Melbourne City midfielder Nathaniel Atkinson dreams of furthering his football career internationally, and with the national squad. He first has his focus on delivering more success for the reigning A-League Men’s champions.
Looking to begin their title defence tonight at AAMI Park against the Brisbane Roar, Melbourne City remains committed to being a force of the A-League Men competition, with the club seeking to continue a long-time dominance at the top.
Last season’s decider, which City won 3-1 against Sydney FC in June – a sweet feeling for a team who had lost to corresponding fixture the year before to the same opponent – was special to Atkinson, the recipient of the Joe Marston Medal, awarded to the player best on ground of the Grand Final.
Now entering his fifth year with City’s main squad, the 22-year-old feels like he knows his position – both within the club and on the field – however, understands that there is many things that are asked of him, and many ways to improve upon to build chances to capitalise on further success.
“My main position is a right back but obviously, being so versatile, injuries come along, I can either move up the park or stay in right back. I think my best position is right back but my goal is to have assists and have goals wherever they come from,” Atkinson said of his role in the team at a press conference earlier in the week.
“When I first came to Melbourne City I was a midfielder as well so it’s not too out of the ordinary for me really, playing in the middle so y’know, I’ve had that experience and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.
“The best way to move forward is to put myself in the best situation just to start the season off well and finish it off strong. I want to focus on this year and put myself in the best situation to move on with my career, whether that be here or overseas.”
Fresh off an Olympic campaign in Tokyo with the Olyroos a month after the conclusion of the A-League Men season, in a team full of right backs, Atkinson was battling for a spot – despite starting in the team’s opening game against Argentina.
Even so, and after playing the first two games of the Olyroos’ group stages, coach Graham Arnold provided praise towards Atkinson and left him with some thinking about his game, so that he could take that next step. It’s something Atkinson has embraced, looking forward with optimism.
“I think just keep playing the way I was playing before the Olympics and then going into the Olympics. I think the way I played, that’s what Arnie (Graham Arnold) wants and I’ve got a good relationship with Arnie and he said ‘keep the way you’re playing and obviously anything’s possible’,” Atkinson said.
“I think, going to the Olympics and playing against some of the best players in the world and playing against some of the best clubs in the world, it’s a good eye-opener and obviously to hold your own against some of the best in the world, it’s good motivation to push on hopefully make a career like them.
“It’s a big driving factor. I think every young boy wants to play for the Socceroos, I’ve done it with the Under 23s and in the Olympics. The World Cup is coming up so that’s definitely my drive and motivation for this year, is to play the best football and put myself in best situation to put my name forward.”
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At the time of last season’s A-League Men Grand Final, the Socceroos spent the first half of the month in Kuwait, playing World Cup qualifiers.
It meant that for a few in City’s squad, they couldn’t taste the ultimate success of a Grand Final win on the night, Atkinson believing that thought of missing out is spurring them on to take that step again.
“To see Jamie Maclaren, obviously we won the title [last season] but he’s never really got to experience winning one, holding that [trophy] up,” Atkinson mentioned.
“We’ve got Curtis Good who’s been at Melbourne Heart and come through Melbourne City, he’s a very hungry player this year. Connor Metcalfe,… you want to play in the biggest games and those are the biggest games.”
Furthering to speak about City’s desire to strengthen its hold on the competition, with key signings of Matthew Leckie and Manuel Pucciarelli doing plenty of favours, Atkinson says the goal is to go back-to-back, and potentially add an Asian Championship to the trophy cabinet too.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations with Paddy [Kisnorbo] saying, obviously we’re the reigning champions and obviously everyone wants to hunt us but he’s just trying to keep us in the same mentality of ‘we want to be the hunter still’ to… go back-to-back. We’ve had a feeling of winning and we want to do that again,” he said.
“Obviously, it’s normal to come into the season and be a bit lackadaisical in the way you go [about] things. Obviously you’ve won trophies but y’know, we came into training [on] the first day and we thought, ‘we’ve had that taste, we want it again’.”
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