With its 500,000 inhabitants, Tasmania sees for the first time one of its players competing in a World Cup. And Nathaniel Atkinson could well turn out to be a real devil for the Blues.
“That Australia is hosting the next Women’s World Cup and that the men have participated in the last five editions has been good for the popularity of the sport. » Jeremy Smith
When we think of Tasmania, it’s not football that immediately comes to mind. The Tasmanian devil, this kind of big mouse, in a pinch, or even Taz, a famous animated character from Warner Bros, but not football. However, Nathaniel Atkinson will become the first Tasmanian to participate in a World Cup. “I think everyone here is eager to see it! We had a few players who have already represented the national team, but Nathaniel is the first to play in a World Cup.” , rejoices Jeremy Smith, now secretary of Riverside Olympic FC, the Australian’s first club. Even if there has never been a representative of this island the size of Sri Lanka to live such a consecration before, seeing kids kicking a spherical ball, without taking it in their hands, is nevertheless quite common there. “Football is very popular among childrendetails Jeremy Smith. It is the most practiced sport in Tasmania! Despite this, cricket and Australian rules football receive the most state aid and media attention. But it’s still better! When I was a child, we didn’t talk about it at all. But that Australia is hosting the next Women’s World Cup and that the men have competed in the last five editions has done the sport a favor. »
If he changed hemisphere to now play at the Heart of Midlothian, in Scotland, it was in Launceston, the second city on the island south of Australia, that the blond side kicked his first balls. And he quickly caught the eye of his educators. “When he was playing in U14, during the season, he was upgraded to U16, he was so good” , recalls Jeremy Smith, assistant vice-president when Atkinson evolved there. At 14, the Tasmanian was spotted and invited to join the local development center. He must then pack his bags and move to Hobart, the island’s capital, 200 miles south of Launceston. “Then I think he was spotted in an U16 game against Melbourne City, where he scored three goals. Then he went to Melbourne! » , recites Smith. In the club of the country’s capital, he rose through the ranks before being launched as a pro by Warren Joyce in 2017.
“We hope to have a club in the A-League in the next few years. But at the moment it is very difficult for our players. » Jeremy Smith
In June 2019, Erick Mombaerts took over the reins of the team belonging to the City Group and got to know the Tasmanian. “He’s a boy who has a lot of qualities, especially offensively. He is confusing and plays almost like a winger, able to eliminate easily. He also has a large volume of play. We can say that he is a modern full-back. It works well in a flexible system. He defends in a full-back position, but he can go inside” , remembers the former coach of Toulouse. In June 2021, Atkinson opened the scoring and was even elected MVP in the A-League grand final, against Sydney, allowing his team to win the first title in their history. Enough to convince the Scottish club to bring him in December 2021. Then he wears the tunic of the Socceroos in March 2022, and imposes itself directly as holder.
“Their training is very inspired by the Netherlands. The big clubs are starting to structure their centers well and there will be momentum in Aussie Rules football in the years to come. » Jeremy Smith
Australian Total Football
Nathaniel Atkinson has finally managed to extricate himself from his island, where he often returns to see his friends and his club, to shine at the national level. A task still too complicated for most Tasmanian children, while no club in this small piece of land plays in the A-League, a closed competition. “We hope to have a club in the A-League in the next few years. But at the moment it’s very difficult for our players.” , explains Jeremy Smith. Having a team in the major championship is however an obligation to integrate into the Australian training system, still in its infancy. “Their training is very inspired by the Netherlands. Big clubs are starting to structure their centers well and there will be momentum in Aussie Rules football in the years to come. It really starts at club level, but not all A-League teams have a well-structured academy yet.” , says Erick Mombaerts. At this rate, we could well have total Australian football by 2026, with a Tasmanian devil as our standard bearer.
By Leo Peat
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