Socceroos remind me of Man United, says former Fergie sidekick Meulensteen

Rene Meulensteen as assistant head coach of the Socceroos with head coach Graham Arnold. Source: Getty Images Europe

The Socceroos’ inner sanctum resembles that of Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson, according to the man who should know - former Red Devils assistant Rene Meulensteen.

The Dutchman duetted with Ferguson for six years, departing in 2013 after adding a UEFA Champions League and four Premier League titles to his formidable career resume.

He joined forces with Australia coach Graham Arnold in 2018, and sees shades of the Old Trafford mentality forged under Ferguson in every nook and cranny of the Socceroos set-up.

Taken aback by the quality of of the backroom brigade - from coaching, scouting, sports science and analysis down to the kit men - Meulensteen enthused: “The way things are run and the mentality I see remind me of the scenario we had at Manchester United.

“There’s a similar quality in and around the staff and a similar approach right through the ranks.

“The atmosphere and the level of professionalism takes me back to Old Trafford.

“There are obvious differences because you’re working with a national team instead of a club team.

I’m sure Graham misses that day-to-day involvement because he’s a very hands-on person with bags of energy.

“But I think this is a great opportunity for him because there will be something really interesting coming for him at the end of this journey with the national team.”

When you examine Arnold’s greatest coaching inspirations, Ferguson looms large.

He made a pilgrimage to Manchester 11 years back to briefly study and learn under the great man, making the acquaintance of Meulensteen as part of his quest and forming a lasting bond.

“I knew about Graham because he played in Holland ... I knew what a good player he’d been,” added Meulensteen.

“He came across from Australia alone and Sir Alex spent time with him and asked me to show him how things worked at United.

“Graham was looking to add to his coaching badges and his knowledge.

“We clicked straight away after he threw some Dutch words at me.

“I basically showed him all the ins and outs of what we were doing at Manchester United ...
how we approached things from the youth team to the first team.

“We talked a lot about the youth development because I was very much involved in that in my time at the club.”

Harking back to the Fergie era, Meulensteen laid bare some of the traits which wouldn’t have been lost on a wide-eyed Arnold.

“Sir Alex’s biggest asset was his ability to regenerate teams and adapt to changing circumstances,” he said.

“He used to say when he started at United back in 1986 that he had eight people working for him, and ended up with more than Marks & Spencer.

“He was all about making United bigger, better and greater.

“He had an eye for picking the right players at the right time, changing the culture of the club and he also put a lot of emphasis on the academy structure.

“He was always the first there and the last to leave every day, and he knew everybody from the ladies who did the washing and cooking upwards.”

Ferguson’s ruthlessness was a necessary part of the persona scrutinised at close quarters by Arnold.

“He could make tough decisions at the right time and wasn’t afraid to say goodbye to players to begin building new eras,” added Meulensteen.

“He never let sentimentality cloud his judgement. Everything he did was geared towards one simple goal: winning

“That was what it all boiled down to. These are the sort of ingredients I try to bring to the table with Graham and the Socceroos.

“A big advantage I have is that I know what top top football looks like and I know what sort of decisions sometimes need to be made.”

Meulensteen rejected more lucrative offers to link up with Arnold and Australia because he believes “something special” is percolating with the national team.

Even the long hiatus forced on the Socceroos by COVID-19 hasn’t dampened his effervescence.

“We both feel this is going to be a great project,” he added.

“I could’ve walked into plenty other positions but I’m motivated by working with good people who share a common goal, and who I enjoy working with.

“I believe what we’re trying to do will get noticed and who wouldn’t be excited by the prospect of competing at an Olympics, a Copa America and a World Cup?”