‘Very surreal’: Why the hype won’t hassle Nieuwenhof after dream debut

Calem Nieuwenhof's mind is racing. Almost totally unknown two months ago, he is now the protagonist of one of the A-League's most compelling storylines. His phone has been on the receiving end of so many well-wishes it's a wonder it hasn't melted.

But Sydney FC's newest star is confident he won't get swept up in the hype surrounding his start to life as a professional footballer, which peaked on Saturday with a long-distance pearler on his league debut.

Calem Nieuwenhof was mobbed by his teammates after scoring his first A-League goal on Saturday.Credit:Getty

A spot in the reigning champions' starting XI is now his to lose after another terrific performance in central midfield and a goal he will remember for the rest of his life.

The 19-year-old wasn't expecting teammate Joel King to pass him the ball after a recycled corner kick midway through the first half of Sydney's 2-1 win over Wellington Phoenix.

"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.

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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