'Coach whisperer', mind guru propel Aussies at Asian Cup

Al-Ain (United Arab Emirates) (AFP) –


If Australia successfully defend their Asian Cup title in the United Arab Emirates, two people will be quietly celebrating behind the scenes: a self-styled 'coach-whisperer' and the team's in-house mind guru.

Coach Graham Arnold is an adherent of Bradley Charles Stubbs, the colourful motivator who has worked with several big names including Wallabies handler Michael Cheika and England's Eddie Jones.

Meanwhile Mike Conway, one-time managing director of Australian children's band The Wiggles, is on hand as the Socceroos "emotional agility and mental coach" during the tournament in the United Arab Emirates.

It's perhaps no coincidence that positive vibrations have been a feature of the Australian campaign -- even to the extent of grating on the opposition.

Arnold was accused of arrogance after his bold assertion that Australia "expect to win" their opening game against Jordan -- a fixture they lost 1-0.

But Arnold, 55, was merely quoting from a Stubbs mantra, which holds that unwavering self-belief is the key to success.

Long-time observers say the formerly gruff coach is far more relaxed and open since he started working with Stubbs during his time at Sydney FC, where he won the 2016-17 A-League title with only one loss.

Similar results followed Stubbs' work with Cheika, who unexpectedly took Australia to the 2015 Rugby World Cup final, and Jones, who led England to a Six Nations clean sweep in 2016.

- 'Tap into the universe' -

Stubbs, who did not want to be interviewed when approached by AFP, developed his programme and wrote his book, "The Science of Belief", after suffering a mental breakdown when a car accident ended his burgeoning surfing career.

He has some unusual ideas, including tapping the power of the universe. His programme, which reportedly costs about $4,000 for an hour-long session, builds on the theories of neuro-linguistic programming, which holds that using certain language can trigger a desired psychological response.

"What I do with my clients is to teach them... to tap into the most powerful natural source we've got, which is the universe," he says in a 2017 promotional video.

"The words that you speak, you get. 'I will win', 'I expect to win', 'This will be done' -- done, done, done, done," he adds, with evangelical zeal.

While many remain sceptical of Stubbs' methods, players say Arnold, who also worked with Conway at Sydney FC, has been a constant source of encouragement and motivation at the Asian Cup.

After injuries and retirements ruled out a number of established stars, younger players have seized their opportunity as Australia hit back from their opening defeat to reach the last 16.

"The mental side is big," said striker Jamie Maclaren, who ended a nine-game barren run to score his first international goal in the 3-0 win against Palestine.

"When you have a manager like Arnie (Arnold) who was a striker himself and he knows what it's like to score goals, he's been giving us so much confidence.

"Even in training, the encouragement does help and it does add to that confidence that you've got."

Maclaren and defender Trent Sainsbury both said they appreciated the presence of Conway, a business adviser who is also trained in neuro-linguistic programming, among other methods.

"Mike's fantastic. Sometimes I think people don't realise we're just humans as well, we go through the same day-to-day mental problems that an average person would that goes to work," Maclaren said.

"There's pressure on us, there was pressure on me to get my goal and to really kick on and Mike's been a big help."

Sainsbury said of Conway: "It's just a friendly face to chat with. It's a nice little getaway I think.

"He's a football fan but at the same time he's just a person to talk to about other things outside of football which is really nice."