Melbourne City FC is now just days away from kicking off its inaugural AFC Champions League campaign against BG Pathum United FC, and whilst excitement for the challenge runs deep throughout the squad, there’s no doubt that playing a condensed tournament entirely on foreign soil will make for a test like nothing that most of the team has experienced before.
It’s why continental experience could prove to be so valuable even with the exciting potential of so many of City’s youngsters who will undeniably have an important part to play.
Given that just five players (Scott Galloway, Mathew Leckie, Jamie Maclaren, Andrew Nabbout and Scott Jamieson) in the City squad have ACL Group Stage experience, it’s fortunate that the team is also able to rely upon the continental experience of Carl Jenkinson, who has featured in several UEFA Champions and Europa League campaigns for Arsenal.
The prospect of competing in the premiere footballing offering of yet another continent, he says, is one that he looks forward to eagerly.
“I’m really excited about it,” Jenkinson said.
“Just the words ‘Champions League’ are appealing to anyone and any player, so I’m really excited to be a part of it.”
It’s a sentiment that he says is shared right throughout the team, a jittery anticipation for the competition that City earned its entry into with its inaugural A-League Men Championship success last season.
However, for all the excitement off the pitch, Jenkinson knows that it’s on it where the team will need to forget that eagerness and focus on securing important results against elite opposition.
“I think it will be a great experience for us football-wise and going to Bangkok as well.
“The most important thing though of course is on the pitch and playing well and winning games.”
Another factor impacting on City’s prospects in its inaugural ACL campaign will be the condensed, centralised nature of the group stage, with all of the team’s six fixtures set to take place over 17 days at BG Pathum’s home stadium just outside Bangkok, Thailand.
Though Jenkinson’s experience with the infamously busy European schedule means that he’s familiar with what it takes to succeed in such circumstances, City’s own navigation of congested periods this season means that the defender is confident that the team won’t need to rely on his familiarity with competition football.
“I don’t think I’ve really had to provide advice, because the people in charge of the medical side of things, the sports science, have taken a real good lead and managed us in a way that we’ve gotten through the games relatively unscathed for the most part,” he said.
“It’s not easy playing every three days – which is what we’ve done – especially with a smaller squad, which has been a massive challenge in itself.
“The boys have dealt with it fantastically so I haven’t had to say too much about that.”
With City’s final A-League Men fixtures for nearly a month now completed and the team still atop the table, Jenkinson and his teammates are in a good position to tackle this unprecedented challenge head on. They’re ready to enjoy the spectacle of the moment, but also prepared to do whatever it takes to see them through to the knockout stages.
“It’s the Champions League at the end of the day… it’s proper.”