Mark Milligan has praised Bert van Marwijk’s early impact on the Australia national team as preparations ramp up for next month’s Fifa World Cup.
The squad, set at 26 but soon to be reduced to 23 for the tournament, have begun to convene in Belek, Turkey to begin the final build-up to their Group C opener against France in Kazan on June 16.
Some players have arrived, while the remainder of the group will join this week once various club commitments are concluded.
Van Marwijk was appointed in January as Ange Postecoglou’s successor and has been tasked with guiding the Asian champions through the World Cup before Graham Arnold takes the reins.
The former Saudi Arabia manager, who guided the Netherlands to the World Cup final in 2010, led the team for the March friendlies with Norway in Oslo and Colombia in London, which ended 4-1 and 0-0, respectively.
Australia will play the Czech Republic next week in Vienna before facing Hungary in Budapest. Milligan, aiming to make a fourth successive World Cup, has been included in the preliminary squad and is hoping to secure a spot in Russia.
“It’s a very exciting time,” said the versatile Al Ahli Jeddah player. “Bert wants to get us on the training park and we’re going to be worked quite extensively in preparation for the World Cup, so I have to work hard and make sure I’m selected.
“Both Bert and his staff are obviously very well travelled. They’ve been at some very, very good teams and all of them bring a great deal of experience, not just the boss.
“We had a small glimpse of it in Norway and London. We saw the improvement in those two games as well, in terms of what he wants from us. I’m very excited. The way he wants to play is a very progressive type of football; he wants us to be proactive. I think the way he wants us to do things will suit our team.”
Asked what has impressed him most in his short time working with Van Marwijk, Milligan said: “He knows what he wants. For such a big character, a big coach, he makes you feel very comfortable and that’s very important. We’ve still got quite a young squad; it’s obviously a little bit different to Ange.
“We were very structured and, while we will be structured under Bert, he gives us a little bit more freedom to make our decisions within his structure. It’s just getting that time together now."
Contesting a fourth consecutive World Cup, Australia have been drawn in a tough group alongside France, Denmark and Peru. They have failed to reach the knockout stages in their past two appearances, with 2006 the only time in their history they have advanced to the last 16.
Milligan, 32, was a non-playing member of that squad under Dutchman Guus Hiddink, but has developed into a key player for his national team.
The former Baniyas defensive midfielder, capped 69 times, is intent on impressing enough during the long stay in Turkey to once more experience a World Cup's unique atmosphere.
“Absolutely - it is a very special time,” Milligan said. “And while it’s unfortunate we’re not going to be back in Australia, our travel schedule has been made a lot easier with our preparations being done in Europe.
“When you are able just to focus on the football side of things, from a players’ perspective, I guess that’s the ultimate. We saw how much success we had with Guus and that was the sort of approach we took then: we had a good couple of weeks together in Holland and we didn’t have to do a great deal of travel. He really was able to focus on what he wanted the team to do.
“And this is a similar situation. While it is always nice to play in front of your own fans before the World Cup and be able to say goodbye, now with the change, giving Bert that time to implement what he wants is very important.”