Graham Arnold ...committed to the Mariners. Photo: Getty Images
Asked if he is happy with how the Central Coast Mariners are conducting the sale of their players, Graham Arnold's shoulders slump as he looks to the sky and lets out a sigh of relief and lingering frustration. His role as coach has been publicly redefined by the chairman, his players are being sold mid-season and the club is operating on a shoestring budget. However, the wry smile that played across his face suggested he wouldn't have it any other way.
''This is a siege, and I want to see a siege mentality,'' Arnold barked at his players at training on Thursday. ''You know what it means? It means our backs are against the wall and we're not going to be given anything by anyone.''
The Mariners are seen as the A-League's perennial underdogs. It's a perception Arnold has made the most of. They are cash-strapped but he's kept them top of the table since December 1 despite their adversities. They have been forced to sell five top players in 2½ years simply to stay alive.
He had his chance to jump ship before the start of the season when a call came from Sydney FC. Arnold would have had the opportunity to work with the likes of Alessandro Del Piero, Brett Emerton and Jason Culina inside a stadium twice as large as his current home ground. But he stands by his decision to turn down the Sky Blues.
''I enjoy it here. I enjoy working with the players, I enjoy living here, the people in the club are fantastic,'' Arnold said.
''I just didn't see at the time when I was speaking with Sydney FC, I was talking to [former director of football] Gary Cole, they didn't have a CEO and the direction I was getting told was everything about cost-cutting and they were signing players without the coach's permission. I didn't see it as the right direction for me to go to that environment at the time. I was happy to stay at the Mariners and I'm happy to be here.''
The Mariners said farewell to Tom Rogic last week as the highly rated 20-year-old sealed a $600,000-plus switch to Scottish giants Celtic. He joined the likes of Matt Simon, Mustafa Amini, Rostyn Griffiths and former captain Alex Wilkinson as the players who have left Gosford, under the tenure of Arnold, to play abroad.
There is a sense of pride in his voice as Arnold speaks of his former pupils progressing their careers in more lucrative and established leagues. But there is no hiding his concern that his role is being used to farm and sell players.
''I do know that the chairman [Peter Turnbull] apparently made a quote on TV the other day, 'That's why he is the coach, to develop players to sell them'. I didn't know that before I came,'' Arnold said. ''I have my own ambitions as a coach, I'm a life coach, not a development coach. I understand why the players have to leave and I understand with good transfer fees why they have to leave because of the club's situation, but I didn't come to this club to develop players. We've been successful in my view at this moment on the field. But I don't want to go too far that it damages the team's performance.''
Arnold was kept up to date with the progress of Rogic's deal but had no influence in the final decision to sell him. He revealed he advised the Socceroo to turn down Reading's approach, on the basis of his squad status and the direction of the club, in favour of a move to Glasgow. Rogic's move was inevitable and a blow for the Mariners title aspirations, but Arnold knows it won't be the last.
Each departure brings about a hardship, but Arnold wears their sales as a badge of pride.
''I don't see anything impacting me at all. I'm a life coach, I want to coach for years, I want to be successful. The young kids, they come and go, they're not bigger than the Mariners, I'm not bigger than the Mariners,'' he said.