Fuelled by his remarkable past Olympic experiences, Graham Arnold holds a firm desire to oversee the first Australian football team to win an Olympic medal when they travel to Tokyo in July 2021.
The Australia U-23’s head coach is no stranger to the Games, having previously taken part as both as a player and a coach.
After securing passage to the men’s tournament for the first time since 2008, Arnold believes that every member of the squad must earn the right to represent their nation in the Olympic arena.
“As I said to the boys after they qualified, now the real work starts,” he told the FFA Podcast.
“They all need to get playing wherever they are and start performing to be selected in that Olympic squad.
“I do believe that the Olympics is one of the greatest experiences you can ever have in sport.”
Arnold is optimistic that the squad he selects for Tokyo 2021 will be primed to make history.
“My belief is that we will go to Tokyo and be the first Australian football team to win an Olympic medal,” he enforced.
“That’s what my goals are. It is quite strange now not coaching or being around football, but we have got great times ahead of us.”
Listen to the first FFA Podcast with Graham Arnold, former Socceroo Mark Bosnich, Westfield Matildas great Julie Murray, and current Westfield Matilda Chloe Logarzo in the player below!
In 1988, Arnold was a member of the Australian squad who visited Seoul to compete in the Olympics for the first time in 32 years.
That experience taught him some valuable lessons.
“As you get older in life you realise how important these major tournaments are,” Arnold reflected.
“I’ve obviously had a couple of great experiences at World Cups, but going to the Olympics is something very, very special.”
The majority of the 1988 squad were based in Australia and the tournament proved to be a useful platform for furthering their club careers.
Arnold recalls how Frank Farina’s goal in Australia’s opening 1-0 victory over Yugoslavia saw the former Socceroo scouted for a move to Belgian outfit Club Brugge.
A strong showing in Seoul also laid the platform for former Socceroo Robbie Slater’s transfer to Anderlecht and played a part in Arnold himself securing a transfer from Sydney United to Roda JC in the Netherlands.
“For me the Olympics is not only a prestigious competition, but it’s a great tournament for the growth of players,” he said.
“The clubs are always watching with their scouts there and you can easily get recognised at those major tournaments.”
Outside of the on-pitch action, the Olympic experience has inevitably presented a collection of memorable moments.
“Going into the Olympic Village you see all of those other great athletes,” Arnold reflected.
“To watch them train and see their hunger and thirst, to when they come back to the village with a gold medal – it’s a great life experience that really gave me an appetite for the Olympics.
“I remember after we got knocked out in 1988, I came home one night and there was Lennox Lewis shadow boxing Evander Holyfield. Those are some fantastic memories.”
As a boxing fan, a personal preview of a heavyweight world title fight may have been up there for Arnold.
Yet an even more surreal experience arose two decades later, during his time in the technical area overseeing Australia’s road to the Beijing Olympics.
The 2008 edition of the Games were Australia’s first after joining the Asian Football Confederation in 2006.
As a result, they were subjected to a gruelling 14-match qualification campaign which culminated in an away trip to North Korea.
“It was an unbelievable performance from the boys to get through that and qualify,” Arnold said.
“We beat Iraq at home in the second phase and in the last game had to play North Korea in Pyongyang – what an experience that was.
“You walk into the airport and they take your computers and your mobiles off you.
“Every room in the hotel had a camera in it so the boys couldn’t sleep at night.
“But we qualified there with a set-piece to get us through to the Olympics. It was a really tough pathway.”
With Australia’s place at Tokyo now secured in a typically gutsy fashion, Arnold is relieved that the recent postponement will not prevent those involved in his sides’ third-place finish at the AFC U-23 Championship from potentially experiencing the Olympics themselves.
Last week the IOC announced that the rescheduled Games will occur from the 23rd July to the 8th August 2021, and that all athletes and quota places already assigned for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games will remain unchanged.
“I think it is a very sensible decision,” Arnold said.
“The boys worked so hard to qualify and everyone at that age group all over the world worked hard to get their countries there, so I think that is thoroughly deserved.”