Devlin - Talay 'smashes me' for my mistakes... and I need it
Cameron Devlin has arguably been the breakout star of the Hyundai A-League this season - and the Wellington Phoenix midfielder credits his rise to long-time mentor Ufuk Talay.
Talay has helped develop the 21-year-old protege from a young age in the Sydney FC academy and there was no hesitation from Devlin when the Phoenix boss offered him a contract with the New Zealanders last July.
Devlin made his Hyundai A-League debut for the Sky Blues last season but found first-team opportunities restricted behind the likes of Josh Brillante, Brandon O'Neill, and turned down a contract offer.
The midfielder had to bide his time for minutes in Wellington and did not start until an injury to vice-captain Alex Rufer allowed Devlin a maiden start in Phoenix’s 0-0 stalemate with Melbourne Victory in Round 10.
But it is difficult to remember a player in recent years taking his chance to impress so emphatically as Devlin has done.
No other player in the league has made more interceptions, tackles, touches or passes since that December draw and, remarkably, he has made the Hyundai A-League Team of the Week seven out of a possible ten times.
He is now one of the first or second names on Talay’s team sheet. But you would be incorrect to propose Devlin’s long-standing relationship with his mentor and jaw-dropping rise to first team football has afforded the youngster any special treatment.
"Uffie [Talay] is an outstanding person. He's a very hard person at times but when you need comforting and a bit of love he gives all his players that, whether you're 18 or whether you're 33,” Devlin said.
“He treats everyone the same. Being a midfielder which he was in his day and was quite a successful player, I felt like he could teach me so, so much. He had faith in me and gave me an opportunity to come here and as soon as I heard of that I jumped at the opportunity.
“He's been so good to me and continues to be so good to me. If I am having a good game and I mistake a mistake he will smash me for that mistake, and I need that as a young player.
"You need someone to be on your back about absolutely everything to be the best player you possibly can be.”
There are shades of Sydney FC in the blueprint Talay devised for Wellington and while the setting might have been an initial challenge for Devlin, the similarities in structure and formation have aided his elevation into the first-team picture.
“You have to change things depending on the players you have and we have different players to Sydney FC,” Devlin admitted.
“The formation is the same, and it is very similar so for me coming into that, seeing the formation and seeing great players do their thing in that formation and to come here and know what is expected.
“I love the formation; I love the style we are playing in terms of getting on the ball and trying to boss possession.”
And boss possession – amongst other things – is exactly what Devlin has done this season.
He is frequently the player with game-high touches and passes and has looked at home from the very minute Talay decided to utilise the ex-Sutherland Sharks prospect in a double pivot alongside ex-Bundesliga man Matti Steinmann.
The alchemy between young Australian and experienced German campaigner is outstanding – and Alex Rufer, vice-captain and one of Phoenix’s most important players last season, has barely had a sniff since returning from injury.
Cameron Devlin: 19/20 stats
Devlin described himself as a midfield ‘all-rounder’ upon his arrival in New Zealand, but it would take a brave call from Talay to shift from what has been a winning formula.
“I feel very comfortable on the ball, getting the ball, moving the ball and starting the play.
"In defence I kind of just like ratting around and being a bit of a menace.
“Uffie knows I can play both. He's seen me from a young age, he's seen me grow up and last year at Sydney. For now, he's seen me in a defensive midfield role and I'm absolutely loving playing there.
“I cop it quite a bit. I don't mind a bit of physicality; I try to hand it out a bit myself. I love it.
Devlin has always resonated confidence and took the challenge of moving to New Zealand, away from friends, family and his girlfriend for the first time, like he would a loose ball in midfield – head on.
He has reaped a considerable amount of reward. And it could get even better for player and club.
“We believe, and we have believed from day dot that we can do something special this year and we can go all the way.
“I am absolutely loving it on and off the pitch and I am so happy here. I love this club. It's such a great club and they've been so good to me.”
Central Coast Mariners v Wellington Phoenix
Sunday, 8 March
Central Coast Stadium
Kick off: 4.00pm AEDT