Tim Cahill and Daniel Arzani have grown closer during the World Cup under coach Bert van Marwijk. Picture: Toby Zerna
Tim Cahill and Daniel Arzani have grown closer during the World Cup under coach Bert van Marwijk. Picture: Toby Zerna

Camp Socceroo: inside van Marwijk’s Peru preparations

OF all the instructions the Socceroos have had from Bert van Marwijk over the past five weeks, none surprised them so much as the one that came four days out from what is one of the biggest games of their lives.

On Friday night, as the players gathered for dinner, their schedule for the next day came through.

"Have a day off, boys," the message read, giving them only their second free day since the squad started assembling on May 19.

At 66, and with many years of experience to bring to bear, van Marwijk understands how the atmosphere in Camp Socceroo is reaching pressure-cooker status.

Socceroos coach Bert van Marwijk addresses his players at training. Picture: Toby Zerna
Socceroos coach Bert van Marwijk addresses his players at training. Picture: Toby Zerna

A group of 23 players and more than 30 staff have eaten, worked, lived and breathed together these past five weeks, all of it building towards Tuesday's game against Peru.

Dealing with the personalities and the emotions is one of the most significant parts of a head coach's role, and it hasn't just been on the pitch that the Socceroos have had to get used to a different regimen from Ange Postecoglou's.

Among Ange's routines was an expectation that every player would come to shake his hand each morning at breakfast, so he could address any of them individually as required.

Tim Cahill mucks around during training, pretending to take a photo. Picture: Toby Zerna
Tim Cahill mucks around during training, pretending to take a photo. Picture: Toby Zerna

Van Marwijk is, relatively speaking, rather more informal. He has also judged that the squad can be given a certain amount of latitude and will respect it.

The Dutchman, drawing on his experiences of taking Holland to the 2010 World Cup final, spoke to The Sunday Telegraph early in the camp about the need to decompress the tension in various ways.

"Every day a few small things happen and those things are very important for the atmosphere in the whole group," he said.

"You will not find it in any (coaching) book, but it's the way you lead the group, manage the group."

Bert van Marwijk, right, shares a moment of mirth with Jackson Irvine. Picture: Getty Images
Bert van Marwijk, right, shares a moment of mirth with Jackson Irvine. Picture: Getty Images

It helps that his pedigree drew instant respect from the players, and he has used the leadership group to self-manage the squad.

Van Marwijk addressed the players at their recovery session on Friday about the way they would approach the game against Peru.

Then Tim Cahill spoke to the group, wearing the seniority of the country's leading goalscorer.

As a storm rages outside the camp over whether Cahill should have played against Denmark, his influence inside it extends a lot further than scoring goals.

At the end of that training session, when he and the irrepressible teen Daniel Arzani wrestled with each other and played "keepie-ups", it was all part of that process.

Tim Cahill and Daniel Arzani have a playful wrestle during training. Picture: Toby Zerna
Tim Cahill and Daniel Arzani have a playful wrestle during training. Picture: Toby Zerna

No one knows what dealing with the spotlight involves more than Cahill, and Arzani has to learn about that very quickly.

It's telling that after the plush surroundings of their preparation camp in Turkey, the players refer to their base in Kazan as "the facility".

It's used by a local ice hockey team as a pre-match base for the players to spend the night, and could fairly be described as spartan.

Arzani and Cahill muck around. Picture: Toby Zerna
Arzani and Cahill muck around. Picture: Toby Zerna

Each players' room is little more than a bed and a shower, and so the communal areas - games room, dining hall - become very, very familiar.

"We're coming up on six weeks in camp together I think," said midfielder Jackson Irvine.

"It's a long time to see the same faces every day, to eat three meals together and have coffee together.

"It is tough, but we're lucky with the group we have that people know who needs a bit of space, who needs to go off by themselves for a while."

Australia's Robbie Kruse copped vile abuse on social media after the draw with Denmark.
Australia's Robbie Kruse copped vile abuse on social media after the draw with Denmark.

The players aren't automatons, and many read social media avidly. So when there are huge calls for Cahill to play, it has to affect the other strikers.

When Robbie Kruse is virtually battered by a wave of obscene criticism, it affects the collective mood.

Former Socceroo Mile Sterjovski has a crucial role to play in that. His job, as player mentor, involves observing the dynamics of the group and quietly interceding when things spill over.

Underpinning it all is the knowledge that the adventure could all end on Tuesday night. That's why the message from Cahill, captain Mile Jedinak and all the senior players is to treat each day in camp like it could be the last.



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