Bielsa, Lippi, Popa: Who spearheads Roos’ play-off journey if Arnie’s sacked?

Graham Arnold is on shaky ground after the Socceroos were outclassed by Japan on Thursday.

Australia’s 2-0 defeat in Sydney extinguished their hopes of automatic World Cup qualification, even with a trip to Saudi Arabia to come.

The Socceroos must now prepare for a gruelling play-offs path. Firstly, a showdown with the other third-placed team in the AFC before a one-off clash against CONMEBOL’s fifth-ranked nation.

Whether Arnold is there for the play-offs is uncertain, with Football Australia sources appearing to brief against him on Friday.

If Football Australia decide to part with Arnold after the Saudi Arabia game, who replaces him? KEEPUP looks at the potential candidates either as short-term fixes or long-term appointments.

Marcelo Bielsa

The standout name. Bielsa has long been linked with a move into Australian football, especially after his Leeds United sacking.

The 66-year-old Argentine coach, who has led Argentina and Chile on the world stage, previously said of the Socceroos job: “Always, I had the illusion that this could be an option or at a minimum to talk with them, to know what they want.

“Finally, this contact never happened. I understand perfectly why it was like this but honestly, I would like to be part of the football of this country. 

“The country could be dangerous because finally their football is growing. They are at an age in football that will give the national team a chance to get success.”

Bielsa ended Leeds’ 16-year Premier League absence in 2020.

Marcello Lippi

Want a winning manager with World Cup and Asian experience? Look no further.

While Lippi announced his coaching retirement in 2020, it could be worth putting in a call.

Regarded as one of the greatest and most successful managers in football history, Lippi guided Italy to World Cup glory in 2006. The Azzurri haven’t won a knockout match since their triumph in Germany 16 years ago.

Lippi also led Guangzhou Evergrande (now known as Guangzhou FC) to three consecutive Chinese Super League titles and the 2013 AFC Champions League trophy during his time in Asia, as well as coaching China between 2016 and 2019.

Lippi has extensive experience in Asian football with Guangzhou and the China national team, having guided Italy to the world summit.

Mark van Bommel

The fiery Dutchman is a familiar face, having served as Bert van Marwijk’s Socceroos assistant at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Van Bommel is without a club after he was axed by Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg in October last year.

The 44-year-old was also Saudi Arabia assistant between 2015 and 2017, so he knows all about the AFC region.

Van Bommel was assistant to Van Marwijk at Russia 2018, where the Socceroos failed to progress from the group phase.

Bert van Marwijk

Bert’s second coming?

A string of poor results saw Van Marwijk sacked by the UAE, who the Socceroos could meet in the AFC play-off.

Van Marwijk announced his retirement after the departure but could the 69-year-old World Cup runner-up be coaxed back into management, with the possibility of taking down his former employer in the play-offs?

Van Marwijk oversees a Socceroos training session at the 2018 World Cup.

Andre Villas-Boas

Another manager with experience in Asia.

Former Chelsea, Tottenham and Marseille boss Villas-Boas spent time in charge of Chinese powerhouse Shanghai SIPG (now known as Shanghai Port) in 2016-17.

The 44-year-old Portuguese, who came up against Isuzu UTE A-League outfit Western Sydney Wanderers in the 2017 AFC Champions League, has been out of work since leaving Marseille in 2021.

Villas-Boas has spent time competing in the World Rally Championship, but the highly-rated coach has previously spoken about his desire to work in international football.

“I am intrigued by national team performance dynamics,” he said. “I think players when they go for national teams they play for the pride of their country. I find players in this position have much, much higher [motivation] than in club football.

“When there are no contract renewals, agents or owners involved and a love for the country – this is a special relationship. It’s like when a player finds himself back in grassroots football.

“I’d like to finish my career doing a World Cup. [In Qatar] I’m not sure but maybe in the future. It’s in the back of my head to experience this.”

Shanghai head coach Villas-Boas (C) looks on during the team’s Champions League clash with Western Sydney in 2017.

*Other notable international coaches who are unattached: Joachim Low, Laurent Blanc, Rafa Benitez, Ronald Koeman

Tony Popovic

Aside from Bielsa, he is the name on everyone’s lips.

The Melbourne Victory head coach is the man seen as Arnold’s long-term successor.

A former Socceroo and AFC Champions League winner with the Wanderers, Popovic commands respect and brings a winning culture.

Popovic only arrived in Melbourne at the start of the season but could he juggle both jobs before focusing on the Socceroos at the end of the 2021-22 ALM season?

Popovich has already tasted success with Victory this season via the FFA Cup.

Ufuk Talay

The Wellington Phoenix coach’s stock continues to rise.

Talay has had to juggle with COVID-enforced disruptions and his team playing away from New Zealand, but the Phoenix continue to impress and are right in the mix for the Finals.

The highly respected 45-year-old has experience with the national teams, having coached the Under-20 side following his time as assistant of the U17s.

Talay has taken the Phoenix to a new level since arriving in 2019.

Patrick Kisnorbo

Defending champions and top of the table. Kisnorbo is flourishing at the helm of Melbourne City.

The former Australia defender is making a name for himself in the ALM, so much so he was linked with the Sunderland vacancy earlier this season.

And with Kisnorbo’s teams you get goals. City have found the back of the net on 41 occasions this ALM season, 13 more than the next-best side.

It comes after also guiding City to the A-League Women title in 2017-18 – the 41-year-old is the only ALM and ALW championship-winning manager.

Kisnorbo has turned City into a free-flowing, goal-scoring machine.

John Aloisi

This season has been Aloisi’s comeback story.

Out of work since leaving Brisbane Roar in 2018, the Socceroos great returned to the ALM with a point to prove and he has turned Western United into Championship contenders.

Western have broken club records under Aloisi and are only three points adrift of City with two games in hand.

Under Aloisi, Western have won 10 of their 18 Isuzu UTE A-League fixtures this season, conceding a league-low 18 goals.