How City ‘held their nerve’ in Tilio dealing as Celtic make ‘mega investment’ in rising Socceroo

A year ago European clubs were circling, but stopped just short of tabling the kind of money required to get one of Australia’s hottest young attacking talents over the line.

There was no doubt this year, with Marco Tilio’s numbers and Socceroos breakthrough convincing Celtic he was worth the investment that only recently European clubs baulked at for Isuzu UTE A-League talent.

Melbourne City’s sale to the Scottish giants, believed to be in excess of $2 million, means the Australian outbound transfer record has been broken for the second time in a month, eclipsing City and Socceroos teammate Jordan Bos’ Westerlo sale.

The successive records come after the previous one stood for 28 years, held by ex-Socceroos and AC Milan keeper Zeljko Kalac, who was sold from Sydney United to Leicester City for $1.7m.

While Melbourne City’s long-term investment in the youth academy is paying off, it justifies a recent A-League trend – led by City – to invest in young players and pay them a higher wage, in the hope of reaping a bigger transfer fee.

It won’t always work, but in the case of Tilio and Bos, it has paid off in spades for City.

READ: Marco Tilio completes record move to Scottish champs Celtic & here are the details

A Tilio type 10 years ago probably would’ve been sold last year for a lesser fee. But City’s investment meant that City football chief Michael Petrillo held the bargaining power, and they held their nerve.

Now their patience has been repaid in spades on and off the pitch, with Tilio departing having made some impact in his three years since City poached him from arch enemy Sydney FC.

His 86 appearances in all competitions, included 20 goals, 19 assists, three Premierships, a Championship, the 2020/21 City rising star award, a 2022/23 PFA Team of the Season nomination, en rote to seven Socceroos caps and an Olympics berth.

But it was his 2022/23 numbers that sealed the deal, in a season where he entrenched himself as a bona fide first XI player and star.

His 10 goals and five assists in 29 appearances and 25 starts convinced European clubs that he was ready for the move and mega investment, with his 2093 minutes a decent uplift from his 1402 last campaign.

The late Qatar 2022 call up, for injured Martin Boyle, didn’t hurt either, ditto his March selection and appearances against Ecuador off the back of the Socceroos reaching the Round of 16.

Don’t underestimate the influence of Ange Postecoglou in this deal either.

Whilst Brendan Rodgers rubber-stamped the signing, the seeds were in fact sown a year ago when Ange Postecoglou considered signing Tilio at Parkhead.

Over the past two years, Postecoglou has helped reshape the views of Australian players and Aussie football in Scotland, and to an extent Europe.

His move to Spurs should reshape the narrative in England and Europe more broadly.

The impressive cohort of Aussie players in Scotland, many of whom have transitioned straight from the A-League, has also helped, headlined by Keanu Baccus (St Mirren) and Kye Rowles (Hearts).

Rodgers’ expansive style will suit the skilful attacker, Tilio will relish working under Socceroos great Harry Kewell whose one on one work with Celtic attackers Daizen Mazda and Jota has helped both players take their game to a new level.

Tilio, who turns 22 in August, has been aware of negotiations taking place behind the scenes, but remained focused on his performances.

Asked last season (2021/22) about the prospect of being sold for over $1m, Tilio was unfazed.

“Whatever the figure is, it’s got nothing to do with me. I don’t think about those types of things. I just think about performing.” Tilio said.

“I guess as a player you always want to be your best self. When the opportunity comes (to be sold overseas), whether it comes or doesn’t, I just want to continually perform.

“I guess at times you can feel the pressure just in general, being a young player in a good environment as I am here at City with the quality of the players we have pressure.

“The pressure on me I kind of put on myself. I know my ability and what I’m able to do. So the biggest thing for me, just be confident when I’m playing, as long as I’m confident, I think I’ll do reasonably well.”

Another test of Tilio’s character was his initial non-selection in the Socceroos’ 26-man squad for Qatar.

Tilio was said to be devastated. He followed the setback up with an electric performance, including an assist for Jamie Maclaren, in Melbourne City’s win at Newcastle Jets.

He was called up to be on standby for injured Martin Boyle, and his selection in the final squad only happened at the 11th hour.

That resilience holds him in good stead for Celtic and Europe, because setbacks are a right of passage for young Aussie exports, dating back to the “golden generation”.

But this latest generation are writing their own history for their A-League clubs and country, with the pint-sized dynamo set to dazzle in Europe.