The past year has been one of hard work and rising through the ranks of Victorian football for Thomas Deng.
Deng began 2014 in the under 20s side of Victorian National Premier League outfit Green Gully. He’s now playing in the youth team of arguably the biggest club in the A-League in Melbourne Victory, while edging closer to his senior debut as well as gaining a national team call up with the Young Socceroos.
Not bad for a kid who just turned 18.
Deng’s rise through the Victorian leagues has coincided with the full back popping up on the radar of Young Socceroos head coach Paul Okon.
With the Young Socceroos to play three friendlies in May, Deng’s inclusion in upcoming training camps as preparation for the games is likely.
“It’s very exciting to have that opportunity,” Deng said.
“He [Okon] watched a few of my youth league games and [a few] weeks ago they contacted Paul Trimboli, our operations manager, and they said they wanted to invite me to the camp in a few weeks”.
A Young Socceroos call up on the horizon is just one of the opportunities which has presented itself to the teenager in 2015.
Just last month, a number of national team call ups in the Victory senior team meant coach Kevin Muscat had to dip into the club’s youth league stocks. With three full backs missing, Deng was named in the squad to take on the Central Coast Mariners – and potentially make his A-League debut.
When asked about the prospect of playing in the A-League, Deng was incredibly level-headed.
“There’s certainly going to be nerves but I reckon I just need to relax, do what I need to do, and just focus on the game.”
He and three other youth players – Kieran Dover, George Howard and Joey Katebian – spent the week training with the senior side.
“It’s exciting to be part of the team,” he said.
“It’s been a tough week. The result in Adelaide, they didn’t really want to get that result so this week’s been very tough on us,” Deng said following Victory’s recent 2-2 draw at Coopers Stadium.
Deng was an unused substitute in a crucial 2-1 home win for the Victory over the Mariners. Despite spending only a short amount of time with the senior squad, Deng spoke highly of Muscat and his coaching.
“People think that he [Muscat] is a bit scary, but he’s a genuine guy. He’s taught me a lot of stuff that I never knew – positioning, everything”.
Before joining the Victory ranks, Deng spent a year at Green Gully. It was here that he played as a midfielder in the under 20s side led by current first team head coach Bob Stojcevski.
Deng had never played at full back prior to his arrival at Gully, but his first game in the position was heralded by the Green Gully coaching staff as one of his best ever games. The switch then became permanent and his rise up the ranks at the club began.
“When I was at Green Gully, just last year, a few injuries happened so I was called up from the under 20s side to play as a left and right full back and yeah, I think it’s been going well ever since.”
“[It was a] very good experience there [at Green Gully]. Especially getting 13 games in the National Premier League.”
The year at Green Gully led to Deng being picked up by Melbourne Victory to play in the club’s National Youth League (NYL) and National Premier League teams. With the NYL season concluding last month and the NPL 1 East running from February to September this year, there is no shortage of football coming up for Deng.
All this game time in two different leagues is exposing the 18-year-old to all styles of football and consequently helping to improve his game.
“The National Youth League is more technical, I would say, and the National Premier League is more physical,” he said.
“I think we’re coping well [against the older, more physical players] especially because of our coach Darren Davies, the structure we play really helps us out a lot. It’s just about the physicality that we need to get used to.”
Although he is young, Deng has a very good head on his shoulders. Like most aspiring footballers, he dreams of longevity and success at home and overseas. But most of all he just wants to play football.
“I’ve been playing since I was about six years old… [My parents] At one stage, they weren’t too sure if I should keep going because of school and that but it’s my passion and I love it.”