Socceroos coach Graham Arnold is convinced Aaron Mooy has reached such a high point in his development that he can be the team's playmaker for many years.
Mooy, 29, plays his club football for Brighton & Hove Albion in the English Premier League where he has established himself in the team that is fighting for survival.
Arnold has been a big admirer of Mooy since the gifted midfielder became one of the founder players of the Western Sydney Wanderers club that joined the A-League in 2012.
Eight years down the track Arnold sees Mooy as one of the key players in the team that is bidding for a spot in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
“Aaron is great and can be the Socceroos’ playmaker for a long time, hundred per cent,” Arnold said.
“The energy that he brings is fantastic and the more times he touches the ball the more chances you have of winning and winning well.
“He sees passes not many other players see and his work rate is amazing even though it is an underestimated part of his game.
“Needless to say, we missed him terribly at the 2018 AFC Asian Cup after he got injured just before the tournament started. We had other players missing through injury but his was the biggest loss, not only because of his quality as a player but also because of his deliveries at set pieces.”
Aaron, who was deemed surplus to requirements at the Wanderers and let go after two seasons, is capable of shaping the course of a match with his drive and quality of his distribution yet Arnold feels it is too risky to give him a free role and allow him to ‘do his own thing’.
However he did concede that certain ‘allowances’ can be made.
“In modern football you really cannot afford to have anybody on the paddock with a free role but if Mooy and fellow midfielder Jackson Irvine can change positions, cover each other and move around then I’m happy with that,” he said.
Arnold might be buoyed by the fact that Tom Rogic has become a more versatile player since he left Central Coast Mariners to join Scottish giants Celtic in 2013.
“I loved him when I had him at the Mariners and I enjoy every minute coaching him for the Socceroos,” Arnold said of the 47-cap attacker.
“I think he is more flexible now after his time in Scotland.
“He is obviously a No 10 but he has played at the top and at the right side of the diamond for the Hoops. He can also be a false 9 if required.
“Tommy has developed a fantastic work rate and he also has improved a lot defensively. I know he will do the job for me in more than one role.”
With Mooy and Rogic taking up major roles within the team, Arnold is confident that the Socceroos will achieve their objective of reaching the World Cup finals.
Even though he admits that he is in the dark as to when or how the qualification process will pan out after international football was halted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think we in Australia have handled the virus very well but in international football you are reliant on players being involved in many games for their clubs and being match fit,” he said.
“This enforced hiatus is a worldwide problem and there is not much you can do about it. All I know is I’ve had probably the first decent break in 30 years.
“What I know is we are in a great position with four wins out of four and three home matches out of four to come but what we don’t know is how the landscape is going to be for the rest of this qualification phase and the next. The AFC and CONMEBOL have yet to determine the shape and for of the final phase of qualifying.
“I’m not sure what’s happening with the Copa America, either, because CONMEBOL have not reached out to us after this year’s event was postponed.”
While Arnold waits for world football to come back to normal, he has been busy consolidating via telecommunication the mantra of team spirit and camaraderie he has imparted in the short time he has been in charge of the green and gold.
“Since I got the job in 2018 my priority has been to build depth and give many players the opportunity to show me if they can handle international football. I also took on the Olyroos to see for myself who’s next,” he said.
“I did feel in the first few camps that there was a culture of fear. I just want the players to enjoy playing for their country because it is an honour and the best thing they can do in their career. I have worked hard to drive home that message.
“I believe in enjoying the camps and the camaraderie and giving everything on the pitch. The bottom line is that I have 40 to 45 players whom I can trust to do the job for the Socceroos when and if required.
“I am confident that we will be able to handle whatever scenario is thrown at us.”
Arnold’s appointment two years ago was greeted with a degree of scepticism by some elements within football’s fandom, despite the fact that the two-time A-League championship winner brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the job.
When he gave his first press conference as national coach, Arnold asked that he be given a chance to prove his worth before being judged.
So is he winning over the critics?
“I wouldn’t know, mate, I’m not into social media,” he said.
“That type of stuff does not bother me. I’m here to help Australian football and help the players have a great journey in life. The national team is a reward for what they are doing at club football and that’s the way I will always see it.”