Arnold: ‘You’ll see Trent Sainsbury go to an even higher level’
Graham Arnold knew, when he first witnessed a scrawny, confident young Trent Sainsbury, that there was the potential he could go all the way in football.
Now, after years in the club football wilderness, Sainsbury — one of the Caltex Socceroos key cogs — has the chance to finally reach new heights on the eve of Australia’s AFC Asian Cup title defence in January.
The 26-year-old is the new centre-back signing for Dutch giants and reigning Eredivisie champions PSV Eindhoven. For Sainsbury, it’s a long awaited major transfer to reboot his career trajectory that took a host of unexpected deviations after he left the Central Coast Mariners as a 22-year-old.
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"I remember one game in the first year [as an 18-year-old], I put him at right-back, because he was cocky, to play against Thomas Broich," new Caltex Socceroos boss Graham Arnold told socceroos.com.au prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
WATCH OUR FULL FEATURE INTERVIEW WITH GRAHAM ARNOLD ON TRENT SAINSBURY IN THE VIDEO AT THE TOP OF THE PAGE
"Broich ripped him apart and I made him stay out there for 90 minutes, and he learnt a lot of lessons.”
Under the watchful eye of Arnold, Sainsbury developed into the Hyundai A-League’s best young defender which later earned him a European move to PEC Zwolle.
A shock injury robbed the Perth-born star from a chance to play at the 2014 FIFA World Cup before he later moved to Chinese Super League club Jiangsu Suning.
From there, regular, high quality club football had been an issue for Sainsbury — who accumulated just 3,500 minutes of action for Suning and on loan to Inter Milan and Grasshopper Zurich in 32 months.
Yet despite this, Sainsbury’s performances for the Caltex Socceroos consistently stood out — the former Mariner played a pivotal role in Massimo Luongo’s memorable goal in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup before later starring against Germany, Cameroon and Chile in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.
Heroic performances against Syria and Honduras in the play-off stages of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying also followed before Sainsbury underwent long awaited surgery to recover from an injury in preparation for the tournament in Russia.
The injury proved somewhat as a symbol for Sainsbury’s recent career — he pushed his body to its limit and performed at his peak for the national team while at the same time his club football didn’t reach the same heights.
For Arnold, who knows the true potential of his son-in-law, the next task to help Sainsbury go to the next level is replicating his Caltex Socceroos form for club.
“I still believe that he’s not playing at the level he should be playing at. His next move needs to be a big move for his career,” foretold Arnold prior to Sainsbury’s PSV unveiling.
“What amazes me is that last year he hardly played any club football but then he goes out and performs the way he did in the [2017 FIFA] Confederations Cup and during World Cup qualifying he was always one of our best.
“It’s that mentality a little bit in a way that ‘if I want to do it, I’ll do it’.
“But he needs to do it every week and play to that level every week. If he plays at his Socceroos level every game for a club team, he’ll be at a very, very good club.
“He needs to be challenged every week and every game — the better the opposition the better Trent plays. When the challenges are there, you’ll see him go to an even higher level.”
Arnold’s predictions were right — Sainsbury’s Caltex Socceroos form at the 2018 FIFA World Cup opened up the chance to move to the 24-time Dutch champions.
Now, the challenge is Sainsbury’s to establish himself as a regular for Mark van Bommel’s side in a bid to be best prepared for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.