On Tuesday morning we saw Connor Metcalfe, who joined the club at 14 years of age, make his national team debut at just 21 years and 7 months.
He joined Daniel Arzani and Denis Genreau on the growing list of City academy products to become Socceroos.
For Melbourne City Assistant Coach Des Buckingham, the achievement marked a proud personal moment, as well as a deserved reward for the youngster’s individual endeavour.
“There’s not many better feelings as a coach than when you watch a player who’s worked as hard as Connor has done get rewarded,” Buckingham said.
“There’s many years before I got here where he’s worked hard to get to where he is in Club land and getting recognised for his efforts on the international stage is huge.”
Similarly, Nathaniel Atkinson and Stefan Colakovski, who have also progressed from City’s youth ranks, have featured prominently throughout our Premier’s Plate winning campaign, whilst 19-year-old Marco Tilio has established himself as a first team regular despite having made just three A-League appearances before arriving in Melbourne.
Referring to the value brought to the team by these youngsters, Buckingham recalled City’s gritty win away from home against Wellington Phoenix, where the latter attacking duo made the difference in a tight clash.
“At that time Marco Tilio and Stefan Colakovski had only played limited minutes but had been working extremely hard in the background,” he said.
“When they got that opportunity, and they’d prepared as well as they could, they actually come on and combined for the third goal which helped win us the game.”
— Melbourne City FC (@MelbourneCity) April 6, 2021
The youngsters have had some excellent mentors to guide their development over the course of the season, especially from players in positions relevant to them.
“In Marco’s case, in terms of positions he can compete for, there’s Craig Noone who has had an excellent career so far and is having a great season, and then you’ve got two Socceroos in Jamie Maclaren and Andrew Nabbout as well,” Buckingham said.
“You come in and you’ve got a real opportunity to learn off of three excellent senior professionals who have really helped him develop his game.”
Just last Sunday we saw 17-year-old Raphael Borges Rodrigues and 15-year-old Max Caputo feature for City in the Melbourne Derby, the latter becoming the second youngest debutant in Club history.
𝘼𝙜𝙚'𝙨 𝙤𝙛 𝙡𝙖𝙨𝙩 𝙣𝙞𝙜𝙝𝙩'𝙨 𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙧𝙩𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙛𝙧𝙤𝙣𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙧𝙚𝙚: 19, 17, 20. 🙌
— Melbourne City FC (@MelbourneCity) June 7, 2021
With such especially young and inexperienced players, exposure to playing time at senior level can be a temperamental exercise, but Buckingham – along with the rest of the City coaching – are confident that if a player has shown enough, then they deserve an opportunity.
“What we want to do is prepare them so that when they go in and they get that opportunity, they can go in and stay in, rather than just go in for one appearance and just disappear,” Buckingham said, in the hope that initial exposure will spur further progress.
“That senior appearance can really whet the appetite to continue that sort of work ethic that’s got them to where they are.”
The fact that scholarship players train alongside the senior group certainly helps with this preparation, Buckingham explained.
“It’s created some consistency in them coming in early and understanding what the demands are and what we do, it also creates those relationships and connections with those senior players so that when they have the opportunity to play, they’re not star-struck or overawed.”
Another key aspect of youth development at City has been the provision of individualised performance plans for players to channel their hard work into progressing towards – rather than chasing goals that don’t necessarily benefit their development.
“We’ve sat with the players and devised an individual plan for each of them which delves deeply into quite a few areas – the short, medium, the long-term goals,” Buckingham explained.
“That plan allows us to highlight, monitor and get better at what we want, once we’ve agreed to it and then it’s been a whole heap of constant reviews with the player.”
Be it Caputo or Borges Rodrigues, Tilio or Colakovski, these young players will already have an eye towards helping the team to an inaugural A-League Championship come Finals time, but Buckingham issued a familiar warning, “You need to not get caught up in playing the occasion.”
Instead, just as we’ve heard from Patrick Kisnorbo and the playing group all season, the focus is on the process.
“We’ve got a really clear way of doing what we do and how we want to achieve what we do,” Buckingham said, “It’s more about focusing on that performance rather than the Finals as an occasion.
“They’ve (the younger players) been a large part of allowing us to get to where we are now, so playing in the Finals is just another opportunity for them to be a part of that again.”
City will be in action on Thursday night, taking on Newcastle behind closed doors at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium. This clash will be broadcast live on Fox Sports, Kayo and the My Football Live app.