Kisnorbo: Scotland a “good test” for Hearts-bound Nathaniel Atkinson

Melbourne City A-League Men coach Patrick Kisnorbo believes that Heart of Midlothian and the Scottish Premiership will prove a good test for Nathaniel Atkinson in what is the Olyroo starlet’s first move abroad. 

Months on from being named the Joe Marston Medalist as best afield in City’s 2020-21 Grand Final win over Sydney and his star turn with the Olyroos at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Atkinson, 22, secured a move from the reigning ALM champions to Hearts on Christmas Eve – set to fly over and complete the move in the recently opened January window. 

Heading to Edinburgh for an undisclosed fee – which is understood to feature sell-on fees as part of the agreement – the youngster is set to sign a three-and-a-half-year contract with the Jambos, who are currently in third place in the Scottish Premiership and in the box seat for a place in the next Europa Conference League. 

He will also be linking up with Olyroo teammate Cameron Devlin, who landed in Scotland ahead of the 2021-22 season and has started all but one of the league fixtures he has been available for thus far. 

See Also via Ante Jukic: Socceroos Scouting Report: Hearts midfielder Cameron Devlin

For his part, Kisnrobo is very familiar with the environment Atkinson is set to encounter when he arrives at Tynecastle Park: Hearts his first European destination after he left South Melbourne and the NSL in 2003. 

“Obviously, I played there, that was my first European club. I’ve got a lot of good memories there,” the City coach said. “I actually played with the manager, Robbie Neilson – we played in the same team for a couple of years. 

“Time will tell how [Atkinson] will go. It’s not an easy league, there’s no such thing as an easy game. Conditions are difficult. I think it will be a good test for Nathaniel to see what European football is like.”

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

First signing with City’s youth setup after impressing against them as a box-to-box midfield weapon with a Tasmanian representative team, Atkinson was deployed in almost every position on the pitch during his rise up the club’s ranks before eventually breaking into the senior team as a right wing-back.

“He ripped us up in 15 minutes and scored a hattrick,” former City youth coach Lachlan Armstrong recalled of his first exposure to Atkinson. “I remember us going up to the office after the game and saying, ‘you should have seen this kid that’s scored three crackers’ — because they were all amazing goals.”

His star turn at the end of 2020-21, however, was delivered from the wing of City’s attack: deployed further up the field to cover the loss of Jamie Maclaren to international duty and Andrew Nabbout to injury.

“Since joining City as a 15-year-old, it has been an incredible journey,” Atkinson said on the move. “I have had some amazing memories from my time here and being part of the first men’s team to win a premiership and championship for the club is something I will never forget. 

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“It’s always been a dream of mine to play in Europe, and while I’m sad to be leaving City, the time has come to test myself overseas and I hope that I can make everyone proud back home.” 

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

Scotland, of course, is also the current home of former Socceroo and current Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou, who has quickly won over the Hoops fanbase after taking over this season after a highly-successful stint with J1 League side Yokohama F Marinos. 

Australia has a long and proud history of contributions to Scottish football, with Kisnorbo, Mark Viduka, Jackson Irvine, Scott McDonald, Martin Boyle, Craig Moore, Jamie Maclaren, Tom Rogic, and Kevin Muscat all at one time or another plying their trade in the land of fitba. 

Yet because the more celebrated of these contributions were often delivered for one of the two clubs involved, as well as the overarching dominance the two teams have held over Scotland, much of the Antipodean comprehension of the league is through the prism of Old Firm rivals Celtic and Rangers. 

See Also: When is the right time for young Aussie players to head overseas?

Kisnorbo, though, warned against discounting the likes of Hearts, Hibernian, or Motherwell simply because of their lack of notoriety compared to their more famous Glaswegian rivals. 

“I think that maybe [Australia] as a nation, we think of Scotland and we only think of Celtic and Rangers,” he said. “But it’s not like that. Scotland I think is a great platform, it’s a great first step. Hearts – with Cam Devlin and Nathaniel – Heart is a good little team. They’ve played in Europe. 

“If you go overseas it’s an accomplishment itself because it’s very hard for an Australian to move over. 

“It’s one of those things in which people have their own opinion. Everyone thinks maybe that Man City or Barcelona, that every kid is going to go there which in reality they’re not. So I think it’s a good stepping stone for players to start a career, especially abroad.”

Prior to his man-of-the-match performance against Melbourne Victory in December 18’s Christmas Derby – what would prove to be his swansong in ALM football – Atkinson had been rarely sighted this season. 

See Also: Five A-League Men talking points heading into 2022

Kisnorbo, however, denied that his imminent move to Scotland had played a part in his absence from his matchday squads.

At the end of the day, Nathaniel was contracted, so we decide if Nathaniel goes or stays,” he said. 

“At the end of the day we want to produce players for this club, and give them a chance. At the start [of the season], Nathaniel was injured, hence why he didn’t play. But we put him back in when we thought it was necessary and through his hard work, he played for us. 

“Now, he’s fulfilled a dream of many kids. Hopefully, it’s the first of many steps and it’s great for us that we’re able to produce players here and then follow their dream overseas, because that’s part of the journey and the process at this club.”

Enjoying Joey’s coverage of Australian sport? Your support helps keep it possible.
You’re seeing this advert because this is an unpaid, self-published piece.

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne City

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