In the wake of the Socceroos’ heavy defeat to France, the players were in desperate need of a morale boost.
They had just been run ragged and torn to shreds by the defending world champions and the scoreline could, and perhaps should, have been worse.
Watch the world’s best footballers every week with beIN SPORTS on Kayo. LIVE coverage from Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Serie A, Carabao Cup, EFL & SPFL. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now >
It would have been so, so easy for the players to crawl into their shells like hermit crabs, to roll over and accept the fate many Australians thought was going to happen in their next two fixtures.
But amongst all the vocal negativity on the outside, Socceroos boss Graham Arnold brandished his metaphorical shield to protect his players from the barrage of noise.
It takes a unique character to find the positives in a 4-1 defeat, but Arnold is exactly that.
In fact, to have such a positive outlook in the bleakest of times is eerily reminiscent of a certain fictional TV coach who sports a thick, brown moustache, one not too dissimilar to the one above Arnold’s upper lip when he was a player.
“He’d [Arnie] be the first one to say that Ted Lasso resonates with him,” Phil Moss told foxsports.com.au.
South Korea celebrate dramatic win | 02:02
Socceroos cashing in on World Cup success as A-League clubs earn monster payday
‘Iconic’ red card in World Cup history as Brazil stunned; benches clear in fiery clash
World Cup Daily: Fans warned over offensive chants; FIFA releases vision behind $19m call
“Obviously his knowledge of the round ball game leaves Ted Lasso for dead.
“But there’s a lot of Ted Lasso that would resonate with Arnie, that would resonate with me and would resonate with coaches around the world from the point of view of how to manage people and how to find the silver lining in every cloud and positive reinforcement, focusing on things that players do well and finding a tactfully honest way to address the things that players need to improve on or the team needs to improve on.”
Moss is a figure who knows Arnold better than most.
Having first played under the Socceroos boss at Northern Spirit from 1998 to 2000 before linking up with Arnold in a coaching capacity with the Olyroos in the 2008 Olympics qualification process, Moss then worked as his assistant coach at the Central Coast Mariners from 2010 to 2013 as well as at Sydney FC in the 2017/18 season.
There’s been a lot of change in those 20-something years, especially in the way they have developed and adapted as coaches to the changing needs of players as well as the new tactical influences in the game that keep popping up like whack-a-moles.
Yet Moss has noticed there’s always been one constant about Arnold in his coaching journey and it’s a trait that serves as further evidence he might be ready to take over at AFC Richmond in the not-too-distant future.
Souttar ready to line up against Messi! | 02:52
“The main thing I’ve noticed with Arnie over the years is just how genuinely he cares about people,” Moss said.
“That is how he gets the best out of footballers, because he treats them like human beings first and foremost.
“He brings the family on the journey, so it’s not just about the player, it’s about the human being, the family behind the human.
“Once you’ve got that in a good place and you’ve built a really strong relationship and trust is high, then you can get the best out of the footballer.
“I think that is something he’s really nailed.”
But for a coach like Arnold who thrives on interacting with his troops and being out on the grass with them, the pandemic presented the ultimate emotional test.
He was forced to live out of a suitcase for several months at a time and was away from family and friends.
Yet his primary focus the entire time was not ensuring his own wellbeing, but that of his players in yet another Lasso-ism.
An Argentina perspective on Australia | 03:42
“Ultimately during the pandemic and getting the Socceroos to this World Cup, there was a lot less coaching and a lot more man-management,” Moss said.
“I’m talking about man-management over Zoom, text messages, phone calls, all hours of the night to make sure that the players were in the right frame of mind when they came into camp to get the job done.
“We set a record for the most undefeated games, most of them were away from home, in a single qualifying campaign.
“Then we hit a rocky road and a lot of people thought we were going to fall off a cliff and not get to Qatar.
“Graham Arnold didn’t think that. His belief never wavered and he was always going to be the right man to get the job done. He got it done.”
Arnold has not only got the job done, but he’s broken several Australian football records en route to guiding the Socceroos to the Round of 16 for the first time since 2006.
He’s led the team to their most clean sheets at a World Cup.
GOAL celebrations end in RED CARD | 00:39
He’s the first Australian-born coach to not just win a game with the Socceroos at the World Cup, but to get them to the knockouts.
But this is the culmination of a lengthy journey in the national hot seat in which Arnold went above and beyond his job remit in recent years.
And the journey could very well end at the conclusion of the World Cup, as Arnold’s contract with Football Australia is set to expire then.
His achievements in Qatar warrant an extension, but as football has proven so many times in Australia and overseas, nothing is assured.
Yet if Arnold doesn’t stick around as the national team boss, whether it’s his own decision or that of FA, Moss believes we may look back on this era with a tinge of regret.
“He [Arnie] did the performance gap report during Covid, he took on the Olyroos,” Moss said.
Uruguay swarm referee in ugly scenes | 00:27
“He didn’t have to do that, but he just knew he could play a key role in accelerating the development of those young players and that would load the dice in their favour of becoming senior national team players and going overseas if they played in the Olympic Games.
“He put self-preservation second to making the game better in this country.
“Australian football might not realise what they had until he’s not around anymore.”
The fictional Mr. Lasso once said: “If you care about someone, and you got a little love in your heart, there ain’t nothing you can’t get through together.”
Arnold has more than a little love in his heart for his players and the team.
It’s carried them from the lows of the loss to France to the highs of beating Tunisia and Denmark.
The latest hurdle now arrives in the form of Argentina and one of the greatest players to have ever laced up a pair of boots in Lionel Messi.
But Arnold, much like Lasso, will give his players one final message that reminds them they can make the impossible, possible: “Believe.”