Play the oldies or blood the youth? Graham Arnold can use Tony Gustavsson’s wild selections as inspiration for his Asian Cup squad


Bruno Fornaroli’s stunning seven goals in six games to start the 2023/24 A-League season has wound back the clock and brought his name front and centre, with an Asian Cup on the horizon and his recent eligibility for his newly adopted homeland.

With two Socceroo caps under his belt in 2022 during World Cup qualification, the now 36-year-old has stormed into contention for national honours once again after a stunning start to the new campaign and a goal for the ages against Central Coast Mariners on Sunday afternoon.

It is an interesting decision around which Socceroo manager Graham Arnold may indeed have some headaches over the next month.

Some will argue selecting Fornaroli is simply an admission the younger attacking stocks in the Socceroos setup are not up to scratch and akin to looking back rather than forward.

Melbourne Victory’s Bruno Fornaroli celebrates a goal. (Photo by Jeremy Ng/Getty Images)

The serious injury to Brandon Borrello is worrying, considering Arnold does appear to have great faith in him.

Nick D’Agostino is simply not setting the world alight at Viking FK in Norway, and whilst Apostolos Stamatelopoulos and Noah Botic have great promise, they seem unlikely to be capable of leading the front line with great presence against the best teams in Asia by early January.

Jamie Maclaren and Mitchell Duke will of course be crucial for Arnold, with or without the presence of Fornaroli, yet even with the supporting cast of Awer Mabil, Martin Boyle, Garang Kuol and Craig Goodwin, the question of whether the two can convert as many opportunities up front against the cream of Asia as they do against some of the lesser lights is a fair one.

The midfield is looking solid and promising for the tournament which begins on January 12.

Massimo Luongo is spearheading Ipswich Town towards a return to the Premier League in England. Jackson Irvine seems to be getting better and better at St Pauli in Germany and his team mate Connor Metcalfe is almost certain to be part of the squad that Arnold eventually selects for a return to the familiar surroundings of Qatar.

The stuttering club career of Ajdin Hrustic at Verona is a concern, however with Riley McGree and Keanu Baccus also pressuring for starting positions, the depth looks good through the centre and the men up front will be hoping for service as good as ever seen by a Socceroos front line.

Socceroos forward Mitchell Duke. (Photo by Mike Hewitt – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

The big question remains as to whether Fornaroli offers something that Maclaren and Duke do not, despite his years and if Arnold would indeed be a fool not to select him.

Perhaps the coach’s best course of action is to get on the blower and have a chat with Matildas mentor Tony Gustavsson. The Swede appears to have ticked off a majority of Australian supporters by leading some of his ‘lambs to the slaughter’ in Canada on Saturday, as his science experiment selections turned out to be nothing more than a threat to the lab in which he concocted them.

As soon as the Matildas starting eleven was announced, I commented on the live blog here at The Roar that the big question would be whether the Australian back four could communicate and hold firm under the weight of the pending Canadian attacks.

It was to prove exactly the case, as Charlize Rule and Courtney Nevin struggled, with the slowing Clare Polkinghorne and out of position Aivi Luik combining with them to form what looked a Swiss cheese-like defence.

All the while, Steph Catley, Alanna Kennedy, Clare Hunt and Ellie Carpenter sat on the pine, in a wholesale swap that did nothing but embarrass the players on the pitch.

The absurd injection of unproven youth and inexperience in the forms of Remy Siemsen, Amy Sayer and Sarah Hunter in the same starting eleven did nothing but prove to those players, potentially along with Alex Chidiac and Clare Wheeler, that they are well off international standard at this point in their careers.

Australia’s Courtney Nevin playing against Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images for Football Australia)

If that was Gustavsson’s plan, he executed it perfectly. In fact, the disappointed players appeared to be the only humans to have taken anything from the entire experience.

As such, it is clear Gustavsson was wrong – however, could his recent rash and bold decisions make him the perfect man to guide Arnold through the challenge of tossing up the selection of an in-form Fornaroli versus a little investment in a younger striker, in spite of the former Uruguayan’s superior class?

Such are the big decisions made by coaches in modern professional football.

Based on form Fornaroli is a walk up start for the Asian Cup, yet as were a host of senior players for the Matildas in what was a valuable and important friendly against solid opposition, and one that was ultimately wasted.

Perhaps Arnold and Gustavsson should put their heads together and come up with the answer that gives the Socceroos a real shot at the title in Qatar?

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