Terry McFlynn, Graham Arnold and Sasa Ognenovski pose for a photo on Thursday. Photo: Getty Images
New Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold has promised to take the Sky Blues back to the promised land after signing a three-year deal with the two-time champions.
Arnold was unveiled to the media at Allianz Stadium on Thursday afternoon, flanked by chairman Scott Barlow and chief executive Tony Pignata, and declared he was ready to help the “biggest club in the A-League” return to the top of the perch.
Having not won a final in four years, the task is a big one for the 50-year old, whose deal is rumoured to be worth $ 600,000 a year.
“It’s a massive club and for me, Sydney FC is the biggest club in the country,” he said. “When you look at what Sydney FC have done and the quality of players they’ve brought to this country, they set the standards. Those standards now have to be met, not only by myself and the coaching staff but also the players.”
Arnold said he had always fantasised about being in the dugout at Moore Park – something which almost came true two years ago, only for him to stay with the Central Coast Mariners.
“One of the dreams I always had from day one when the A-League started was to coach Sydney FC,” he said. “When that occasion was going to occur, I couldn’t answer that but I truly believe that with the new direction that the club has spoken to me about, and the appointment of [football director] Han Berger on the board, it has shown me that the time is now right.”
He was also particularly pleased at having the funds to rebuild the Sky Blues’ squad, especially in recruiting some big names after three years of austerity in Gosford.
“[It will be] a privilege for the first time in my coaching career in the A-League to have two marquee players come to the club,” he said, despite conceding it would “almost impossible” to sign a marquee of comparable status to the outgoing Alessandro Del Piero.
Arnold walked out on the Mariners midway through last season citing a desire to test himself abroad but with his stint at J-League club Vegalta Sendai ending acrimoniously, he’s more than content to be back in the A-League.
“It’s great to be back in the A-League and I am a Sydney boy. I grew up in Sydney and played all my junior football in the Sutherland Shire,” he said. “I also love that football stadium just outside [Allianz Stadium]. It’s given me a lot of great memories over the years, playing and coaching with the national team and obviously the finish to last season. It’s such an exciting time for me.”
In particular, Arnold said he was most looking forward to coaching in the Sydney derby – and fired a cheeky early shot across the bow of the Western Sydney Wanderers.
“I think a lot of people forget, or don’t look at the stats, that Sydney FC have an average crowd of 19,000, a higher average crowd than the Wanderers,” he said. “They don’t get the credit for that.”
Barlow hailed the moment as “a fantastic one for Sydney FC” and said Arnold’s track record at Central Coast made him the “standout candidate”.
“Graham is a coach of the highest calibre and he has a proven track record. He’s an A-League championship winning coach and he knows what it’s like to compete in the Asian Champions League,” Barlow said. “He has a proven ability to identify and develop the best young Australian talent and he also has a real strength at building teams with a culture of success.
“What’s more, he’s a Sydney boy, he played his first games here and he coached his first teams here.”
Barlow added that Arnold had already “hit the ground running” in terms of setting up for next season.
Recruiting for next season will be Arnold’s biggest immediate priority. Pignata said talks were already under way with one of Arnold’s biggest stars at Central Coast, Bernie Ibini.
“We’ve spoken with Bernie’s manager and his club in China about the possibility of joining [Sydney FC],” said Pignata. “His loan agreement has finished at Central Coast but nothing has been finalised. But now Graham’s on board we’ll have a chat and see what his thoughts are.”