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Dec 15, 2023   |  12:03PM AET

Joe Lacey’s Journey from ATP to A-League Men

Joe Lacey’s Journey from ATP to A-League Men

Just four years ago Sydney FC’s newest Isuzu UTE A-League recruit, Joe Lacey, was a 12-year old playing club football for Manly United on the Northern Beaches and attending Sydney FC’s Academy Training Program (ATP) every Sunday evening between 5.30pm and 7.30pm.

He wasn’t even part of the full Academy.

Two weeks ago, the 16-year old was within seconds of making his professional A-League debut against Perth Glory, only for the final whistle to postpone his dreams.

It has still been an incredible rise for the young midfielder from Curl Curl who was only playing under 16’s football in May this year.

Lacey training with the first team

He credits his progression to his development in the pathway created by Sydney FC’s Academy Training Program (ATP) and their Association partners.

“I started at Curly, my local team playing with all my mates. I went to Manly at under 9’s and had some really good coaches through there who helped me develop.

“I went through the Sydney FC ATP program when I was 11 or 12.

“We played mini-games and played a lot of football at the ATP and it was really enjoyable,” he said.

“It was at the ATP when the coaches first saw me and I got signed to the Academy aged 12, so that ATP program really helped me grow.”

Lacey has progressed quickly since May winning selection into the under 18’s, 20’s and NPL first grade squad.

In September he was invited to train with the Sydney FC Isuzu UTE A-League squad, impressing enough to sign his first professional contract earlier this month.

Joe Lacey signs his A-League Men’s contract.

The 16-year old sat on the bench for the opening day Big Blue fixture in October and can’t believe how fast he has moved up the ranks.

“It’s like I got put on a rocket, but I think they have noticed that I’ve done well in my age groups,” he continued.

“I’ve progressed quite well and the coaches have been very supportive, so I think there’s a clear pathway for Academy players.

“You look at the other young boys in the first team as well. I’m sure they’ve been through most age groups at the Academy and done well and been offered contracts to the first team.

So there’s a clear pathway coming through.

Lacey recalls how he felt when he was told he would be on the bench.

“I was at my mates house and I got a call from Wilko [Alex Wilkinson – Team Manager] and he was telling me Bimbi [ex-Head Coach Steve Corica] was thinking about putting me on the bench.

Lacey warming up at Allianz Stadium

“It was unreal and I couldn’t stop shaking. It was just surreal feeling.”

In the dying minutes of injury time with Sydney FC leading 3-2 against Perth Glory he was called to the touchline as Ufuk Talay went to make a substitute, however the final whistle blew before he could enter the fray.

“Standing on the sideline as a 16-year old, my nerves were crazy, butterflies in my stomach and seeing everyone in The Cove going crazy.

“If I came on, that would have been insane, but I’ve learned a lot so far.”

Sydney FC’s Academy Training Program helps improve players and also offers a key opportunity for our coaches to scout and select talent for our Academy squads from U13.

This season six players joining our U13 Boys Academy squad came through our Academy Training Program (ATP).

Lacey has been a Sydney FC fan his whole life and gets a picture with Bernie Ibini

The 2023/24 program is open for applications from talented 10, 11, 12-year-old boys who are currently part of SAP or Development squads at their local association or NPL club.

Fill in our Expression of Interest Form – ATP 2023/24 now.

Sydney FC also has a Female Training Program available for U11-13 year old girls.