Racing the clock: Secrets behind Socceroos’ prep
IT seems like the ultimate football challenge - to build a winning team inside 72 hours, in a foreign environment and with barely two full training sessions to make it all stick.
Welcome to international football, with the prize of a place in the World Cup ultimately at stake but so little time to put any sort of masterplan into effect.
As the Socceroos prepare to face Jordan in Amman on Friday morning (AEST), we enjoyed unprecedented insight into the build-up.
Stream live coverage of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers with Fox Sports on KAYO. Get your 14 day free trial & start streaming instantly >
With players arriving from Monday morning to late Tuesday for a game on Thursday night (local time), every hour matters for Graham Arnold and his coaching staff.
In truth the 72 hours in Amman is just the final stage in weeks of preparation, beginning at the final whistle of their victory in Chinese Taipei a month earlier. Some players are given extra routines of the things there is no time to practice in depth with the national team to take back to their clubs.
Aaron Mooy and Ajden Hrustic will take away the team's latest batch of set pieces and practice delivery to key points.
Fullbacks will run through repetitions of early crosses, near post and far. Strikers will make time for extra shooting practice.
"Anything you do every day becomes a habit," said Arnold.
Two sets of data are received at FFA headquarters every week, and will play a key role in selection of squads and starting XIs. The first, received by Arnold, details the playing minutes of every player on his radar, from both the last seven and last 28 days.
The second is the training loads of every player, compiled weekly by their clubs and reciprocated by the Socceroos medical staff for every day the players are in camp with the national team.
"Particularly with the players not necessarily playing every week, this tells us what condition they'll come into camp in," said Arnold.
It's one of the unique challenges facing any Socceroos coaches - the distances the players will travel to get to camp, and when they will get there. Brad Smith's journey from Seattle was 15.5 hours, Mitchell Duke's trip from Western Sydney took some 25 hours thanks to plane delays.
"People talked about all the changes I made between Nepal and Chinese Taipei in the last window, but the Nepal team was based on arrival time," said Arnold.
"Craig Goodwin for instance had played on the Thursday night for his club so could get to Canberra by Saturday. Others who'd played Sunday were getting in Tuesday for a game on Thursday."
For two months earlier this year Arnold and assistant Rene Meulenstein watched some 50 players at their clubs to understand their usual positions, and how they could be incorporated into the Socceroos structure.
Jackson Irvine's regular deployment as a left-sided No 6 or No 10 at Hull means it's a role he easily understands, for instance. Likewise Awer Mabil being told to play high and wide by his club coach, or Aaron Mooy's left-sided bias in the Brighton side.
On Tuesday morning in Amman the first video analysis goes through Jordan's weaknesses in defence, with the subsequent training session designed to pick them apart.
On Wednesday the squad splits into positional groups for presentations on how they will play, and Jordan's strengths, before a set-piece video briefing on the day of the game.
The core tenets of how Arnold wants to play were worked on in the few camps when there is more of a luxury of time. In Amman it's a more typical short turnaround, and the focus is on presenting players with an environment that allows them to enjoy themselves and flourish.
"Knowing each other so long, you grow a kind of relationship - sometimes you can read your mate's mind and know what they'll do before they do it," said defender Trent Sainsbury.