After nearly three years of setbacks and stagnation, Daniel Arzani has slid from headline-hogging FIFA World Cup bolter to fringe Olyroo in danger of missing the cut for July’s Tokyo Olympic Games.
The flashy attacker - tagged as the real deal after three razzle-dazzle Socceroos cameos at Russia 2018 - must conjure some special juju at a planned preparation camp later this month in Europe to convince dual Socceroos and Olyroos coach Graham Arnold to include him in his 18-man squad for Japan.
Since rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament on debut for Celtic in late 2019, Arzani has clocked up just 178 minutes of senior football, encompassing the remainder of an ill-fated stint at Parkhead and further loan moves to FC Utrecht and most recently Danish Superliga club AGF Aarhus.
It’s been a tale of false dawns for the now 22-year-old, whose lack of game time makes it tough for Arnold to take a punt on his unfulfilled promise against Argentina, Spain and Egypt in July.
“We want to give everybody a fair chance - and we all know what Daniel’s talent and potential is,” explained Arnold’s assistant Rene Meulensteen.
“You don’t lose anything by having a look at him. It’s one of those situations where you say ‘he hasn’t played a lot of club games but you can gauge his fitness and see his hunger to play’.
“Or it might be a case of him not having any rhythm because of the shortage of games and deciding there are other players better prepared than him.
“These are things we need to find out.
“The main problem is we have only limited places and we have to make sure every single player picked can justify his spot.
“It’s harder to make that case with a player who has barely played over the last couple of years.”
After making just five appearances at Utrecht in five fruitless months on loan from parent club Manchester City, Arzani switched to AGF in January, where it’s been a case of new club, familiar frustration.
He’s only featured twice in all competitions, whilst being hindered by several knocks and niggles.
“We just need now to assess where he’s at and if he’s in a good state mentally and physically,” added Meulensteen.
“Hopefully that camp (likely to be in Marbella after the cancellation of Maurice Revello Tournament in Toulon) will allow him to prove that.
“Coming into a new environment may help him. Both Arnie and I know how to manage Arzani, and bring out the best in him.
“Having that said, his lack of minutes isn’t ideal and makes it more challenging for him.”
Meulensteen has followed Arzani’s story since his emergence at Melbourne City as a vivacious breakout talent.
“I remember a conversation I had with Bert van Marwijk before he took charge of Australia at the last World Cup,” he recalled.
“I asked him, ‘do you have a wildcard in your squad. Somebody who nobody really thinks of but who you can throw on’?
“He’d not even heard of Daniel. But I said, ‘have a look at this kid because he’s got something ... Eden Hazard-like qualities.
“Great one-to-one action and a good shot. Bert had a look and ended up playing him in Russia. How strange can it go?
“The boy obviously has something. We now need to determine if he can help us at the Olympics, and if he can then we need to use him.”