Melbourne City midfielder torn between Australia and Iran


IPL Player
Oct 21, 2002


International tug of war prompts calls to hand Daniel Arzani Socceroos cap

Melbourne City midfielder torn between Australia and Iran
PFA chief John Didulica says call-up is a ‘no brainer’

Australian Associated Press

Mon 5 Feb 2018 18.41 EST

It’s a no-brainer to give Daniel Arzani a Socceroos cap before the teen revelation is snapped up by Iran, players union chief John Didulica says. Arzani’s mesmerising A-League rise with Melbourne City has made him the subject of an international tug of war before the World Cup.

The 19-year-old admitted last week he had “no idea” if he wanted to represent Australia or Iran, prompting calls for new Socceroos coach Bert van Marwijk to select him for Russia 2018 and give him a senior competitive cap.

Daniel Arzani towers over his Melbourne City team-mates
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Professional Footballers Australia chief executive Didulica agrees, saying it’s in Australia’s best interests to act “strategically” on “a remarkable talent” he believes is the country’s best product since Mark Viduka.

“If it means bringing them into a squad, giving them some minutes to lock them in, I’m all for that,” Didulica told Football Nation Radio. “Part of the narrative of football is seeing our future young stars ... we want to see what the future of Australian football looks like.

“Capping somebody who’s young and may not necessarily be one the best 22 players the nation has at any given time isn’t a slight or an indictment on the game. It’s actually quite intelligent and shrewd. Both in terms of broadening your talent pool but also giving the fans a strong narrative that they can build their hopes and dreams around. For me it’s a no-brainer.”

Arzani’s breakout January has already reportedly piqued the interest of Iran coach Carlos Queiroz. It has also spurred Football Federation Australia into action, and head of national teams Luke Casserly is set to make an approach after saying it would be “disappointing” if Arzani defected after going through the AIS system and representing Australia at youth level.

Didulica, whose brother Joey came through Australia’s youth ranks before playing for Croatia, stressed Arzani had a right to represent whichever country he liked. He said it was FFA’s challenge to make overtures rather than “strong-arm players into playing for Australia”.

“I’m a big advocate of trying to court young players who might have a second nationality, making sure they feel loved and welcome and really want to pull on the green and gold,” he said. “I’m very optimistic he’s going to be a long-term contributor to Australian football ... I don’t see any reason he can’t become a leading footballer at the global level.”
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IPL Player
Oct 21, 2002

Daniel Arzani towers over his Melbourne City team-mates

City coach Warren Joyce seems to not fully appreciate what a talent he has in Arzani

As the ball helplessly rolled out of bounds,***Melbourne City’s Warren Joyce***barked from the touchline, “That’s fuckin’ schoolboy stuff!” After his attempted dummy in City’s 5-0 win over Adelaide United, Daniel Arzani felt the wrath of his nearby coach, who then demanded the young attacker win possession back.
It could seem small amid countless isolated moments over the course of a football match, but in context of City’s season, this moment was far from insignificant. Principally, Ryan Strain’s close defensive attention prior to the dummy showed just how much the 19-year-old is affecting his side’s ability to threaten the opposition.
It is conceptually parallel to what is known as gravity in the NBA. In this era of pace-and-space basketball, reliable three-point shooters can stretch the floor and opposition defences in turn for their team-mates to capitalise upon. Though hard to quantify, it is an increasingly pivotal aspect of collective fluidity.
In football, those who can consistently beat their defender in one-on-one scenarios create this gravity and***it was evident in last December’s Clásico in Spain, when Mateo Kovačić stayed with Lionel Messi, seemingly preferring Ivan Rakitić to dribble up the pitch before Luis Suárez’s opening goal.
It is no comparison in an individual sense, but the theory is the same – getting past his primary defender is Arzani’s strongest attribute, forcing the opposition to weigh their attention towards him and thus creating space for others.
This fundamental facet in modern attack is what City have otherwise lacked under Joyce and where Arzani differs even further. He can beat his defender and distribute the ball from a standing start.
Aside from his coolly taken penalty in a 2-2 draw with Newcastle on Thursday, Arzani’s dribbling ability was critical in City’s goals against Wellington, Adelaide and Perth. Left on an island for the opening 60 minutes, it also led to Ivan Vujica’s early substitution for the Jets.
Despite the smaller sample size, the diminutive attacker is towering over his team-mates from a statistical standpoint. Having only played 335 out of an available 1,620 minutes, Arzani already leads City in successful dribbles (31), accounting for 17.3% of the team’s total of 179.
The gulf when calculating per 90 minutes is gargantuan. Arzani’s successful dribble rate is 8.33 while the injured Nathaniel Atkinson is next best at 2.02. For key passes – passes directly leading to a shot – Arzani also leads the team at 2.15 with Luke Brattan second (1.64).
Yet, the failed dummy attempt against Adelaide is important for another reason. With Strain aggressively applying pressure to Arzani, space had opened for Atkinson to overlap into and run towards goal unattended. Atkinson was on his heels however, and City lost possession. Although Arzani’s fluid response to Strain’s coverage was the right play in principle, he was condemned for “schoolboy stuff” due to the outcome.
Joyce’s focus on outcomes is based on conservatism and defensive shape, meaning he started the season with Michael Jakobsen and Osama Malik – players who are arguably more natural at centre-back – in central midfield.***
Although City were able to dictate tempo without the ball against Sydney in December, their lack of penetration was exposed during respective four and three-game winless streaks, when they had to chase the result in the second half.
Iacopo La Rocca’s injury, along with suspensions to Bart Schenkeveld and Malik, forced Brattan to return to central midfield from initially advanced positions, with Arzani only receiving minutes out of necessity. Ultimately, considering City’s personnel, he has been good enough to start throughout this season.
For some, Arzani’s part in Newcastle’s opening goal on Thursday night could be seen as an affirmation of tactical naivety, or lack of game sense as Joyce put it. Still, his positives far outweigh the negatives in context of collective impact for City. Although the teenager is far from the finished article, when does a primary focus on what he can’t do – as opposed to what he can – become stifling?
For Joyce, this question of balance could determine whether City have a legitimate chance for the ultimate outcome of silverware, or not.