If there is one thing the 2020/2021 season of the A-League will be remembered for, it’s the sheer amount of opportunities that were given to youth, with an incredible 48.7 percent of all players to feature in the league being aged 23 or under.
One young player who broke on to the scene last season was Western Sydney Wanderers defender Thomas Aquilina.
The 20-year-old Aquilina has been part of the Western Sydney Wanderers set up for several years, having been a part of the Wanderers Academy since its inception in 2015, where he worked his way up through the ranks over the last six years, after starting in the club’s U15s squad.
“They get you ready for the professional environment so you’ve got to be ready every training session, every game, to go 100 percent, so you can go up the ranks a lot quicker” said Aquilina.
While featuring for the Wanderers reserve squad in the NPL, Aquilina’s superb performances would eventually leading to him catching the eye of the then-new Australia Under-20s head coach Gary Van Egmond, being named in his inaugural 30-man squad for a training camp at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.
Aquilina would make the step up to the clubs senior side and make his professional debut for Western Sydney Wanderers in round one of the 2020/21 A-League season against the newly founded Macarthur FC, coming off the bench as a 74th minute substitution for Tate Russell in a 1-0 defeat.
Although the result didn’t go the way his side wanted, Aquilina attracted praise from Wanderers fans for his energetic runs forward and his work rate during his debut performance off the bench.
“It’s something that I have worked for, for a long time, so when the gaffer said that I was going to be on the bench, I was just happy with that and I was just happy training with them.
Knowing that I was going to maybe even get the opportunity to play, but then when I did.. It’s something you work for, so it was a very happy moment for me.”
It wasn’t just the fans who were impressed with Aquilina, but manager Carl Robinson as well, who rewarded him for his stellar debut performance with a starting spot for the Wanderers next match, a round two clash against Robinson’s former side Newcastle Jets, this time playing as a left-back.
“As soon as the gaffer (Carl Robinson) comes in, you could already see that he invested a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of patience into the young footballers at every club he has been at, so I knew I’d eventually get a run.
“I didn’t expect it would come as early as round one, but I’ll definitely take that.”
Aquilina would go from strength to strength in the 2020/21 season, quickly becoming a regular starter for the Wanderers and one of the first names on Carl Robinson’s team sheet, he would go on to feature 23 times during the season, with 18 of those appearances being starts.
While his club Western Sydney would have a disappointing season after finishing 8th and missing out on finals football, on a personal level Aquilina had incredible break out season, and has already cemented himself as one of the best young players in the A-League.
With five inclusions in the team of the week and two man of the match performances, including one in his impressive showing during the Wanderers 3-2 Sydney Derby win in Round 19, it is safe to say that Aquilina has hit the ground running so far in his A-League career.
However, after such an impressive season, the talented young defender is now focused on strengthening aspects of his game, to build upon his incredible first season of professional football.
“I know I had a fair few opportunities in front of goal that I could’ve or maybe I should’ve done better to capitalise on.
“I just want to be more aggressive going forward, I’m going to do that this year and I think I’m going to get a lot of success off it.
“I think I can take a lot from season one, into season two and progress even more in my game, obviously I want to start every game and be available for my team every weekend.”
Image Supplied: Western Sydney Wanderers