Joeys gun joins Jets

BIG TALENT: Connor Chapman in action for the Australian under17s.
BIG TALENT: Connor Chapman in action for the Australian under17s.

AUSTRALIAN Joeys captain Connor Chapman has knocked back approaches from clubs in England and Germany and two A-League rivals to join the Newcastle Jets.

Ranked among the top youth players in Asia after leading Australia to the round of 16 at the FIFA under-17 World Cup in Mexico this year, the 17-year-old central defender from Sydney’s south-western suburbs has signed for the rest of this season and two more.

Chapman was rated by Barcelona’s youth coaches as the best of 72 Asian Football Confederation players who were invited to attend a camp in Seoul in July.

He has almost completed a two-year scholarship at the Australian Institute of Sport, where he began his association with Jets coaches Gary van Egmond and Arthur Papas.

The chance to continue his development under those coaches before chasing his dreams and playing in Europe was one of the main reasons he chose the Jets.

Chapman said he fell in love with Newcastle when he and his parents, Craig and Monique, were guests of the club for their game against Brisbane at Ausgrid Stadium on November 19.

‘‘With the new coaches there and the direction the Jets are heading in, I fell in love with the crowd the first time I was up there. From then on I knew I wanted to come to Newcastle to play football,’’ Chapman told the Newcastle Herald yesterday.

‘‘Coming from the AIS, with some of the best government-funded facilities in Australia, leaving that and coming to Newcastle is a step in the same direction, or even a step up, to some of the facilities and staff that the Newcastle Jets have now.

‘‘With Gary and Arthur there, they know so many people and they’ve worked with so many young players in Australian football, so they’re an attraction as well.

‘‘I can’t wait to start training, and hopefully, if it’s not some time this season, then some time next season that I can start playing for the first team.’’

Van Egmond said Chapman would play for Newcastle’s youth team for the rest of the summer, and in the Northern NSW competition in winter, but he would not rule out the possibility of him cracking the A-League squad before the end of the season.

The 186-centimetre tall Liverpool product will move to Newcastle in time to start training on January 2.

‘‘He’s a talented boy,’’ van Egmond said. ‘‘He was identified by the FIFA technical group as one of four players out of the under-17 and under-20 World Cups, and he was the only defender they identified out of either of those age groups, which is a pretty big rap for him.

‘‘He did well with the Joeys, and obviously I know him very well from my time with him at the AIS ... so I’ve known him for a good 18 months.

‘‘This will be a chance for him to get used to training with men, looking to see how that is different from training with young ones, then slowly but surely seeing his progression, and when the time is right we’ll start looking at him to come in.

‘‘We’ll just have to see the level, see how we’re going, and if it’s the right time to blood someone in the 11 this year – or is it more a case of leaving him out.

‘‘It just depends.’’

Chapman’s great grandfather settled in Maitland when he emigrated from England, so joining the Jets will effectively reconnect him with his Hunter heritage.

‘‘Connor had opportunities in the UK and Germany after the World Cup,’’ his father, Craig, said.

‘‘There was interest from clubs in both countries, but we felt this was a better proposition for him rather than move overseas at this point in time.

‘‘He’s looking to consolidate his career here in Australia within the A-League with a club like Newcastle that is really looking to progress.

‘‘There was some interest from Gold Coast United and Wellington Phoenix earlier on this season, but from our perspective it was fortunate that things didn’t progress on either front with those due to an injury Connor picked up.

‘‘At the time he was supposed to go and trial.

‘‘He wasn’t able to go, so from our perspective and certainly from Connor’s perspective it’s all worked out for the better because it’s only a couple of hours up the road for us as his parents to become avid Newcastle United supporters now.’’

Jets chief executive Robbie Middleby said Chapman would stay with former Adamstown Rosebud coach Mark Trenter and his family after the club sought help from the ‘‘Men of Football’’ support group.