Graham Arnold will lead the Socceroos through to the conclusion of the 2026 World Cup campaign after the coach eschewed interest from Europe and the Middle East to sign a new contract with Football Australia.
The governing body confirmed on Monday that Arnold will remain in his post for another four-year cycle during which he will attempt to guide Australia to Asian Cup success and to a sixth consecutive World Cup – where he aims to deliver an even better performance than last year.
The Socceroos’ thrilling run to the last 16 at the tournament in Qatar meant a new deal was always likely to be tabled. FA had not spoken to any other potential candidates while Arnold took an extended post-World Cup break and and a decision whether to stay in charge or pursue a new challenge ultimately came down to 59-year-old himself.
A sense of patriotism and the opportunity to further improve a team that has already exceeded expectations trumped any other offers Arnold received, and he outlined a clear three-stage plan for the next three-and-a-half years. Winning the Asian Cup for the second time in 2024 will be a top priority, followed by a less circuitous route to qualification for the 2026 World Cup. Progress beyond the last 16 once at the tournament in the US, Canada and Mexico would complete Arnold’s wish list.
“Every time I put on the shirt or am around the Socceroos, I bleed green and gold,” he said. “It’s always a special moment. I have so much belief in the players and the staff. Qatar was a fantastic achievement but it was just the start and there’s plenty more to come.
“I had interest from overseas, but I want to help Australia and Australian kids. I said to JJ [FA CEO James Johnson] if I did consider to stay on – and I want to stay on – it’s not just about the Socceroos.”
A broader remit under the terms of his new contract will see Arnold provide mentorship to the coaches of Australia’s men’s youth national teams, support chief football officer Ernie Merrick with talent identification, and work with FA to ensure football at all levels has access to the best facilities and infrastructure.
He said he would also use his position to push for increased government funding, improved training facilities and a stadium the Socceroos could call home.
“It’s crazy to think the Socceroos don’t get any high performance funding from the government,” he said. “They don’t have a home. How can you have a football culture if you don’t have a home. Funding will help the programs but the home of football is crucial. It’s something as a sport we’ve missed out on. We’ve got nothing, nowhere to go.”
The new deal completes a remarkable turnaround for the 59-year-old, whose job came under threat at one point during qualification for Qatar 2022, only for him to emerge as a national hero after taking his side to their best finish at the global showpiece event.
Before the blip that threatened to derail the Socceroos’ qualification hopes and led to intense scrutiny on his position, the team had made history by becoming the first to win 11 consecutive matches in a single qualification campaign – despite them playing just four of 20 qualifiers on home soil.
Once in Qatar, the Socceroos won two group stage matches, including against then world No 10 side Denmark, before eventually bowing out in the last 16 with defeat to eventual champions Argentina.
“What Graham and the entire squad achieved under the most challenging of circumstances during the last Fifa World Cup campaign was exceptional, and we are delighted that we have secured his services for a further four years,” FA chair Chris Nikou said.
“Football Australia is ambitious, where we expect continued progress and results from our senior and youth national teams, and through our discussions with Graham over recent weeks, we know our thinking is aligned on the future direction of Australian football and the Socceroos.”
Arnold will retain his assistant René Meulensteen as he seeks continuity in the Socceroos set-up, with World Cup qualifiers resuming in November and the delayed 2023 Asian Cup to be confirmed to take place in Qatar in early 2024.