Not many people can say they’ve played a professional sport while still attending school, but on Sunday night, City striker and St Bernard's College student Max Caputo joined the select group.
The 15-year-old made his A-League debut in City’s 1-1 Melbourne Derby draw when he was subbed on for the final 10 minutes of the contest.
Caputo is a former Essendon Royals junior and also spent a couple of seasons at George Cross FC before joining the City Academy as a 12-year-old. A few short years later, the young striker is flourishing under City's NPL Seniors Head Coach Petr Kratky, scoring 9 goals in 8 appearances including a bag of 4 in his most recent appearance against Ballarat City.
With a number of first-team players missing through a combination of injury and national team duty, Caputo had an inkling last week that he could be involved at A-League level, and had this further validated following training the day before the derby.
“The younger boys normally do another top-up session after training because we're not playing but PK told me not to do it,” Caputo said, "He had a talk to me after and just said, 'I've selected you to be on the bench and I'll try and give you minutes depending on how the game goes."
A flurry of emotions followed. The young striker initially felt plenty of excitement and happiness before the nerves quickly kicked in and would remain until he stepped on the pitch.
“Being the first time doing any of that stuff like preparing and warming up, you're always going to be nervous but as soon I got on, I wasn't really feeling anything,” he said.
“I was just thinking that I need to do what I usually do in any other game and I'll be fine... and that's exactly what's happened."
Clear messaging from the coaching staff made it easy for Caputo once he was out on AAMI Park, ‘Play simple, focus on your first touches and don’t try and do too much,’ he was told as he was subbed on in the 83rd minute.
City fans would’ve like what they saw from their first glimpse of Caputo at A-League level, and the 15-year-old pointed to a few key differences he saw after making the step up from NPL.
“Your first touch has to be spot-on because there's always somebody there to put pressure on you, especially when you're playing as a number nine,” Caputo said, “You always have to scan and look, whereas in the NPL you can turn most of the time.”
“In the NPL if your first touch isn't great, you still might get away with it but that's definitely not the case at the top level."
A growth spurt in recent times has certainly been a big help for Caputo in terms of playing against men, although the youngster believes his extra gym and training sessions have been just as important in allowing him to make the step-up.
He hadn’t played against men prior to this NPL season but having now done so at A-League level, Caputo said his phone was blowing up on Sunday night.
"I had a heap of messages from my family and friends all to say congratulations, and of course a bit of love from the fans which was great," he said.
For most year 10’s, Monday morning normally means back to school after the weekend but given he had such a big Sunday night, Caputo’s looked a little different.
"School's all online but I wasn't actually in the classes on Monday,” he said, “I was like, I made my debut on Sunday, I'm sleeping in today!”
“All of my mates were sending me videos saying all of your teachers are talking about your debut," he laughed.
A week in the life of Caputo is quite hectic, the striker's training and school schedule changing on a seemingly weekly basis.
“I normally will train with the A-League squad twice a week which changes a little depending on what day they are playing, then I’ll generally do the post-match NPL session on a Monday and pre-match on a Friday – depending on the day of the game,” he said.
"When I get home on the days I'm training with A-League squad - normally between 1-2pm - I’ll either go to school for the last couple of periods or if I can't make it, I'll just do homework."
Caputo has dreams of one day representing his country but for now his goals are clear.
“Playing at City and getting more minutes is my goal. I'd love to get to the point one day of being a regular member of the starting XI and playing every week."