JAMES Virgili will become the youngest player in A-League history if, as expected, he makes his Newcastle Jets debut against Wellington tomorrow in New Zealand.
The string-bean left-winger will be 16 years and 180 days old, breaking the record of Jets teammate Ben Kantarovski, who was 16 years and 208 days when he debuted against the Central Coast in the opening game of this season.
Virgili, who has just completed Year 10 at St Francis Xavier high school, will likely come off the bench against the Phoenix and could be joined on the field by fellow youth team member Brodie Mooy.
If they see game time, they will be the 23rd and 24th players used by Gary van Egmond in a season which has gone from bad to abysmal.
The coach has already been forced to pluck strikers Marko Jesic and Sean Rooney from youth league this season, although Jesic has since succumbed to a serious knee injury.
Four of the 16-man squad heading to Wellington are from the club's youth team, and senior squad member Kantarovski is still only 16.
Not that Virgili is worrying about any of that.The son of respected Northern NSW coach Robert Virgili said he would not change his approach to the game, despite taking on men twice his age.``
I have trained quite a bit with the senior squad this season,'' he said yesterday.
``I'll take the same approach to youth league. If I get a chance, just try and be positive, take defenders on and see what I can do.
"I had a chat to Dad. He told me to be confident and back myself."
Pencil-thin and sporting braces, Virgili looks every bit his age.
He worships Manchester United and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Take him away from his school mates and you are lucky to get boo out of him, but put him on a football pitch and it is a different scenario.
Virgili is not the only fresh face to make the trip across the Tasman.
Youth league striker Mooy and keeper Ben McNamara are also in the squad.
Mooy, 18, replaced Shaun Ontong, who succumbed to an ankle injury yesterday.
McNamara will act as the back-up to Ante Covic after Justin Pasfield had passport problems. Regular reserve keeper Ben Kennedy is on the mend from an ankle injury.
The addition of the teenagers gives the Jets an average age of 22 for the clash against the Phoenix.
"I think, for them to understand exactly how things work when we do go away, it will be a good learning experience," van Egmond said.
"Young Virgili will definitely be in the [final 15-man] squad.
"He is only tiny, but it is a game where you can't go out and belt someone.
"His forte is playing wide on the wing and going past people. I think, 15 to 20 minutes out from full-time, he could cause them a lot of problems. He is very, very quick.
"He gets in behind people and can go past people, which is something we have lacked. He does that quite naturally. In a perfect world we would have older players doing that right here and now. For a number of different reasons we have not got those players, and it gives this young boy a chance."
Virgili was close to earning a call-up for the road trip to Perth this season only for van Egmond to change his mind at the last moment.
Mooy has two years and about 15 kilograms on Virgili. A Marconi junior, the powerful attacker was a member of the NSW Institute of Sport squad alongside Jets teammates Jesic and 19-year-old Jason Naidovski, who is also out injured for the season.
He completed his Higher School Certificate this year at St Patrick's College, Dundas, scoring 97 in his University Admissions Index.
"Brodie is a big lump," van Egmond said. "He does not realise how big and strong he is at times.
"He is a pretty smart bloke; for someone with the nickname Jethro [off 1970s TV show The Beverly Hillbillies] you would not think that is the case.
"He has a lot of talent and it is a matter of him showing that week in and week out, not only in games but also on the training pitch."
Despite the young line-up, van Egmond stressed it was the senior players who he would rely upon against Wellington, who need to win to keep their play-off hopes alive.