Jets unearth gem and his rapid rise has been “surreal”

Clayton Taylor is in the midst of his first Isuzu UTE A-League season and the talented Newcastle Jets attacker is catching the eye. He speaks to aleagues.com.au.

This time last year, Clayton Taylor was watching A-Leagues matches on TV. Now, the exciting prospect is making waves in the competition.

“It’s all very surreal,” he told aleagues.com.au.

It has been a breakout season for the Newcastle Jets attacker. After swapping Sydney FC for the Hunter region ahead of the 2023-24 campaign, he has emerged as one of the Isuzu UTE A-League’s most exciting players.

The 19-year-old – who dreams of playing for the Socceroos – had been a standout for Sydney’s youth team in NPLW NSW, scoring six goals in 18 appearances last season, though he had never tasted a minute of A-Leagues football with the Sky Blues.

That has changed for Taylor in Newcastle. In his rookie season, he has scored three goals in nine matches, including a memorable double off the bench away to unbeaten Melbourne Victory. He has eyes on reaching double digits.

“I’d still like to think of myself as kind of young. Moving out of home for the first time is quite daunting,” he said. “Luckily Newcastle is quite close to Sydney, so it’s not too much of a jump but it’s something I took with both hands.

“If you get given the chance to make that step and get your first professional contract, you’re going to jump at it.”

An integral part of Taylor’s success at McDonald Jones Stadium has been head coach Robert Stanton.

Stanton is renowned for his work with young players, developing some of the most exciting talents in Australian football during his time at Sydney FC.

From the likes of Marco Tilio (Celtic) and Cammy Devlin (Hearts), to Cameron Peupion (Brighton and Hove Albion). Taylor is now benefiting from working with the former Sky Blues youth coach.

“Most players usually go through the ranks of their boyhood club – through the academy and then get a scholarship there… But I had to change clubs and move away from home,” he reflected.

Tickets for Saturday’s match at home against Western United can be pre-purchased here.

“It’s nice to have someone like Robbie. Someone I already knew. Robbie has a lot of faith in me.

“He believes in me. He knows what my abilities can be and how good I can become. But it’s up to me to take that step up, to show it and perform consistently.”

Taylor is an example of where the Jets are heading under Stanton, with an emphasis on youth.

The ex-Sydney youth coach and assistant is in his first season at the helm in the Hunter after replacing Arthur Papas in the off-season and there have been promising signs.

But with any young team, there are up and downs. However, with Stanton, he is steadfast with his belief in his group of up-and-coming talents.

“It gives you that drive and passion to go out there and get a result for him,” Taylor said. “If he is backing you off the pitch and playing you week in, week out, you need to go out there and have his back on the pitch because he is putting his neck out on the chopping block for us.

“We need to take that and back him, and show everyone he knows what he is doing.”

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA – DECEMBER 16: Clayton Taylor of the Jets controls the ball during the A-League Men round 8 match between Newcastle Jets and Perth Glory at McDonald Jones Stadium, on December 16, 2023, in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Taylor, who idolised eight-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi growing up, added: “He is very knowledgeable and calm. He interacts well with all the players on and off the pitch. Some coaches, your only relationship with them is out on the pitch but he has a great vibe with all the lads.

“That helps us bond as a group and have more cohesion that when we do go out to play, we know what we’re doing and we play better knowing we can connect off the pitch like we’re a big family.”

The Jets have already shown they can match it with the best this season, having stunned league-leading Wellington Phoenix 3-0 away from home in Round 7.

Newcastle, who have not made the finals since 2017-18, were also unfortunate not to beat high-flying Western Sydney Wanderers after surrendering a two-goal lead in a thrilling 2-2 draw last month.

“All the boys have that belief. From the glimpses we have shown – beating Wellington and stuff, we can beat any top team. There is no team in the league that is untouchable for us,” Taylor said, with the Jets four points outside the top six.

“We are up there and can rival that but it’s about having that consistency to do it week in and week out like all the teams at the top of the ladder. Not having a good result one week and then having a few losses. It’s about doing it week in, week out to make a good push for a higher position.

“The fact we can beat Wellington and rival any team in the competition on our day shows we can make finals and perform well in finals. It’s about doing it consistently to get there.”

This article first appeared on aleagues.com.au