From warming City’s bench in March, to scoring against Argentina at the Olympics in July; it sure was a rapid rise to prominence for now 20-year-old Marco Tilio.
The young attacker had previously spoken about the struggles that he faced upon joining the Club, and the battle he had to get himself into the right mental and physical state to play week in, week out.
“There were a lot of ups and downs from the start of last season to the end,” Tilio said.
“It was a rollercoaster ride, but the success with City was amazing and then of course to get the Olympics call-up was just incredible too.”
There was even a run of nine fixtures early in the season where he played a total of just six minutes, remaining an unused substitute in six of those matches.
This was a hugely important period in Tilio’s rise, as he spent it working extremely hard with the coaching staff behind the scenes to get all aspects of his game to the level they needed to be at.
“One of the important things we had to do was make sure the defensive side of his game was sound,” City Assistant Coach Des Buckingham said.
“Not only do we want to play entertaining football in the front third, but the defensive side of the game is just as important for us.”
One of the key reasons Buckingham was brought to the Club was for the exceptional work he’s done with young players across his coaching career, so Tilio was always going to be in the best hands.
“It was very much about sitting down with him during parts of the season and highlighting the areas we were looking for,” Buckingham said.
“Then it was just working hard with him, and Marco working extremely hard in the background to best prepare himself so that he’d be well placed for when the chances came.”
After scoring his debut goal for the Club in Round 15 against Wellington, Tilio would go on to excite City fans for the remainder of the season.
He started nine of the Club’s last ten fixtures and played a huge role in Finals. His season ended with him lifting the Championship trophy on AAMI Park, but his life was about to be turned even further on its head.
“I had a call from the Club as I landed on the tarmac in Sydney,” he said.
“They told me that I potentially could be going to the Olympics – but there was still a little bit of water to go under the bridge.
The next morning I woke up to a call from an unknown number, which turned out to be Graham Arnold. I was in shock really.
Having only just returned home to Sydney – a city which was in lockdown at the time – it wasn’t as simple as heading back to Melbourne to pack his bags before jetting off to Tokyo.
“My passport, boots, and all of those kinds of things had just been left at my place in Melbourne,” Tilio said.
“I had to call the Club to sort someone to head over to my place and get a locksmith to break in there to get all of the stuff that I needed.”
Having been reunited with his passport and all of his essential belongings, Tilio made his way to Tokyo where he didn’t take long to make his presence felt. Just seconds after being subbed on for his first Olyroos appearance, he had a moment which would garner headlines worldwide.
“I remember getting a ball from Joel King,” he said.
“It was my first touch of the game, so I didn’t want to lose it. I saw Dukey running in behind, so I flicked it on and continued my run and then he found me on the edge of the box.
We actually had a goalkeeping session before the game, so fresh in my mind was that I’d have to lift the ball because he wasn’t as strong in the air. Luckily, I hit and sweetly and I was super happy to see it hit the back of the net.
It was the goal that sealed a famous victory for the Olyroos, and that peach of a strike blew up on social media, sending Tilio’s phone into overdrive once he’d returned to the team hotel.
“I spoke to my parents and a few close friends, but then it literally got to the point where I had to switch my phone off for a few days because it was just blowing up,” he said.
While it certainly was a wild run for Tilio, he’s now back in Melbourne with his feet firmly planted on the ground. He certainly knows there’s plenty of work to be done in order for he and his City teammates to back up what was a remarkable season 2020/21.
“This season it’s my job to keep our Socceroos front three on their toes,” he said.
“I’ll certainly be pushing hard to be playing every single game, but I just want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to help the team and hopefully bring some more success to the Club this season.”
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