It may ultimately say a bit more about the state of flux that Melbourne City has existed in in recent years than his own stint but, despite being just 21-years of age, Nathaniel Atkinson will likely be the longest-tenured member of his side's starting XI when they take the field in Sunday evening's Grand Final.
The Launceston-born midfielder-cum-defender first debuted for then-Head Coach Warren Joyce in round ten of the 2017/18 campaign and despite being felled by a brutal looking ankle injury that kept him for a month seven games into his subsequent starting run, remained a key contributor for the club in the months ahead and eventually started 16 total games and 12 the following season.
Initially used sporadically at the beginning of Erick Mombaerts’ time in charge of City, Atkinson has come on strong in the second half of the 19/20 campaign – starting all but one of the club’s last 11 games and being tapped as the replacement for captain Scott Jamieson after he returned to Melbourne to be with his partner for the birth of the couple’s first child.
“I know I’m one of the longest-serving here, there’s Connor [Metcalfe] as well… but I hadn’t really thought about it,” Atkinson told FTBL.
“It’s all I know – this club. Moving from Tasmania straight to here. It has been a long time so [being the longest-tenured player is] an honour really.
“It’s been a tough year all up and every player wants to play for trophies and to potentially win it with basically my boyhood club, at a young age, would mean the world to me.”
Despite being utilised largely as a defender since breaking into City’s senior ranks, Atkinson progressed through junior football as primarily a midfielder with utility-capabilities.
This grounding and flexibility has eased his transition into the left-back role vacated by Jamieson, which not only carries with it defensive duties but also the responsibilities as the primary ‘inverted fullback’ – a wide defender that tucks into the midfield in an attempt to provide a numerical advantage – in Mombaerts’ system.
“The only thing that’s really new is that I’m on the left side,” Atkinson explained.
“It’s all the same, just on the left. I’m not left-footed but I’m enjoying it – I enjoy cutting inside and all of that sort of stuff.
“Obviously I’ve also got the experience in the midfield.
“As a young kid, you want to face the best. Last game I was against Josh Risdon and now I’m coming up against the other Socceroos right back in Rhyan Grant. It’s going to be a good test, but we’ve done it before and I think I can do it again – marshal them out.”
In contrast to the glittering success of their title-rivals, City is seeking their first A-League title on Sunday evening, with the 2016 FFA Cup the lone piece of silverware currently occupying the men’s trophy cabinet at the City Football Academy in Bundoora.
But despite the high stakes associated with the club’s first-ever Grand Final appearance, and the challenges associated with the club’s hub-based end to the season, Atkinson said that morale within the team was high.
“I think it just feels a lot more together,” he explained.
“I think everyone knows their roles and I think everyone gets along with each other. There’s no personality clashes or anything like that. It’s just a really enjoyable bunch of boys to be around, a bit of camaraderie. It’s been good.
“This year’s been tough, with all this COVID-19 stuff.
“It just had to be this year – coming all the way to Sydney and everything hasn’t been in our favour.
“It would have been good to play in front of a lot of fans, that’s what my mum messaged me – trust this year to be the one to win it; when I have to watch it on TV.”