Australian Prospects, the A-League, and Nathaniel Atkinson by Vince Massara

By Vince Massara of Sports Cards Rock, and the Soccer Newsletter – Soccer Cards Rock

When the Australian Olympic side, primarily made up of A-League players, beat Argentina 2-0 in the opening match, it turned a few heads.

The Australian A-League has had an up and down existence so far. Early days showed a lot of promise, and with big name players like Alessandro Del Piero and David Villa, the media attention was there – however, it’s been a few lean seasons for the league with the game almost hidden from the non-hardcore fans.

Now, the league is re-finding its feet – a new TV deal gives optimism, and with teams losing players due to COVID a lot more Australian youngsters are getting an opportunity to play professional football.

Players like Alou Kuol, Marco Tilio, and Al Hassan Toure have wowed fans, but it isn’t just this season that brought on youngsters.

Here, I’ll introduce you to Nathanial Atkinson. A right-back who has developed will in Australia, and could be earning his way abroad sooner rather than later.

Atkinson plays for Melbourne City – who are part of the City Football Group, and has turned into one of the best right backs in the league, and a player versatile enough to play anywhere wide; Atkinson was man of the match as a right winger in the A-League Grand Final.

Here is a brief rundown of Nathaniel Atkinson’s abilities using the F.A Four Corner model.

Technical/Tactical: Very good dribbler and ball progressor for level. Looks to link up play in attack. Was an attacking hub from fullback.

Defensively solid without being spectacular. Held his own at level and didn’t make many big errors. Better at intercepting passes compared to tackling. Versatile, has played RB, LB and RW throughout the season. High attempts of interceptions and lower tackle numbers imply that there’s good defensive positioning.

Psychological: Confident on ball – doesn’t let a mistake/missed pass hinder future decisions on the field. Wants the ball in attack and is confident in link-up. At times can give away needless one-on-one fouls.

Physical: Consistently faster than opponents. Hard to push off the ball. Doesn’t get outmuscled in one-on-one defending situations at this level.

Social: Good communicator, takes on a lot of responsibility in his team, both in attack and without the ball.

Similar Players: Parts of Atkinson’s game, and his statistical profile (how frequently he attempts certain actions on the pitch) mirror the following:

Joao Cancelo
Héctor Bellerín (2017 era)
Kyle Walker-Peters

When you look at potential options for transfers and career development, it becomes tricky. Australia has seemingly lost its way as a place that European clubs recruit from.

Does that limit his potential options? Maybe. But, we can use a tool like SmarterScout – which uses advanced analytics to try and translate a players’ performance between leagues. Here is how the tool translates his performances in the A-League to the four main English leagues.

Realistically, I’d think any move would be through Manchester City – that seems to be the way the City Football Group tend to do things.

Still, with the league producing more players of Nathaniel Atkinson’s ability, we’ll hopefully see more and more Aussies in the major European leagues again.

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