When Warren Joyce took over as coach of Melbourne City last winter one of the things he made clear in his first press conference was that his job was almost as much about bringing on and developing players as it was about winning trophies.
Coaching a club owned by the City Football Group always means that success is at a premium, but the role that Melbourne City plays within the “family” of clubs owned by the group means that those higher up the food chain are always looking to see if any players brought on can make the step to a higher grade.
City have already done this once, with Socceroo Aaron Mooy: although he was developed in NSW and at several other clubs, it was only when he moved to City and was given his head in midfield by John van ‘t Schip that he really started to show his ability.
Joyce has stayed true to his word and his promotion of youngsters into the City line-up in the past month has paid dividends, with the club posting wins in its last two games to move to third spot on the A-League ladder.
Nathaniel Atkinson, whose progress in the past few months has been so strong that he has just been rewarded with a new two-year deal, and Daniel Arzani, the talented forward who has made a huge impression in the last two games, are, the club hopes, merely the tip of the iceberg.
Those two will start on Sunday afternoon when they take on Central Coast Mariners in City’s fourth game in 14 days, a run which has yielded two wins and a loss since the defeat against a resurgent Western Sydney Wanderers on New Year’s day. Subsequently City beat Wellington – inspired by Arzani’s arrival off the bench – and won 2-0 in Perth, when Ross McCormack added another two goals to the brace he scored in the 2-1 win over Wellington.
Another promising youngster from the City youth set-up, Connor Metcalfe, will be on the bench and hoping that he can make his A-League debut.
Joyce says that any of the young players – such as the three named above – who have been training with the first team are always likely to be given a chance if they show enough in those sessions, and he is confident they will all be ready if needed.
“I do want to make a difference here, I do want to see young players coming through and if they show enough in training and convince me they have the ability then I will give them a chance,” he said.
“They bring energy, enthusiasm and commitment to the team, and they are fearless. They want to work hard, run hard and show what they can do and it can also energise the older players who have to look at them and realise that these kids are after their spots.”
Joyce has no concerns about Arzani’s ability to compete against hardened, senior defenders.
“He’s got to deal with it and he has dealt with it all season in training anyway. The vast majority of the time he has been playing against the first team in training, playing against the first team in 11 v 11 matches.
“It’s not a shock that he is capable of doing it in league matches.”
The Mariners have been improvers this season but are in the middle of a slump having only scored once in their past six matches.
City have a great recent record against the Mariners, their 1-0 win against Paul Okon’s side at AAMI Park in mid-December being the sixth time in the past seven encounters that they have beaten them. The other game was a draw.