Arnold pioneering coaching pathway to Asia
As an outsider looking in, it seems that the Australian football community can be a little too pre-occupied with the meaning of everything.
As an outsider looking in, it seems that the Australian football community can be a little too pre-occupied with the meaning of everything. A player goes there - what does it mean for the future of football? A CEO says this - what does it mean for the future of football? Television news broadcasts an opinion - what does it mean for the future of football? It calls to mind the words of Yoda to Obi Wan-Kenobi about Luke Skywalker. “All his life has he looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. What he was doing.”
Even the ancient Jedi Master would agree that this time, however, is a good time to be talking about what the departure of Graham Arnold to Vegalta Sendai means. The best coach in the A-League heading to the best league in Asia is a meaningful event. In the space of a month, Australia-s domestic competition has produced a coach for the national team and one for the J.League. A foreign club at a good level has looked at an A-League coach, and concluded he is the man to take them forward.
There is going to be pressure on Arnold. It is not just that he will be in a completely different and famously competitive environment with relegation casting a shadow over all but the biggest boys - Gamba Osaka dropped in 2012 and Jubilo Iwata has just done the same. Conversely, the upper reaches are also available to most. Yet the fact is Arnold is a pioneer.
This is not a coach going to south-east Asia, but Japan. How Arnold performs is almost as important for Australia as his new club. Do a good job and the reputation of Aussie coaches obviously improves. Failure, either perceived or real, will make it that little bit more difficult for others to follow. This is especially true in East Asia, a region incredibly quick to latch onto the latest trend - just look at the scramble of Korean clubs for Australian defenders after the success of Sasa Ognenovski.
Arnold arrives at an interesting time. Vegalta Sendai has long occupied an important part in the local community 300km north of Tokyo, even before the devastating earthquake and tsunami left the region reeling. The players, like all in the country, hit the streets rattling boxes and raising money in any way they could. The city pulled together to help ensure that the stadium was ready by the time the J.League restarted just six weeks after it all happened. And incredibly it was, though fans were told not to jump up and down too much.
It was hard not to do so as the team, propelled forward on a wave of emotion and goodwill, took their fans on a ride that scarcely seemed believable. Sendai, who had finished 14th in 2010 on their return to the top tier and were expected to be in a relegation battle once again, just kept winning and led the table for a fair chunk of the campaign. In the end, all were delighted with a fourth place finish. The next season was even better and the northerners ended in second. This season will see a mid-table finish, partly because a first ever appearance in the Asian Champions League took its toll.
Coach Makoto Teguramori has left to take charge of Japan-s U-23 side and leaves behind a team accustomed to a certain way of playing. Under Arnold-s predecessor, Sendai were not the stereotypical Japanese team. Physical and direct, the fast-paced passing game the nation is increasingly famed for could be better found elsewhere, though the likes of veteran Atsushi Yanagisawa can still play, while North Korean star Ryang Yong-gi provides the thrust from out wide.
This is the challenge within a challenge. Results will be important, they always are, but more interesting will be whether this Aussie can go to Japan to change the way a team plays football and to introduce a more attractive passing style that become his hallmark at Central Coast Mariners. That really would be something, and show how far Arnold has come since the 2007 Asian Cup which ended with elimination at the hands of the Samurai Blue.
Vegalta Sendai may not be a giant of Japanese football, but perhaps is better suited to Arnold for all that. And if any team has shown in recent years that the league is wide open, it is Sendai. If any team has shown in recent years that it has the backing and the love of the local community, it is Sendai.
Whichever way you look at it, Arnold moving to Japan is significant. Whether he is successful or not remains to be seen. If he is, he will go down in history as one of Australia-s greatest football pioneers.