Proud but dejected in defeat, Graham Arnold says he will take a proper break before having “some good discussions” with Football Australia about whether or not he stays on as Socceroos coach.
He also used his final post-match press conference to reiterate the urgent need for more funding for football in Australia and call for a high-performance facility dedicated to the national teams.
Arnold left the field shell-shocked in the early hours of Sunday morning, after his Australian side gave Lionel Messi’s Argentina a late scare but ultimately lost 2-1 to end their remarkable World Cup campaign at the round of 16.
The 59-year-old’s contract expired with the full-time whistle at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, leaving the governing body with a decision to make about the future of a coach who has divided opinion but also steered the national team to a history-making run.
“I haven’t thought about the future,” Arnold said after the match. “My contract is up and I just want to go away, have a holiday, have a break and see what happens. I’ve worked extremely hard in this campaign.
“I haven’t even thought about it. I need a break, a rest and no doubt I’ll have some good discussions with the organisation.”
Arnold described Messi – who scored in his 1,000th career game – as “incredible, one of the greatest ever”, and said he had worked with his squad on ensuring they were not in awe of the seven-time Ballon d’Or while on the field.
“But wow, he’s remarkable,” he said. “I had the privilege of playing against Diego Maradona, and now coaching against Messi. They’re both wonderful players, and Argentina should be so proud and happy to have players of that calibre.”
Yet despite the success of his team, who made the Socceroos’ deepest run at a finals since 2006 and whose two wins earned the most points at the group stage to date, he still “felt we failed tonight”.
“I just wanted to win so badly for the nation, the fans and the game of football in Australia,” Arnold said. “Making the last 16 wasn’t enough – I wanted more. That’s just me. I know some people may be happy with it, but that’s just the way I am.”
Arnold was quick to praise captain and goalkeeper Mat Ryan, whose error gifted Argentina their second goal, saying “everyone makes mistakes, he’s been a fantastic captain and fantastic player”.
“I just said to the boys I couldn’t be more proud of the effort and everything they gave to me, and to the nation,” he added. “It’s been a four-and-a-half-year journey, a tough journey for everyone. We’re a bit disappointed as we could’ve got something more out of it, but I hope Australia is proud of these players. I thank them for all their work, the effort they put in through this campaign. It’s about making the nation proud, and I’m sure we did that.
“Everyone said before we came here we were the worst Socceroo team ever to qualify for a World Cup, but that’s gone now. We’ve done exceptionally well, making the last 16 and winning two games. The mixture of the young boys and senior boys has worked well.”
Arnold has been a strong advocate for football development in Australia, having only days ago expressed “massive concerns” and called for more funds and a thorough review of the country’s development structures.
“We have a lot to look at in Australian football,” he said. “It’s a sport that unites the nation – in my view it’s one of two teams that does unite the nation. We need to spend money and get help from the government to put some money into the game and develop kids.
“One thing I’d love to see before I finish up completely from football is that the government build us a house – we’ve been homeless since I’ve been involved for 37 years – a facility that can inspire, something like the AIS, something the government can fund for the national teams and for the good of Australian football.”