On a recent European scouting mission, Head Coach Graham Arnold discovered how to bring out the best in his Caltex Socceroos, including midfield gem Aaron Mooy.
Since joining Huddersfield Town in 2016, Mooy has been a shining light in the English game, starring for the Terriers in their promotion to the Premier League.
He cemented himself as a household name in Huddersfield’s subsequent two seasons in the top flight of English football, before the Terriers were relegated last season.
But Mooy’s quality caught the eye of Brighton & Hove Albion, with the 29-year-old loaned to the Premier League club for the 2019/20 season.
And that’s where Arnold most-recently saw the Caltex Socceroo star in action as he travelled across Europe to monitor the performances of his Aussie players abroad.
“One of the benefits that I had from going overseas was watching them come in for two days before a game,” Arnold said.
“It was more about me going to watch what they do at club land.”
But it wasn’t just Mooy on Arnold’s radar; in fact it was a visit to Jackson Irvine’s Hull City which first opened his eyes to an exciting new approach to the Caltex Socceroos’ midfield play.
“What I noticed a lot with Jackson Irvine was how he really stuck more to the left-hand side of the field,” Arnold said.
“This is the way he plays at Hull City so I looked at that and said to Jackson, okay, you play exactly the way you play at Hull when you play with us, which then opens up the right hand side for Aaron to clear that passageway and go box-to-box.
“When we’re in possession higher up the field it gives [Mooy] the freedom to join in attack, and [James] Jeggo in that last game controlled the rest of the defence and made sure we were solid behind the ball.
“Aaron’s a joy to coach. If Mooy touches the ball 60 times in the opponent’s half, we’re creating a lot of opportunities and scoring goals then we’ll be controlling the game because he’s such a wonderful player.
“I love every minute being with him because he’s a really funny kid, he’s great.”
Mooy leads Arnold’s impressive stock of central midfielders plying their trade in Europe including Irvine, Jeggo, Mustafa Amini and Massimo Luongo.
Fitting all of his star players into the Caltex Socceroos side in upcoming FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifiers against Nepal and Chinese Taipei will cause Arnold headaches but he says it’s not only a problem he’s happy to have, but one that he’s deliberately created.
“We’re talking about nice problems,” Arnold said.
“When I took over the job after Russia [FIFA World Cup 2018] from Bert [van Marwijk] I felt there was only 13 or 14 players that were trusted.
“For me, straight away, that’s why I took over the Olympic team. It wasn’t in my contract to coach the Olympic team or anything, it was more about being able to give them the details of what we need at Socceroos level.
“It was more about creating depth and competition for places. When you create depth and competition for places it creates a higher standard.
“That’s what I’ve done over the last 12 months and I do feel and believe we’ve got a really strong squad of 30-odd players that if we do get an injury or anything happens we’ve got players to step up.
“They’re all playing for positions further down the track. They’ll get an opportunity to show us and the country what they can do.
“I’m extremely looking forward to getting out of an office and getting onto a football pitch.”