CityRoos: Melbourne City's contributions to the Socceroos over the years
With Australia's World Cup squad now finalised following Marco Tilio's late addition in place of Martin Boyle, City fans have been able to take pride in the club's presence in the Socceroos' current set-up as the young winger joins Jamie Maclaren and Mathew Leckie in Graham Arnold's final 26-man squad.
The Club itself was also quick to point out its influence amongst the squad when it was first announced, congratulating Academy graduate Nathaniel Atkinson and five other past Heart/City players who are now representing their country on the international stage (Aziz Behich, Aaron Mooy, Riley McGree, Craig Goodwin, Andrew Redmayne). Accounting for the final 26-man group, City has had a hand in the careers of 35% of the 'Roos World Cup squad.
Of course, to claim too much of a hand in the 'Roos contributions of players like Maclaren, Leckie and Mooy would be pretentious, but it prompted the question: how do we measure the influence of a club on the national team?
Academy products surely count, but what about those players who never quite kick off at their development club only to explode in the right environment elsewhere in the league? Would they have ever had the opportunity to represent their nation if not for the work put into them by the club they were contracted to at the time of their debut?
With that in mind, City's contribution to the Socceroos since its inception in 2010 still remains quite impressive. Accounting for Academy graduates and players who debuted for Australia whilst donning Heart's red and white stripes or the City blue at club level, we've 'contributed' seven Socceroos who've combined for 78 caps, four goals and two assists.
As alluded to there, the CityRoos story actually started back in the Heart days of old, when a 21-year-old Aziz Behich debuted against South Korea under the stewardship of Holger Osieck in November 2012. It won't be much of a spoiler, then, to reveal that the left-back's 52 Socceroos caps account for the vast majority of our total contribution. Arguably one of Australia's most decorated post-Golden Generation representatives, Behich has had a more than respectable career in the green and gold, winning the 2015 Asian Cup, starting all three of our 2018 World Cup fixtures, and becoming one of the first names on the Australian team sheet over the past decade.
Few might remember that Behich wasn't our only Heart-era contribution, however. Less than a month after that South Korea friendly, Michael Marrone played his one and only game for Australia in an East Asian Championship fixture against Guam. Incredibly, Marrone scored one of the 'Roos NINE goals that day, but would never have another opportunity to don the green and gold after that.
Following this, there was a six-year wait until our next Socceroos debutant, but this period represented the delayed success of the transition to Melbourne City and the accompanying focus on youth development with a proper Academy system in place. The first City-era debutant was, of course, a then-19-year-old Daniel Arzani, who was in the middle of captivating the nation as a textbook World Cup bolter, just as Garang Kuol is doing in 2022. The peak of the Arzani hype train may just have been his second Socceroos appearance, when he scored in a 2-1 win over Hungary just days before the 2018 World Cup, having debuted off the bench against the Czech Republic days beforehand. Featuring in all three group-stage games, Arzani made just one more appearance for Australia post-World Cup, with his career-derailing ACL injury in late 2018 preventing him from further involvement with the national team.
City's famous 2016 National Youth League-winning team continued to bear fruit for Australia, with Denis Genreau and Connor Metcalfe joining their former teammate in becoming the fourth and fifth Socceroos contributed by the club when they debuted in 2021. Both debuting on the 6th of July against Chinese Taipei at 22 and 21 years of age respectively, Genreau has made four appearances for Australia for a combined 259 minutes, whilst Metcalfe has played five times, spending 247 minutes on the pitch. Metcalfe can also claim an assist at international level, teeing up Mitch Duke against New Zealand earlier this year.
2022 has been another good year for City's contributions to the Socceroos, with Marco Tilio and Nathaniel Atkinson debuting in January (against Vietnam) and March (vs. Saudi Arabia) respectively. Both players have five caps, but Tilio's tendency to impact the game as a substitute means he's played just 124 minutes to Atkinson's 353. With both players selected to the Australian World Cup squad, and Atkinson in particular tipped to feature heavily, these figures will only continue to grow over the coming weeks.
Of course, there's no hiding that City's seven Socceroos contributed in 13 years of existence pales slightly in comparison to traditional powerhouses Melbourne Victory or Sydney FC, or even the conveyor belt of talent that seems to be the Central Coast Mariners (evidenced below), but that balance is swiftly changing.
In Australia's second Graham Arnold era (August 2018-), only Sydney FC (6) - surprise, surprise - has contributed more Socceroos than Melbourne City (4). Central Coast continues to be a strong contributor, also producing four 'Roos since August 2018, but Melbourne Victory has produced just two in that period. Brisbane, Adelaide (for all their youth development) and Perth have also contributed two apiece, and the other A-League teams except for Western United and Wellington have each produced one.
With the recent past already in our favour, a quick look ahead hints that the future may be too; Jordan Bos looms as a strong contender to fill Australia's left-back position in the long-term, Tom Glover looks capable of being a squad regular if he can fulfil his potential, whilst at 17 years of age, Max Caputo's inevitable rise to prominence could eventually coincide with a requirement at the national team level for quality strikers once the current crop of Maclaren, Duke, Taggart, Cummings, etc. are phased out.
With the world-class City Academy now out of its infancy stage, we're also starting to produce first-team debutants more regularly; there have already been more Academy-to-first-team graduates in the past four years than in the first five after the CFG takeover.
We're talking about Atkinson and Tilio as the names of today, Bos and Glover as those of tomorrow, but there will be generations of names unknown who will become the stars of the future for both Melbourne City and the Socceroos.