Moments can define footballers. They can build them up or tear them down, earn a big contract or have one terminated, transform them into a mythic hero or the protagonist in a cautionary tale.
Often, though, moments reinforce what we already know about a player. Marco Tilio’s talent had been evident throughout this A-League season, particularly in the second half when he became a regular starter. That was reconfirmed during the smallest sliver of play late in Melbourne City’s grand final win, about seven seconds somewhere between the 70th and 71st minute.
It begins when Nuno Reis floats a pass across field. Tilio, at the top of the box, can’t quite bring it down with his left boot and sets off in chase as the ball races towards the touchline. He should not be able to catch it from that distance, let alone keep it in play. Yet he does, and then defies biomechanics by twisting back his leg back to trap the ball and stop it dead just shy of the line as his body, wrapped up in full-throttle forward momentum, hurtles well past it. Within the next couple of seconds he is not only back on his feet but also back with the ball some metres in the other direction, all in time to evade an incoming Sydney FC player and distribute an accurate pass.
It was a ‘wow’ moment to worship. In the context of his specific club, it was also one which made it clear this is a sellable star. The City Football Group talent factory may already have plans for its latest bright young thing (Tilio is far from the only City player in this category), and even if it does not, the ‘buy, loan out and then sell’ cogs must surely be turning inside somebody’s head over in Manchester.
Suffice to say it won’t be the desired course of action for Melbourne City manager Patrick Kisnorbo, who will seek to keep his premiership-championship-double-winning roster together to solidify the dynasty he appears to have built (with some help from the departed Erick Mombaerts).
The 19-year-old signed a three-year deal with City during the off-season from, as it happened, Sydney. He arrived having played a total 12 minutes of senior football acquired over three appearances off the bench for the Sky Blues during the preceding campaign. On Sunday he finished his first season with his new club with a further 1,032 minutes from 22 games including 10 starts.
One of those was in last weekend’s semi-final against Macarthur FC, a 2-0 win in which he assisted the first (for Stefan Colakovski, another head-turner at 21) and scored the second.
“That was the goal coming over to Melbourne – I knew I’d get opportunity, and it has come,” Tilio told AAP last week. “I just wanted to put my best foot forward when I’d get the opportunities to play. Just building confidence and performing were my biggest targets.”
So deep now is Kisnorbo’s squad that what happens to Tilio’s match minutes next season is anyone’s guess, especially as City have now added Socceroos forward Mathew Leckie to a glut of attacking riches which are far outnumbering spaces on the field.
But perhaps this is the club’s A-League point of difference, that Andrew Nabbout and Craig Noone can both be lost to injury and Jamie Maclaren to the Socceroos and there are other resources ready (by virtue of Kisnorbo’s brutal training regime) and waiting (for a chance to put it into practice).
Another standout example is Nathaniel Atkinson, the 22-year-old fullback shifted forward to fill in on the wing for both finals and returning a Joe Marston Medal-winning grand final performance that included a goal and a tireless workrate eliciting several chances.
Another? Stefan Colakovski, the 21-year-old regular substitute with three starts in his whole career thrown into the XI for both finals who, like Tilio, scored and assisted against Macarthur.
Add this depth to City’s regular starting XI, the domain of Maclaren and his national teammates Curtis Good and Connor Metcalfe, of equanimous Frenchman Florin Berenguer, fiery captain Scott Jamieson and quietly achieving Aiden O’Neill.
Until Sunday, Sydney were the benchmark of success. They epitomised the big-game experience and team culture coveted by all others. Steve Corica’s Sky Blues are still there, but for the first time in a long time there is a rival just as good in all departments and craving the long-term success it could bring.
“I want you to enjoy tonight, and I’m sure you will. But listen, understand something: after tomorrow, it’s finished,” Kisnorbo told his players after the game.
“Understand, for [us] to kick on … we’ve got to promise ourselves we won’t let this feeling go. So next year, you’re going to have to work twice as hard, because we were the hunter, now we’re the hunted.
“And to stay at the maximum levels, you boys need to keep pushing … always. Never forget that. We want long term, we want the future, and the way to your future is to keep going, and going, and going.”
Just like Tilio on that ball – if he still in Australia.