Meet the 19-year-old who’s gone from unknown to ‘future Socceroo’ in 10 weeks

At the start of 2024, very few football fans would have heard of Hayden Matthews. Fast forward three months and the young central defender has established himself as one of the best young defenders in Australia and is now being touted as a future Socceroo. The 19-year-old spoke to’s James Dodd.


In the midst of every crisis, lies an opportunity. For Hayden Matthews, his opportunity came in the form of injuries to his teammates and he grabbed it with both hands.

After making his senior debut for Sydney FC in their Round 13 win over Newcastle, Matthews was then thrust into the deep end with fellow central defenders Jack Rodwell and Gabriel Lacerda sidelined due to injury.

Since starting for the club in their 2-2 draw with Western United back in early February, Matthews has gone on to become a central figure for Talay’s team, featuring in 11 games in a row, the latest of those being a 2-1 win over the Wanderers in the Sydney Derby.

“Games like these, they’re the games you want to play in right?” said Matthews, speaking to after the match.

“For me personally, I feel like I live for these types of games and you feed off the energy that the crowd gives you.

“Uffie (Ufuk Talay) has put a lot of trust in me recently, to keep me in the team when other players have been fit due to performances. I feel like I owe a lot of gratitude to him and I want to thank him for that.”

It’s clear to see why Talay has put his trust in the young central defender.

Two incidents inside the first 10 minutes of a frenetic contest against the Wanderers highlighted Matthews’ qualities in what was another accomplished performance from the academy graduate.

Despite being second favourite in a foot race against Western Sydney winger Dylan Pierias on two separate occasions, the tall centre-half showcased his deceptive pace and excellent positioning to twice get the better of his opponent and nullify the Wanderers’ threat whilst also producing a goal-saving block on the approach to half time.

“Hayden has been sensational since he’s come in,” said Sydney FC boss Ufuk Talay when discussing Matthews’ performance in the Derby. “He’s still a young kid, still learning.

MATCH REPORT: Scenes! 98th-minute mayhem as Kucharski seals Sydney Derby thriller with dramatic late winner

“What we try to do is simplify the game for him as much as we can and let him find the solutions at times within the game.

“The great thing with Hayden is he’s a big lad and gives us that presence at the back. He’s quick as well for the size that he is, he covers the ground quite well… he’s a very composed central defender.”

Asked whether or not he believes Matthews has what it takes to become a fully fledged Socceroo, Talay didn’t mince his words when discussing the club’s prodigious young talent.

“Yeah definitely, if he continues down the same path. The biggest thing for us is are we going to be able to keep him for a long time? That’s the most important thing.”

Sydney FC head coach Ufuk Talay on Hayden Matthews being a future Socceroo.

Having penned his first senior contract soon after making his professional debut, Matthews is now tied to the club until the end of the 2026-27 season. However, with interest in the teenager already becoming apparent from clubs in Europe, Talay’s comments clearly speak to the fact Sydney FC have a special player on their hands.

That being said, the 19-year-old certainly isn’t getting ahead of himself and remains focused on perfecting the basics as he bids to maintain his place in a Sydney side now gunning for silverware.

“I’ve learned so much, all the boys have been so great, so good to me,” said Matthews.

“Especially playing next to Rhino (Rhyan Grant), Bratts (Luke Brattan), players who have been at the club for a while and played a lot of games.”

He continued: “They’ve really helped me with their experience and they’ve really helped me see what I can do on the field and helped me progress as a player myself.”

Despite growing up watching Italian icon Alessandro Del Piero star for Sydney FC it was another European World Cup winner who Matthews would go on to idolise and base his game off, especially as it became clear his size would lead him to play in a different position.

“I always really enjoyed watching Gerard Pique when I was growing up,” revealed Matthews when asked which defenders he based his game on.

“And obviously more recently (Liverpool’s) Virgil Van Dijk.

“But within the club, Alex Wilkinson. He’s a real leader on the pitch and one of the best centre backs the club has ever had.”

Jaiden Kucharski’s 98th minute winner in the Derby not only ensured the Sky Blues retained bragging rights over their rivals but, more importantly, ensured Ufuk Talay’s team secured their spot in the league’s top six with two games to spare.

MUST READ: Coach reveals truth about Irankunda call-up in response every Aussie football fan should hear

But while finals glory with Sydney FC is undoubtedly the aim for Matthews this season the teenager says he’d love to represent the A-League All Stars team against Premier League side Newcastle United at the end of May should the Grand Final prove to be beyond reach.

“That would be an unreal experience,” said Matthews when discussing the prospect of potentially featuring for the All Stars.

“To be nominated for that would be special. To get that recognition from the fans and from the people who decide those teams would be an unreal experience.”

Next up for Matthews is an away trip to finals-chasing Macarthur FC on Saturday night where a win for the Sky Blues would guarantee them a top four finish in the league and with it, a home elimination final.