Atkinson: Debut “felt unreal”

Melbourne City youngster Nathaniel Atkinson says he is itching to play a more regular role for the team following his impressive debut in City’s 1-0 win over the Central Coast Mariners on Sunday night at AAMI Park.

City solidified a spot in the Hyundai A-League top three with a comprehensive performance against the Mariners, as Ross McCormack’s 59th minute strike proved to be the difference between the two teams.

Following the match, 18-year-old Atkinson spoke of his impressive debut and credited his more experienced teammates for settling his pre-match nerves.

“It felt unreal walking out with the kids with the jacket on, just seeing the crowd it was good – nerve-racking, but good,” Atkinson said.

“I didn’t mind running down the wing with Rosey [Josh Rose] getting the ball in, I nearly got an assist. I just enjoyed getting the ball, getting any touch I could.

“I just want to get any minutes I can really, just being part of the team is great.

“If I can do a job for the team when they need me to I’ll do it.

“I just want to build on that, work hard on the training ground and get myself selected for oncoming games in the future,” he added.

“They [teammates] could tell I was nervous – they were saying “why are you nervous, it’s just another game of football”, they calmed me down a bit and it was good.”

Warren Joyce’s belief in the midfielder has allowed the youngster to blossom in his role. Atkinson says he had a slight inkling that his debut may be imminent, but was only sure he was starting when he arrived at AAMI Park and saw his manager on Sunday.

“Through the week the gaffer gave the idea that I might be a part of the team – start, be on the bench,” he said.

“But I found out I was going to start when I walked into the change room – when I saw Warren, he was the first face I saw – and he told me that I will be starting. 

“He said, “look you’re going to start, I have no issues with you starting”.

“He trusts what I can do, and he had no doubt in his mind that I could do the job no matter how old I was. He put the faith in me and luckily I did alright I guess.

“He’s always given me the advice that I need and kept my feet on the ground,” he added.

“I remember in preseason we had a practice match against Central Coast, I played the same position and did well, so obviously that gave the faith to play me in the next game against Central Coast.

“I always wanted to play in a professional league no matter where it was,” he said.

“I know when I was younger going to all the a-league matches that came down to Tasmania for a friendly, I was like maybe I could play there one day. It was always a dream to play professionally and lucky I got the debut.”

Originally from Tasmania, Atkinson started playing football for Riverside Olympic. He eventually joined the NTC, and from there Melbourne City FC Youth coaches scouted him. 

On Sunday, Atkinson became the first player to graduate from John Fawkner College through the Melbourne City College of Football program – the 18-year-old has credited the program to both his personal and football development.

“Our NTC came here to playing against the U20 Melbourne City team, and I managed to score a goal in the first 15 seconds or so, finished off with a hat trick by the end of the game and the next day they asked me to come for a trial,” he said.

“It’s been great – I’ve come in as a 20’s player first off.

“It’s a big step up from 20’s to NYL, I struggled for about a year. I couldn’t really get much game time with the Youth League but eventually I found my feet and built on that and now I’ve moved up from Youth League to here, it’s great.

“Melbourne City have a partnership with John Fawkner, they have coaches that go there and train the school team.

“Obviously that’s going to help having an extra training sessions, having an extra two training sessions a week, during school. That helped out a lot. 

“It was always my plan to finish year 12, mum always wanted me to finish.

“I finished year 12 probably a month ago, now I’m doing a personal training course online – I do that while I’m here full time.”