GRAHAM Arnold is set to face the biggest dilemma of his coaching career, as Sydney FC bid to head off the possibility of him coaching the Socceroos with the offer of a lucrative contract extension.
The Daily Telegraph understands that Sydney have already made clear to Arnold they want him to stay at the Sky Blues for the long term, and have held talks about upgrading his contract beyond its current expiry at the end of next season.
Arnold has confirmed he will remain Sydney coach for at least the rest of the season, with Football Federation Australia poised to appoint a foreign coach to take the team to the World Cup.
But he remains the favourite to become national head coach after that with a mandate to lead the team into next January's Asian Cup and then the 2022 World Cup qualifying cycle.
Though it had been assumed that Arnold would accept the call of his country, he has told colleagues that he remains undecided about his long-term future, a decade after he served as "interim" Socceroos coach at the 2007 Asian Cup.
In the wake of the double won last season, and with Sydney seven points clear at the top of the league this season, the club believes Arnold can oversee a period of domination, including in the Asian Champions League which starts next month.
In the short-term the club has moved to address the uncertainty over his immediate future, securing a commitment from Arnold that he will at least see out the season amid a feeling that the speculation has begun to affect the Sky Blues dressing room.
Sydney FC Chairman Scott Barlow said: "Graham will be our head coach here at Sydney FC until at least the end of this season. Beyond that, we look forward to continuing our discussions about our long-term plans together. Everyone at the club is focused on winning back to back A-League titles and embarking on our most successful Asian Champions League campaign ever."
Arnold added: "I am committed to Sydney FC and 100 per cent focused on seeing out this season and winning two more trophies for this great club. I can confirm I will not be coaching the Socceroos in Russia."
Arnold admitted late last week he had been contacted by FFA to explain the "process" of appointing a coach to succeed Ange Postecoglou, though it's understood FFA officials were careful to talk in general terms rather than about him as a specific candidate.
It comes as FFA CEO David Gallop and head of national teams Luke Casserley begin interviews in Europe with a short-list of candidates to oversee the World Cup campaign.
Roberto Mancini and Bert van Marwijk are among them, drawn by the opportunity to coach at the World Cup, but all candidates will be expected to demonstrate an enthusiasm to coach Australia specifically.
Van Marwijk, between jobs since leaving Saudi Arabia in September, has admitted he is on FFA's shortlist and will hold talks with Gallop and Casserley.
"We are going to talk and see if we can make it work," van Marwijk told Fox Sports in the Netherlands. The former Holland coach, who took the Oranje to the 2010 World Cup final, is seen as the most realistic of the overseas options, not least in salary terms.
FFA have told candidates there is a $1.5m salary on offer for effectively five months work, but Mancini earns around six and a half times that with Zenit St Petersburg.
The new coach will have one immediate headache to deal with, after it emerged that Tom Rogic could be out until mid-March and could miss Australia's friendlies with Norway and Colombia that month.
Celtic boss Brendon Rodgers told the Glasgow Evening Times that Rogic's knee injury has not yet healed.
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