Is the World Cup too soon for Daniel Arzani?

by Sebastian Hassett on Mar 02, 2018

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I recently watched some highlights of the 1997 first-leg against Iran to commemorate the 20-year anniversary of that famous play-off.

Before you ask why I’d subject myself to such torture, I’m a flat-out masochist for the Socceroos. And there’s a chance if you’re on this site, reading this column, I suspect you might be, too.

What stands out to me about that game is how brilliant a young Harry Kewell really was. There’s nothing earth-shattering about talking up Harry’s talents, but on that particular occasion, he was magnificent. And he was only just 19.

Kewell had barely broken into the Leeds United first team just a few weeks before. He’d only scored his first league goal In October.

Yet here he was, leading the line for Australia, in front of 128,000 fans in the Azadi Stadium, easily Asia’s loudest venue – and perhaps the world’s most intimidating stadium. In a seething cauldron of hate for the opponent, this teenager from Smithfield was running Team Melli ragged. He scored again in the ill-fated second leg.

The moral of the story? If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.

I’m always reminded of Wayne Rooney’s breakthrough at Everton in 2002 as a 16-year old, leading many to push him to be called up in the next year, while just as many said it was too early. Yet only a foot injury prevented him from being the best player at Euro 2004.

Six years earlier, Michael Owen was scoring that goal for England against Argentina as an 18-year old.

I don’t propose Daniel Arzani is as good as Kewell, Rooney or Owen, but it’s impossible to miss the way he’s already transformed into one of the A-League’s best players. It’s the biggest boom I can remember since Tom Rogic.

It’s certainly a worthwhile discussion about whether it’s too soon for a player of his age to be called up for the Socceroos. Sometimes, a teenager may lack the maturity in his game or may not be the right fit for his position. You’re unlikely to put a 19-year old goalkeeper in the national team.

I’m also very wary of caps being handed out too easily. There’s been more than a few Socceroo call-ups in the past decade that shouldn’t have happened. Not naming names, but you can figure them out.

With Arzani having just 16 A-League games under his belt at the time of writing, it certainly seems very early in anyone’s career to be having this conversation.

I’d argue much of it has been urged by the fact that Iran could call him up, but I doubt that will happen. In any event, he can’t be tied to either nation until their next competitive games – which, if he doesn’t make either World Cup team, won’t be until the 2019 Asian Cup.

But what he’s done so far cannot be ignored. It’s that far ahead of most players in the A-League – and the lad has the qualities that Australian footballers tend to lack, which is dribbling and close control. He has the element of surprise, which the Socceroos lack, too.

My gut feeling is that Bert van Marwijk won’t call him up for the upcoming matches against Colombia and Norway – simply because it’s too close to the World Cup – but I hope I’m wrong. I hope his curiosity is sufficiently piqued to take a closer look.

Whether or not Arzani should go to the World Cup is a different question and perhaps better framed about who you’d leave out.

Would you go for Arzani before, say, James Troisi, who may be struggling for form right now but was perhaps Australia’s best player at the Confederations Cup?

I couldn’t safely put Arzani in my best 23 just now, but I couldn’t discount him, either. At the very least, you’ve got to include him the conversation. And if you’re looking for the X-factor, he’s surely in the mix for Russia.