Arnold facing double dilemma as FIFA rules pose Copa, Olympic Games headaches


Graham Arnold’s persuasive powers will be tested to the limit in the coming months as the Socceroos coach seeks to cajole clubs from Europe and Asia into releasing players for the Copa America and Olympic Games.

As a guest nation at the Latin America classic in June, FIFA rules and regulations dictate that Socceroos stars will need permission from their respective clubs to play in the tournament.

And July’s Olympic Games in Tokyo falls into the same category outside official FIFA windows for the three over-age players Arnold is entitled to select.

All of which leaves him with a mammoth diplomatic mission on his hands in an attempt to negotiate a logistical minefield and assemble Australia’s best possible squad at both tournaments.

And that’s without even factoring in possible twists and turns with the evolving menace of the coronavirus which looks likely to force the postponement of this month’s FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Kuwait and Nepal.

Arnold might seek a friendly match or a European camp if those games bite the dust, with a definitive decision pending from the AFC and FIFA this weekend.

Australia’s final scheduled match in the first phase of qualifying for Qatar 2022 is scheduled for June 9 against Jordan - just four days before their historic Copa America debut.

But what shape the squad will take remains up in the air ahead of group games against Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile.

Arnold didn’t want to be drawn on the complexities of the task facing him, saying only: “I’ll be talking to all of our players and discussing our schedule ahead with clubs and will do everything in my power to field the most competitive teams possible in LatinAmerica and then at the Olympics in Japan.”

But the difficulties were laid bare last year when Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu - coincidentally once a teammate of Arnold’s at Sanfrecce Hiroshima - hit a brick wall with European and J-League clubs when he sought the release of his stars for Japan’s appearance at the 2019 Copa America.

Moriyasu was left with a squad largely composed of U-23 J-League players.

Arnold faces similar headaches with the likes of Brighton & Hove Albion, and Celtic potentially baulking at summer breaks for Mat Ryan, Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic being interrupted.

Other clubs may take the same stance.

The situation is bleaker still in Asia, where K-League and J-League-based Australians like striker Adam Taggart will be in mid-season.

It’s a scenario further complicated by Celtic’s likely appearance in the UEFA Champions League qualifiers in early July, along with Awer Mabil’s FC Midtjylland and Trent Sainsbury and Nikita Rukavytsya with Maccabi Haifa.

Mustafa Amini could also be involved in Europa League qualifiers with AGF at the same time.

Quite apart from his Copa headaches, Arnold is juggling the hot potato of which three over-age players to summon to Tokyo Olympics, which kick off on July 23.

He was in charge when Australia last qualified in 2008 and was believed to have locked in Harry Kewell and Craig Moore, only for Liverpool and Rangers to veto the call-ups 10 days out.

As it turned out, Arnold headed to China with the A-League trio of Jade North, Archie Thompson and David Carney.

In July, instead of calling in overseas-based stars, Arnold may have to turn to the A-League, where clubs are compelled to release players for national team duty, to fill his quota of over-age aces.