Graham Arnold’s Socceroos full of belief – not arrogance – at Asian Cup
Al Ain: “Its not arrogance, its belief.” And with that, Socceroos coach Graham Arnold declared it was time to get the ball rolling on what looms as a fascinating defence of their Asian Cup crown in the United Arab Emirates.
It was always going to be interesting to see how foreign media would interpret Arnold's newfound bullish attitude. Australians familiar with his background know it is an attempt to channel positive energy in favour of his team, something he did regularly at Sydney FC.
Under the instruction of mind guru Mike Conway and the 'coach whisperer' Bradley Charles Stubbs, Arnold stopped talking about "hope". These days, he "expects to win".
To reporters in the UAE who are unaware of the background and are used to coaches speaking in respectful platitudes, it sounds like the Socceroos think they'll breeze through the tournament with no issues – starting with Sunday night's Group B opener against Jordan.
It piqued the interest of one journalist at the official pre-match press conference who couldn't quite find the word for it, so Arnold found it for him: arrogance. And he said that wasn't what was coursing through the veins of Socceroos players and coaches that has them feeling so good about their chances of going back-to-back.
It's pure, unfiltered belief – something he claimed earlier this week can trigger miracles.
"Pressure is just a word," Arnold said. "We have the utmost belief and confidence in what we're doing. Four years is a long long time and yes, Mile Jedinak and Timmy Cahill and ex-players have retired and moved on. This is football.
It's a beautiful stadium, it's a big stadium, a fantastic pitch… the Jordanian fans can scream and roar but they can't affect the result.
"We have great depth in our squad, new players come in, young players. Young players have energy and enthusiasm. I believe the game of football is becoming a young man's game, I think that showed at the World Cup just passed.
"We have young players with that type of energy who can play at a very high level for 90 minutes, and that's what I expect tomorrow. We expect to exploit their weaknesses tomorrow and nullify their strengths."
The talk around Al Ain is that expat Jordanians are being given free tickets for the match at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. A crowd of between 5,000 and 10,000 is anticipated, with the vast majority of them likely to be hostile to the Socceroos. If Sunday wasn't the first day of the working week in the UAE, it might be a little bigger.
Arnold is unfazed. "I think it's fantastic that the Jordanians are coming in numbers," he said. "One thing we need to remember is that all of our players play in countries around Europe and they play away from home in front of big away crowds. They're used to it.
"It's a beautiful stadium, it's a big stadium, a fantastic pitch. Yes, the Jordanian fans can scream and roar but they can't affect the result."
Arnold deflected questions about the burden of being defending champions, and tried cracking a joke which fell totally flat with the locals.
"After the first game tonight, UAE against Bahrain, we're not the champions anymore," he said. "We have to earn that (again). We have to be rewarded with our performances for that. You guys want to talk about four years ago – four years ago, believe it or not, I had black hair." Radio silence.
Earlier in the day, Jordan coach Vital Borkelmans took a leaf out of Arnold's book when it comes to preaching the power of belief. "I believe 1000 per cent in my team and I think the spectators who are coming, they are 500 per cent behind my players when they need it," Borkelmans said.
The Belgian also claimed last year's unpredictable World Cup in Russia proved that the established order in football is crumbling and that upsets happen.
"I'm a happy coach," he said. "My players in this moment are totally ready. The spectators of Jordan, they deserve this. I say many times to my players: believe in your skill, believe in your body and do something special for Jordan."
Vince is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.