Last week, Cameron Peupion became the 55th Australian to play in the Premier League. Before making his unforgettable bow for Brighton and Hove Albion, he spoke to KEEPUP’s Sacha Pisani.
Three years ago, Cameron Peupion was plucked from Sydney FC’s youth team by Brighton and Hove Albion without a single Isuzu UTE A-League appearance.
Now, he is a Premier League player.
From the northern beaches in Sydney, he is working with one of the sharpest minds in world football – Italian tactician Roberto De Zerbi – who has delivered European football for the first time in the club’s history, and he’s rubbing shoulders with a World Cup winner and some of the most talented and sought-after players on the planet.
Yet, the the time he spent developing in Australia is not lost on the 20-year-old sensation, who made his Premier League debut away to Newcastle United last week, particularly his time with Sydney FC.
Speaking to KEEPUP before becoming the 55th Australian to play in England’s top flight on Friday (AEST), he was asked if he was able to take anything with him from his time with the Sky Blues.
Peupion replied: “100%.
“The squad we had at Sydney… we ended up winning the NYL.
“Some really good players came from that like (Marco) Tilio, Jake Hollman, Pat Yazbek. I could name heaps of players who came from that NYL team. They are playing all over kind of Australia and Europe as well.
“It was super competitive every day, every training was as competitive as here (Brighton). Everyone wanted to win. It set you up really good… I came over here and it was the same environment in terms of playing wanting to push for the first team. Players wanting to push for the next level, always wanting to win training.
“They kind of instilled that in me at Sydney FC in the academy. It was a really good environment. I learned a lot from being there. It helped me transition into playing in England for sure.”
Peupion, who continues to watch the A-Leagues from afar, did not play in that 2019-20 youth league Grand Final he mentioned, a 5-1 rout of rivals Melbourne Victory.
A member of Sydney’s inaugural academy side as a 14-year-old, instead he was trialling with Brighton after impressing at the 2019 Under-17 FIFA Men’s World Cup in Brazil.
The Joeys reached the last 16 of that tournament, beaten 4-0 by eventual semi-finalists France in the knockout round with Trevor Morgan’s squad boasting the likes of Noah Botic, Adam Pavlesic, Yaya Dukuly, Michael Ruhs, Josh Rawlins, Jordan Courtney-Perkins and Izaack Powell.
“I always knew I wanted to go overseas, to England to progress my career,” he recalled of a time when Socceroos Maty Ryan and Aaron Mooy were playing for the Seagulls. “After the World Cup I knew some doors would potentially be opening to maybe go and trial. That was always the plan.
“Organising the whole trip, I found out Brighton were interested in me to go trial. At the time, two Aussies were there, so I was pretty excited. It seemed like a really good club and it was a club I was already following back home in Australia.
“Most Aussies kind of half follow Brighton. You have the main club you follow and then I was always checking if Aaron (Mooy) played or Maty (Ryan) was playing. Seeing how they were going. Just to say I was trialling there… I was buzzing.
“Had a good two-week trial here. Came back to Australia. COVID happened, so it was a stressful time… whether it was going to fall through or go ahead.”
That night at Forest Green & his senior bow under Potter
Peupion’s path to Brighton’s first team has been a steady process for a player who first arrived as a 17-year-old in the U18 outfit.
Last August, he was handed his first senior appearance by then-boss Graham Potter, who went on to manage Chelsea before being sacked in April.
Having caught the eye on the south coast, Peupion was in the squad for an EFL Cup second-round tie against Forest Green Rovers and he came off the bench, and even supplied an assist in a 3-0 triumph.
He followed in the footsteps of Ryan and Mooy to play for Brighton, while former NSL midfielder David Clarkson also featured for the Seagulls in the second division back in the 1990s.
“It was a couple of days before (the game). We were going to travel to Wolves with the U21s to play,” Peupion remembered. “A couple of us got told the day before we weren’t travelling.
“We were going to stay and train with the first team because you potentially might be involved in the Carabao Cup game. That was super exciting. You couldn’t really account for anything because you get told quite late but you knew you could be involved in a squad. You’re at it at training.
“Then the squad came out and your name is on there. You’re thinking, ‘oh my gosh potentially on the bench’. Then you’re on the bench. Just remember buzzing to be part of it. A dream I always had to be involved in professional football for a great club like Brighton.
“I was warming up just hoping my name would get called and it did. A dream come true.”
The night was capped with an assist for Evan Ferguson, who has gone on to establish himself in Brighton’s squad amid reported interest from the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Roma. He scored a double in the 3-1 win over relegated Southampton on Sunday to seal Albion’s spot in Europe.
“It was one of the last kicks of the game,” he recalled. “I was just running around most of the games trying to do something then managed to get my opportunity.
“Lucky there was a few of the boys who I’d played with quite a bit over the two seasons in the 23s. We all linked up for the goal, which was quite nice. We all celebrated together. It was a special goal.”
Peupion’s time with Potter was fascinating, but brief. The talented Englishman was eventually lured to Stamford Bridge by cashed-up Chelsea in September.
“You’d learn things and his way of coaching, his way of delivering his message,” he said.
“It’s a lot different to what happens now at Brighton but it was good. His man management was really good. (I) learned quite a bit when he was around.”
Starring for the U23s
It’s been a season of significant progress for Peupion.
He has taken the Premier League 2 by storm, especially in April after a blistering run of form.
Peupion scored a hat-trick against Alexander Robertson’s champions Manchester City, while he was also on target in clashes with Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal as he scooped Player of the Month honours.
He finished the month with six goals and three assists.
“Last season was my first season with the 23s and it was a big step. It took me a whole season,” Peupion said.
“I did quite well and then you get used to playing against these big teams. You just want to score goals, play well. We had a big run of games in terms of playing Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City.
“We were looking at those going it’s going to be a tough run. But we ended up winning three games and drawing two. I had a good month but you just went into every game wanting to win.
“We’re playing good football. We’re playing a similar style to the first team and it obviously works.”
Working with a footballing ‘genius’
His performances have obviously caught the eye of Brighton manager De Zerbi.
The Italian, who has previously led Shakhtar Donetsk and Sassuolo, has Brighton in Europe next season, with the FA Cup semi-finalists sixth heading into their remaining two fixtures.
De Zerbi had Peupion on the bench for games against Manchester United and Arsenal, before giving the Aussie his first taste of Premier League football in a 4-1 loss at the hands of Champions League hopefuls Newcastle United at St James’ Park.
Peupion was also on the bench against Southampton.
“He is unreal. He is a footballing genius really. He makes you think about football so different than what you’d ever even know,” the former Manly United junior said.
“You think you know football and then you have to sit in one of his meetings and (he) analyses a game, and it’s quite brilliant.
“He is quite crazy. He demands a lot from his players but it’s really enjoyable.”
A desperate dash to face Man Utd
Before his family huddled around a TV in Sydney to watch him replace goalscorer Deniz Undav in the 85th minute of Brighton’s trip to Newcastle, the first time Peupion had been called into a Premier League matchday squad was against Manchester United.
Peupion was among the substitutes as Alexis Mac Allister scored a dramatic 99th-minute penalty to sink the Red Devils at American Express Community Stadium.
“I got called up about two-and-a-half hours before the game. It was super, super late. It’s quite a funny story,” he recalled.
“I trained in the morning with the 21s, got a little haircut. I thought I was done for the day. Got home and was chilling out and then I got a phone call going, ‘get yourself down to the stadium, you’re going to be on the bench’.
“That was a rush of emotions. I was scrambling around my room getting my tracksuit on and then racing down to the stadium.
“What a game it was. All the boys were saying it was definitely a good first one. I’ll remember that one for sure.”
He added: “It was huge. The place was buzzing. Everyone was super happy but I think quite quickly, when you’re involved in a good team, everyone realises it’s a brilliant result and win but it’s straight back to work the next day because there’s a lot of hard games.”
Then, under the Newcastle lights on Thursday (local time), Peupion was thrust into the Premier League spotlight.
“The support from my family and friends back home in Sydney has been incredible.” said Peupion via Brighton’s official website. “Kick-off was at 4.30am for them but they were all up watching.
“To feel the support from the people I love back home was really special and I feel very lucky to have them all behind me from Australia.”
He continued: “It really was a dream come true. Obviously the result didn’t go the way we wanted so there were some mixed emotions but it’s definitely a night I’ll always remember. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity again.
“Everyone who grows up playing football dreams of playing in the Premier League so to be given that opportunity means a lot. I’ve been on the bench a couple of times and now I’m buzzing to have been put on the pitch.
“I have worked so hard this season to make the most of opportunities that have come my way. I’ve been playing regularly for the under-21s and have tried to play well, and that’s brought me my chance to work with the first team.
“I wasn’t sure if I would make my Premier League debut this year but people kept telling me to work hard, keep my head down and always be ready. I’m happy to have been given this opportunity and I’ll keep pushing now.”
Learning from Brighton’s stars
Peupion is part of a club that is currently the envy of teams across the world, not just for their style of football under De Zerbi, but their recruitment.
From Mac Allister – a World Cup winner with Argentina who has been linked to Liverpool and Manchester United – and Kaoru Mitoma to Arsenal target Moises Caicedo.
“It’s brilliant to be part of the team at the moment. They’re flying and pushing for European places. It’s a really exciting squad,” Peupion said.
“Some absolutely brilliant players at Brighton. Firstly, they’re just good people. No one is arrogant or big-headed. You have World Cup winners and players playing at the highest level, and they’re all just top guys to start off with.
“It helps you integrate into the team too. To see their mindsets and how they train everyday, it’s really interesting and inspiring.”
Peupion, who is in the Olyroos squad for next month’s iconic Maurice Revello Tournament in France and insisted Australia are going there to win it, is learning a lot from Brighton’s senior stars.
“Dealing with pressure. When you’re playing youth football, you don’t get big crowds, you don’t get that much attention in terms of when you’re playing,” he said.
“So how to block out the crowd, how to deal with when people give you abuse. Some of the boys will help the young players, which is nice.”
Alex Robertson was handed his Socceroos debut by Graham Arnold in an international friendly against Ecuador in March on the back of his fine form for Manchester City’s U23 side, though he is yet to play for Pep Guardiola’s first team.
The pair have gone head-to-head in Premier League 2. So, has Arnold been keeping tabs on Peupion?
“I’m not too sure. I haven’t really spoken to him much. Just trying to do my thing,” he insisted.
“Head down, play football. Let my football do the talking and then we will see what happens.”