Young Gun – James Virgili


James Virgili has the envious statistic of being the youngest player to take the field in Hyundai A-League history, but he’s also determined not to just be remembered for his age.

Newcastle Jets winger James Virgili has the envious statistic of being the youngest player to take the field in Hyundai A-League history, but he’s also determined not to just be remembered for his age.

Virgili was just 16 years old (16 and 180 days to exact) when then coach Gary van Egmond called him up from the Jets Youth team to make his senior debut off the bench against Wellington Phoenix in January 2009.

Virgili made a dozen or so appearances for the Jets under the coaching of Branko Culina earning a senior contract. He has also found favour with van Egmond returning to the fold this season, featuring off the bench three times in the club’s six matches so far this season.

“At the time it is always good to have that stat about being the youngest player in the history of the Hyundai A-League but I try not to think about it too much,” Vigili says. “I am still trying to make an impact in the game off the bench.”

Still only 19, Virgili is shining example of sourcing talent from the local area. His father is the son of an Italian immigrant with a love of football. He played for the famous KB United Youth Team back in the ’80s and before lining up for a host of other Newcastle clubs and now coaches Broadmeadow Magic in the State League.

Young James grew up playing for local clubs before being spotted and signed to the Jets youth team.

“My dad got me into the game, I was kicking a ball around since I could walk,” says the softly spoken teenager.

“I played for South Wallsend as a junior then I progressed to Newcastle Port Stephens then Swiss and then the Jets.”

“I was born here and grew up here and love playing for the Jets. I really would like to play all my time here and being at home it just makes it easier.”

Van Egmond, who recognised Virgili’s talent early believes the teenager has a positive future ahead of him, provided he can continue to develop as a player.

“The one thing James has is pace and you can-t replace pace,” van Egmond says of Virgili.

“He still has to get better in recognising his position so whether he is staying outside in a wide area or whether he is looking to come inside and link up are probably the couple of areas where he can get better.”

“And because he is in a front third area the other thing he needs to do score goals, not only provide them, so he needs to keep consistently working on that.”

“But he has a fabulous attitude, his mentality is great and his work ethic is fantastic, so if we can get that combined with him becoming technically and tactically more proficient he has got a good future.”

Virgili is equally complementary when speaking of his coach, who has looked after most of the youngster’s recent career.

“I had Gary as coach when he was here and I was in the youth team and he was the one who gave me that opportunity to play in that first game back against Wellington,’ Virgili says.

“I find him good here. He brings a lot of intensity to the sessions and tries to get the best out of everyone and we have learnt a lot from him.”

After his impressive early start in the Hyundai A-League, Virgili was drafted into the Australian Under 17s team later that year. He made a dozen or so starts and caught the eye of scouts at Scottish club Celtic who invited him over to trial with their Under 19s side, an experience he described at the time as ‘amazing’.

And while he is didn’t earn a contract that time around Virgili harbours dreams of playing overseas sometime in his career.

“In the future I would like to go overseas, that is definitely a dream of mine, as it is with every young player,’ he says.

“I support Manchester United but I think that is out of the picture at the moment, I would have to go a lower team first I think,’ he laughs.

“I also love the way Barcelona play but I have grown up watching the EPL because it is better marketed here.”

But for the moment the 19-year-old is happy to progress his football knowledge in Newcastle.

“I enjoy my time in the youth league, my type of game is getting at people and you get a fair bit of space to take on people and players seeing what I can do,” he says.

“But playing in the senior team brings a lot more confidence as you get used to training every day and the environment.”

“You get less time on the ball compared to youth league so your decision time has to be quicker, so you improve as a player.”

“My pace and fitness are probably my biggest assets and that helps me a lot as I play out wide so getting up and down that line on the right is the goal.”

“Tarek Elrich and I work well together on the right and we communicate well and he helps me out a lot.”

“I have a two-year contract here and in that time I would like to try and have a good year for myself where I am getting into the side week in, week out and start to make an impact on the league.”