Sydney FC’s Calem Nieuwenhof hails surreal debut


“But as soon as the ball came to me there was really only one thing on my mind, which was to have a go,” Nieuwenhof said.

“I didn’t need a second invitation – [Wellington’s defenders] were backing off, so they did give me quite a bit of space to run forward first, get a bit closer and then … I just hit it and definitely wasn’t expecting it to go in, but was very happy.

Calem Nieuwenhof scores a goal on debut for Sydney FC.Credit:Fox Sports

“It’s been very surreal. I couldn’t believe it, to be honest. I’ve had a lot of messages from friends and everyone just showing a lot of support. It’s been great, I couldn’t have asked for a better debut and goal.”

A kid from the northern beaches who grew up watching A-League games among the Cove, Nieuwenhof has been training with Sydney’s first team for a year, and was handed his first crack at senior football in their recent AFC Champions League campaign.

Calem Nieuwenhof celebrates his maiden senior goal with Luke Brattan, the player he’s trying to model his game on.Credit:Getty

He played every minute of all four matches the Sky Blues played in Qatar, acquitting himself brilliantly against some of Asian football’s biggest names – “something special”, according to coach Steve Corica, for such a young player.

“It was a massive learning experience for me,” Nieuwenhof said.

“In my first game, for example, coming up against Australia’s best midfielder in Aaron Mooy, just learning off him and the other big players in those big Asian teams like Hulk and Oscar … that was insane.

“I get a bit nervous… but then as soon as the game starts that all goes away. You just focus. The team I’m playing around has so much experience and quality. I’m learning so much off them.”

He is learning the most from Luke Brattan, his midfield partner against the Phoenix, whom he regards as arguably the A-League’s best in his position and a player he tries to model his game on.

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Nieuwenhof’s nickname is ‘Sleepy’, because his laconic nature often has his teammates wondering if he’s ever actually awake. That should hold him in good stead for everything that’s about to come his way, so long as he carries on his career in the manner he has started it.

“After the game all the coaches and Bimbi (Corica) included were congratulating me a lot on the goal,” Nieuwenhof said.

“Everyone was just mostly very happy with the three points. But [they were also saying] the main thing for me is to just stay focused on the rest of the season, not get too carried away with one game.

“I’m definitely doing my best to keep myself grounded. I’m pretty laid back so I don’t think I’ll have many issues. I’m very happy it happened and everything but I’m just looking forward to keeping on going with the team.

“I just want to play as many minutes as possible and help the team win the championship eventually.”

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Sydney FC rookie Calem Nieuwenhof scores stunner on debut in 2-1 win over Wellington Phoenix


Nieuwenhof, who is a product of Sydney’s northern beaches, found himself with time and space about five metres out from the edge of the Phoenix penalty area at WIN Stadium in Wollongong. No Phoenix player seemed to be in a rush to close him down, so he took a touch, moved forward and unleashed.

From the moment it left his boot, the ball looked destined for the top corner. It floated beautifully in the air past a helpless Stefan Marinovic, the New Zealand international goalkeeper, and rifled into the back of the net.

Luke Brattan’s free kick goal also shouldn’t be sniffed at.Credit:Fox Sports

And so a star was born. This A-League season was always going to be about the emergence of a new generation of young players, but it’s worth getting out to see Nieuwenhof while you still can, because he seems bound for bigger and better things very soon.

“He’s putting his hand up to play every week and he’s doing a great job at the moment. We want him to keep improving,” coach Steve Corica said.

Youngster Calem Nieuwenhof celebrates his goal against the Phoenix.Credit:Getty

“We want him to dominate in the midfield and I thought he did that in patches today with Brattsy [Luke Brattan]. He’s pretty laid back, nothing really seems to faze him too much and it showed again today.

“I don’t think it will harm him, a bit of praise – he knows he’s doing a good job, but it’s the first game of the season and there’s a long way to go. He just needs to keep doing what he’s doing now.”

Nieuwenhof’s goal wasn’t the only stunner scored on Saturday. Midfield partner Brattan also produced a 30-metre pearler of a free kick midway through the second half to seal a deserved victory for the reigning A-League champions, who have made a typically impressive start to their hunt for a record third consecutive grand final win.

In between those two strikes was one that Fox Sports’ cameras failed to pick up because of a technical glitch – Wellington’s equaliser.

It was a passage of play that Sydney’s defence would like to see erased from the public’s collective memory, too, as Mirza Muratovic bundled home a rather innocuous cross from the right flank under little to no pressure, his effort trickling across Andrew Redmayne and going in off the left upright.

The Phoenix fielded a weakened starting team, with star recruit Tomer Hemed and new captain Ulises Davila introduced off the bench because of fitness concerns. But they should grow into the new season – a bit like they grew into this match – and to their credit, the Kiwis kept pushing for a second goal. They thought they had one in added time through Davila, but it was rightly chalked off by the VAR for offside.

“We finished strong towards the end,” coach Ufuk Talay said. “It took two really good goals to beat us, but overall, with the performance and the way the boys finished off I’m pretty pleased. But I’m obviously not pleased with the result.”

Saturday’s game, however, will be remembered for one moment from one player in particular, and for Australia’s sake, it’s hopefully just the first of many more highlights to come.

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