In the aftermath of Central Coast Mariners' A-League championship, manager Graham Arnold and chairman Peter Turnbull gave interviews to the BBC's World Service radio. The theme centered on the Mariners' ability to compete, and succeed, without the services of a Marquee Player and on a low budget.
Said Arnold, of developing young Australians at Central Coast:
"We’re probably the only club that is doing that at the moment. I think all other clubs need to follow suit. It’s damaging that national team, the Socceroos. At the moment, if you talk to Holger (Osiak), he has trouble picking any players because there’s too many foreigners in the A-League, in my opinion."
Turnbull followed, saying:
"Instead of having Marquee Players, we have a marquee coach. We scour the country for the best Australian boys and give them a go in first team football."
What a difference seven weeks make. At The World Game today, Arnold has suggested that extraordinary circumstances at Central Coast could lead him to request an additional foreign slot for the Mariners for the 2013/14 season:
"It’s going to be a rebuilding year in 2013/14 and maybe I will ask the FFA for some assistance and we might be allowed to have six foreign players. It’s a concession which West Sydney had so they could be competitive – and I have lost seven players from the grand final starting line-up and maybe they will let us have six foreigners so we are competitive next season. There is not much out there locally unless I go for kids, so hopefully I can go for some foreigners. We want to stay strong and keep delivering as people expect us to do, but as things stand that’s going to be a challenge, which is why we may need some assistance."
Without hearing his voice, it is difficult to determine if Arnold is being sarcastic and poking at Western Sydney and FFA again for allowing an extra foreign player last season, or if he is sincere in his claim to contradict his entire platform at Central Coast. At the risk of misunderstanding his true sentiment, let us run with the latter.
It is true that Arnold has lost an extraordinary number of players from his 2012/13 championship side. It is also true that Central Coast have been on the brink of financial ruin as recently as March and have needed to sell players on, even if Arnold wanted to keep them. Yet that selling and developing process has been Arnold's hallmark since taking over in Gosford in 2010. He has self-righteously carried the banner for 'proper development' of a football club, as highlighted again in his recent lambasting of Sheffield United.
The Mariners currently have just sixteen players under contract for 2013/14, assuming Oliver Bozanic does indeed move on, whether that be to the K-League, as previously suspected, or to an unnamed Swiss Super League club as several reports now indicate. Due to his previous policy of limiting foreign players in Gosford and the retirement of Patrick Zwaanswijk, Arnold currently has three full slots available with only Michael McGlinchey (New Zealand) and Nick Montgomery (England) counting against the standard total of five.
The FFA should not be in a position to grant 'emergency' exemptions to clubs on the grounds that they have simply sold too many of their good players. That kind of precedent would allow for the exact opposite of Arnold's stated position that the A-League does not do enough to develop Australians for the national team. Whether or not that is the point of the A-League is a different conversation altogether.
It should not be forgotten that Arnold has retained Trent Sainsbury, Mitchell Duke and Daniel McBreen (who will miss the first four A-League games thanks to his Shanghai SIPG loan) while bringing Matt Simon back to the club after a year in Korea. Depth will be an issue, as will the club's ability to pay wages, even after the prominent sales of Mat Ryan and Bernie Ibini. But surely the club's supporters will accept a rebuilding year in the shadow of the long-sought A-League trophy. Arnold need not retreat from his supposed high ground when it is convenient. If his stance is to develop Australians, the A-League and FFA should not allow him to slide when that task is suddenly difficult.