’s a new one, that’s for sure,” Arnold said.
“Keeping them focused on their job and keeping them focused on what we’re doing while they’re getting agents calling them with offers – some are getting offers with crazy money.
“It can be (challenging). At the same time, I’m fully aware of what’s going on so I can talk to the players about it and remove it from their minds while they’re representing us.”
There’s also the matter of breaking bad news to players being dropped.
The bold move to bring in Chris Ikonomidis and Jackson Irvine for Friday’s 3-0 defeat of Palestine proved spot on.
But it also meant a tough conversation with Robbie Kruse and Massimo Luongo, and Arnold said he took a different tack with different personalities.
“That’s man management, that’s one of my strengths,” Arnold said.
“Man management is getting the best out of people. Communicating is a big key.”
Signs from training suggest Mark Milligan is set to shift to defence to cater for the absence of Trent Sainsbury through suspension.
Though he didn’t confirm, Arnold was certain the vocal skipper could still exert his influence from the back, with Luongo likely to benefit from the prospective move.
OFF-FIELD DISTRACTIONS: Jamie Maclaren celebrates with teammates after scoring against Palestine.