International realities outweigh domestic issues for Arnold's Socceroos


Tom Rogic didn’t play midweek as Celtic picked up a famous win at the Rome home of Lazio. Australia coach Graham Arnold does not know why.

This is, in itself, not a big deal but when you lead a national team like Australia then there are going to be, from time to time, certain issues when it comes to international players and their domestic playing time, or lack of it.

What happens when a country’s international players are not being selected by club coaches?

If they are crucial players for the national team then the usual answer is ‘not that much’.

It may not be the official answer, of course. The received wisdom is that players need mach fitness, sharpness and all the rest of it and while this may be true, it usually doesn't matter.

It is easy for national team managers to say - and it has been said many times in Asia - that all players must be playing regularly for their clubs if they want to represent their country.

It sounds good and it makes sense but when it comes down to it, most tacticians leave their stars alone.

Socceroos bosses have more to deal with than most. With FIFA World Cups, AFC Asian Cups and Olympics etc taking place in June/July/August, any A-League player is not going to have played competitive football for some time. Same with some qualification games.

And then some of the best A-League players leave. Sending talent to the best club competitions in the world is a positive.

An Australia side crammed with stars active in some of the biggest leagues in the world came within a Fabio Grosso dive and then a Francesco Totti penalty of a place in the last eight of the 2006 World Cup and that was a team full of players active in the biggest leagues in the world.

In a perfect world, Australia’s players will be starting at the top levels of world football under grateful club coaches who give them just enough rest against the smaller teams in their leagues to not be completely exhausted when they report for international duty.

Ahead of the crunch 2022 World Cup qualifier in Jordan next Thursday, it could have been the perfect warm-up to have Rogic starring for Celtic in a historic win against Lazio in Rome. Instead, he was left out.

But then it doesn’t really matter. In most cases, if a player is important enough to his country then he will be picked, regardless of what is happening at club level.

When Aaron Mooy sat out the start of the Premier League season, there was no clamour to have the midfielder sit out the start of World Cup qualification too.

Tim Cahill went to the 2018 World Cup despite playing something like a game and a half of league football in the previous 12 months.

In Asia, Son Heung-min is always going to be picked by Korea Republic regardless of what is happening at Spurs.

Park Ji-sung was always selected by the Taeguk Warriors even if he was not by the Red Devils despite coaches such as Dick Advocaat and Pim Verbeek stressing publicly the need for regular club action.

Park went to the 2006 World Cup despite not being fit. So did Wayne Rooney of England, following in the crocked footsteps of David Beckham four years earlier.

Neither was fit and it showed. Mauricio Pochettino did something similar with Harry Kane in the UEFA Champions League final in June.

Unusual is the coach that leaves out stars for vital games but then Vahid Halilhodzic is unusual. During the Bosnian’s time in charge of Japan, he dropped the likes of Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki.

None of them were in their prime and there were other dynamics at play but it would have been interesting to see what the fiery Halilhodzic would have done at the 2018 World Cup.

We’ll never know as his relations with the senior players is a big reason why he lost his job just weeks before the Samurai Blue headed off to Russia.

Graham Arnold is a little more pragmatic.