Perth, injuries, Olyroos, and a Joe Marston Medal – City’s Nathaniel Atkinson caps off extraordinary 2020-21

After briefly falling out of love with football, an aborted move interstate and a horror run of injuries, Melbourne City’s Nathaniel Atkinson has capped off a roller coaster 2020-21 season in picture-perfect fashion: as an A-League champion and Joe Marston medalist.

Deployed up front for the second week in a row to cover for the injury-enforced benchings of Andrew Nabbout and Craig Noone, Atkinson netted a crucial equaliser for his side just minutes after Kosta Barbarouses put Sydney up, before playing a starring role as City ran out 3-1 winners. 

An ever present-pest for Sydney’s backline throughout the entire 90 minutes, his efforts were rewarded as his side lifted their maiden A-League trophy when he was voted the unanimous winner of the Joe Marston Medal.

“I wasn’t really thinking about the fans [cheering] but more my mum,” he said of the goal. 

“She hasn’t seen me play in more than a year [due to COVID-restrictions]. It was good for her to come over. I was just thinking about her, really.”

“I’ve seen Nathaniel go through the stages of the academy and youth teams,” added City coach Patrick Kisnorbo post-game. 

“What pleases me the most is that he’s come on as a person; a young kid that moved away from home to come to our club. 

“To see where he’s ended up now, with all those sacrifices, the injuries, the doubts. It’s all pays off. 

“Now that he’s able to enjoy what he’s earned, but only through sacrifice and hard work. Nothing’s been given to him. 

“So I’m really proud of him that and how he’s come on as a human being, for me, that’s the most [important thing]”

See Also: Melbourne City usher in a new era with A-League Grand final success

The championship and Joe Marston Medal double — Atkinson becoming the second-youngest player in the A-League era to receive the honour — caps off a remarkable year for Atkinson given that, initially, he wasn’t even supposed to be spending it in a City shirt. 

The Launceston born utility, alongside Andrew Nabbout, signed an agreement with Perth Glory for the 2020-21 campaign; only for the deal to be scuppered by West Australia’s stringent, COVID-related border restrictions. 

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Returning to the club that he was initially recruited to by then-academy boss Joe Palatsides and his assistant Lachlan Armstrong and signing a two-year deal, a hamstring injury suffered during pre-season ruled him coach Patrick Kisnorbo’s side for its opening three games of the season. 

Eventually returning to the fold, the 22-year-old began to string together a series of performances that had his name not only being thrown up as a near certainty for Graham Arnold’s squad for the Tokyo Olympics but also as a member of his Socceroos squad for World Cup qualifying. 

But disaster struck in the 18th minute of his side’s 3-2 win over Wellington Phoenix in early April; Atkinson’s 2020-21 season appearing have come to a sudden and painful end after he suffered another severe hamstring injury. 

However, after putting in significant work with City trainers Andrew McKenzie and Raffaele Napoli and Football Australia S&C guru Andrew Clarke and getting a bit of luck with scheduling, he staged a miraculous recovery to return in City’s final regular season game against Newcastle. 

Getting a full a full 90 minutes deployed up front in City’s 2-0 win over Macarthur in the A-League semifinal the following week, he then turned in a man-of-the-match performance against Sydney FC. 

“I’m a bit speechless,” he said “I’m a big believer of everything happens for a reason and when I first had the injury I thought ‘yeah, that’s probably me done. I’ll focus on the next pre-season.’  

“A few things blessed me in a way — a few COVID outbreaks, a few games delayed, finals get moved back — and then it gives me extra time to come back for finals.  

See Also: City’s Nathaniel Atkinson chasing titles and Tasmanian Olympic history

“I was really enjoying my football before the injury and that was just a big kick to the guts. 

“But I worked hard and I got back into the line-up in a bit of a different position. 

“But it’s been nearly six years at this club, you’ve seen the heartbreak through the years and to come out on top finally, it’s great.”

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Atkinson now appears nailed on to be a member of Graham Arnold’s squad for the Tokyo Olympics that is set to be announced later this week – something that was completely off the cards 18 months ago. 

He — alongside Riley McGree, Lachlan Wales, and Brandon Wilson — had initially been set to miss those Games due to a suspension imposed for unprofessional conduct following a complaint from a woman about their behaviour while away with the Olyroos at the AFC U23 Championships in Cambodia. 

Their delay to COVID, however, saw his suspension run out and open the door for an unlikely berth as an Olympian, one which he was eager to grab.

“Obviously 18 months ago everything happened and you probably lose your love of football for a bit as well,” Atkinson said. 

“When pre-season came around this year it was a fresh slate and I think it definitely benefited me as a person.

“But it was definitely a tough 18 months before this, just falling out of love with the game a bit. 

“But I moved quickly past that and I quickly found my love of the game again, by just enjoying football, and when I enjoy my football I tend to play at my best as well.”

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne City

2 thoughts on “Perth, injuries, Olyroos, and a Joe Marston Medal – City’s Nathaniel Atkinson caps off extraordinary 2020-21

  1. Pingback: Graham Arnold wants to put Olyroo Arzani back on the world’s map – JDL MEDIA

  2. Pingback: Kisnorbo: Scotland a “good test” for Hearts-bound Nathaniel Atkinson | JDL MEDIA

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