Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold on starting a new A-League season with a clean slate after last year’s triumphs. By Jack Kerr.

Winning ways: Graham Arnold, 54, soccer coach

Last year is history. I don’t think about it anymore. The players don’t think about it anymore. It’s about what’s in front of us. The real trophy has gone back to the FFA already; we’ve got the replica. We want to get the real trophy back. It was obviously a fantastic season [Sydney FC lost just one game on their way to winning both the championship and the Premiers Plate], but it’s also one that we’ve already removed from our minds.

It’s all about improvement. It’s all about being greater this season than we were last season. I truly believe that every individual has more in them. I repeatedly said during last season that we were probably 70 per cent of where I believed we could be, and I know the players will have the hunger and drive. And we’ve recruited very well, so the squad is greater quality than it was last season.

I see myself as a teacher and an educator of the game. I always judge my performance on my players and if when they walk out of this place they’ve improved as a player and as a person. I know these players have got a lot of improvement left in them, and I plan to make sure I extract every bit of that out of them.

With the right attitude, there’s only one way I see it going. Last year, we brought in a lot of new players. This year, we’ve retained most of them. So the co-ordination of our playing style within the group is already there. There’ll be a few adjustments, but tactically they are already set. And physically, they’ll be even greater this year than last year.

Leadership is the key. Having great senior players with you who want to win. Every time we go on the training pitch, we prepare to win. On the weekend, we go out to win, and we expect to win every game we play. I’ve got a group of people here who believe in each other and trust each other and believe in our processes and that they represent a fantastic club. We go out there with the intention to win every game, and we will continue to do that.   

I believe that this year our attacking play will be greater than what it was last year. Our defensive side of things is great, and we’ve got to continue that. But we can get better with possession, and we’ve recruited more quality in the front half of the field, players with the X factor that can create chances out of nothing and score goals. So therefore I think you’ll see a very exciting Sydney FC.

Our new Polish player, Adrian Mierzejewski, he’s top shelf. He’s played 41 times for Poland. Technically, he’s up in the top one or two in the A-League. He’s a fantastic player. In the pre-season, the Sydney FC fans have been on the edge of their seat every time he touches the ball. I believe he will be the shining light of the A-League this season. If you’ve got a front line of goalscorers like Ninković, Bobô, Brosque, Carney, Matty Simon and Adrian, you’ve got a very scary front line.

We’ve got some good young kids coming through. Charlie Lokolingoy – I just call him Big Charles – he’s got pace, he’s a big, strong boy, and he scores goals easily. He’s come through our youth team. He’s the leading goalscorer in the NPL 2. He’s an exciting prospect. Chris Zuvela is another one. I expect improvement of Brandon O’Neill. Josh Brillante even more. Paulo Retre has settled in perfectly, and is doing fantastic. So I expect our young boys to be very good.

Last season is something I’ll reflect on when I sit back in maybe 10 years’ time – not now. Two days after the grand final last season, I was already releasing players and recruiting for this season. That’s what you have to do as a coach. Obviously I was very proud of the achievements of last season, but I also say that winning the championship at the Mariners [in 2013] with no money and a bunch of kids was just as satisfying.

We’re aspiring to be one of the best in Asia – not just in Australia. The club is in a fantastic position. It’s a really good family club. It’s a strongly backed club, with a generous owner and a great chairman. I made a statement when I came here that I wanted Sydney FC to be like the Manchester United of Australia, and I truly believe that we are very close to that.


This week’s highlights…

Horseracing: Turnbull Stakes Day

Saturday, 1st race 12.50pm (AEDT), Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne

Soccer: A-League – Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC

Saturday,7.50pm (AEDT), Etihad Stadium, Melbourne

Rugby union: Wallabies v Argentina

Sunday, 9.30am (AEDT), Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, Mendoza, Argentina

• Motorsport: Bathurst 1000 – Supercars Championship, Race 20

Sunday, 11.10am (AEDT), Bathurst, NSW

• Soccer: World Cup qualifier – Socceroos v Syria

Tuesday, 8pm (AEDT), ANZ Stadium, Sydney Olympic Park

• Netball: Australian Diamonds v New Zealand Silver Ferns

Wednesday, 7.30pm (AEDT), Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 7, 2017 as "Winning ways".

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Jack Kerr
is a journalist and documentary maker.

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