RS: Now the two games at your camp and the two games against New Zealand are done, what did you learn out of it?
GA: I learnt something new – it’s that those boys who are young kids that have gone overseas have improved out of sight. The fact that they’re playing in Scotland a lot of them, (Keanu) Bacchus and (Cameron) Devlin and (Ryan) Strain and that, they’ve already got a dozen games under their belt, that means they’re in good physical shape. Overall it was a chaotic week. Players obviously coming in when they normally come in, Tuesday night, Wednesday morning, and then we had a lot of commercial activity to do because the Socceroos haven’t been in Australia for a long time. It was good to see the boys again because it’s been nearly three months since Peru. The ones who went through the campaign with us, they all looked in good shape physically. It wasn’t a great performance by any means …
Two different teams, two different games, which was your favourite?
Definitely the second one. The first one was a bit all over the place and we were a bit sloppy at times and New Zealand threw something at us physically.
Now, you did mention that you’re disappointed by being outmuscled in some respects by New Zealand. Is it important going to Qatar that we are physically strong?
Again, New Zealand are a big strong physical team and that was their strength. For us to have that opportunity to experience it was good. The disappointing thing for me was we were losing a lot of 50-50s. We weren’t winning any 70-30s, and that gave New Zealand a lot more ball and we had to do more chasing. We could have won that game 2 or 3-1 but overall, it was just good to see the boys again.
The second game was almost an Olyroos team plus Mathew Leckie. The two boys a lot of people have been pushing for – Jason Cummings and Garang Kuol, who have done well against Barcelona – they came on and they certainly didn’t disappoint.
The three days in between games, we couldn’t get into New Zealand until Saturday because every flight across Auckland was booked out because of the Bledisloe Cup on Saturday night, so had to get there Saturday, we didn’t even really have a training session. So to put 11 players together right from the start … and again, it was not a great start but we got better and better as the game went on, and as you mentioned Jason and Garang came on and they added a lot of energy and something different in the last 20 minutes.
The big news out of Australia is that Garang Kuol has officially signed for Newcastle, and it’s been confirmed he’ll be loaned back to the Mariners. What are your thoughts on Garang going to Newcastle?
It’s a great opportunity but straight away he is getting loaned out (first to the Mariners, then elsewhere). Hopefully where they do loan him out to, they’ve got the resources and they’ve got the right coach and right environment for him because that’s very important for a young player, that he feels at home (because) he’s leaving his family and everyone behind here.
Can we compare Garang to Daniel Arzani, what happened to him when he left at a similar age?
I think you can’t even compare that (situation). Daniel had at least started his A-League journey and at least shown that he could get through 80 minutes. I’m sitting here and I can say I don’t know how Garang would go in a 90-minute game.
Does he make the World Cup squad?
Well, he’s in contention. He was something different when he came on and that’s what we’re looking for. But again, he has got a lot to learn. He is rough and he is raw, and that’s expected at the age of 18. I’ve shown I’m prepared to take these kinds of risks, and that’s to shock and surprise opponents, but he’s got a long, long way to go. He’s got to get wherever he is and work hard. He’s coming back now to the Central Coast Mariners, so it will be interesting to see if he starts every week.
The players need to be fit if they’re going to Qatar, you’ve got a short lead-in. Do the players need to be playing for their clubs?
Depending on where they are. Denis Genreau, for example, is not playing in France but he is training in France and training with a very good team in Ligue 1, and then when you see him at training and the game, you see how fit and sharp he is. I’m staying here to watch the A-League because the A-League players, I could see a difference in them. The difference between the A-League players and the overseas players is physical, you could see it just at training. People want to talk about the chance (Marco) Tilio missed just before halftime, I put that down to the lack of gametime, lack of sharpness of game rhythm that he missed that chance. What I was so happy with him for was that he didn’t let that affect his performance.
You had Rene Meluesten watching Denmark-France. The mail back?
Rene, he went and watched France against Austria as well, and France are playing a 5-3-2, not really a high-pressure game but they’re basically relying on turnovers, then give the ball to (Kylian) Mbappe, one touch he receives it and second one it’s in the back of the net. That’s the quality that they’ve got. We’ve got to be extremely sharp and ready and be on our game. It’s the first game, and seven day lead-in, and teams and countries coming into Qatar, it will be a bit of a surprise for them because they haven’t been there before. We’ve got to use that to our advantage: We’ve been there, we’ve played there, it’s like a home away from home.
That must give you comfort – there’s going to be no surprise at that level?
The training facilities are not airconditioned, so you’ve got to train in the heat. We know what the airconditioned stadiums are like and we know what the grass is like, and it’s like going from clay court in tennis to grass in tennis, it’s a big difference. That’s down to the airconditioned stadiums, the moisture from the heat in the air; it’s like playing on ceramic tiles, it’s that quick. It is different, but we’ve had those experiences of playing there and the boys know what it’s like.
And Denmark is a good side, it’s not all about Christian Eriksen – guys like (Mikkel) Daamsgard, (Andreas Skov) Olson, they’ve got good players everywhere.
When you get to a World Cup, there’s no easy games. You talk about the 32 best countries in the world, of course every game is a challenge, but this is just a great opportunity for the players to show what they’ve got and their qualities and their strengths and showing the rest of the world what we’re made of.
What about Guus Hiddink – did he enjoy his experience and did you get anything out of it?
Retirement is doing him well, he looked well. He was fantastic. He was just so excited to be there. First game he didn’t really have much to say and you know, ‘I’m an assistant now, I don’t say anything’. Second game he was a bit feisty on the sideline and got up and yelled out a few times to the boys. He was great. When we went to speak to the players the night before the first game, it was all about, ‘You have to be the fittest you’ve ever been in your life, you’ve got no time for preparation, you’ve got limited time between games, it’s not going to get down to the best technique in the world, it’s not going to get down to the best tactics, it’s going to get down to the best physical (condition), and teams who can back up and be physically the best and the teams who are mentally the best’. He believes in the Australian mentality.
What was the boys’ reactions to Guus?
Great. They were quite in awe of him because he’s still got that strut, swagger and he’s got those eyes. His eyes for detail and how he can read body language and read people is what he does best. It was great to have him in camp. Sad to see him go. He gave me a few opinions that I’ll obviously keep between me and him. It was definitely a worthwhile experience.
We’ve spoken about Garang Kuol, Jason Cummings and all the other boys. The big question for everyone is Tommy Rogic. He’s at West Brom – do you have information that he is going to play?
No information but I can say to you, do you know if Tommy’s fit? I don’t know, he would have still been working hard because he’s a professional, but I haven’t seen him play for four months, it’s going on five months now. That’s a long time out, so it’s going to be interesting to see how he reacts as soon as he gets back. Hopefully he starts with West Brom as soon as possible. We need our best players in Qatar. He can be one of our best players when he’s fit and mentally ready. But he’s got to get playing because no one has seen him play for five months. When Tommy’s at his best, it’s good.
Originally published as Graham Arnold speaks with Robbie Slater about Garang Kuol, Tom Rogic as Socceroos ready for World Cup