He's the avid surfer who’s modelled his game on European greats Andres Iniesta and Luka Modric. Now, Calem Nieuwenhof is out to make his mark on his first Sydney derby.
The teenage midfielder announced himself to the A-League with a stunning goal on debut in round one in Sydney FC’s 2-1 win over Wellington Phoenix.
After also impressing in the Asian Champions League in Qatar, the 19-year-old is gearing up to help the Sky Blues make A-League history this season by claiming their third grand final victory in a row.
“Definitely, that’s one of the main things motivating us this year,” Nieuwenhof told The World Game.
“It hasn’t been done before, a three-peat, so that would be amazing.”
Growing up on Sydney’s northern beaches, Nieuwenhof has followed Sydney since childhood and was a member of the club’s inaugural academy team.
“I’ve been living in Sydney my whole life so when I was younger I used to go to a lot of the games,” the young gun said.
“I was part of the Cove a fair bit, so it’s pretty surreal now to be playing for them. I was in the inaugural year of the academy, went back to Manly United for a couple of years, then went back to Sydney FC.
“It’s been amazing. Sydney FC are where I’ve developed the most and learnt the most, especially in the last year or so being around the first-team.
"With all these quality players, just learning off them as much as I can. Everyone’s buzzing to play in the derby.”
The central midfielder, who hails from North Curl Curl, was first introduced to football by his father and enjoys surfing in his spare time, while also studying for a commerce degree.
“I’ve lived in the northern beaches my whole life. It’s really good,” he explained.
“I guess mainly I got into football through my dad. He played a bit when he was growing up, he played for Manly United. He introduced me to the game when I was really young, four or five.
“I really loved it ever since then. I’ve always been a big fan of classy midfielders like Iniesta and Luka Modric. I watched them growing up and saw what they were doing in their game, (so I) try and replicate them in my game.
“I surf a little bit, just down at Curly beach. I’m alright, I used to be a bit better than I am now. I go through stages where I’m surfing a bit.
“I’m doing commerce at UNSW, it’s great to do something apart from football as well, to keep my mind occupied. Also to be learning at the same time and to have a back-up plan is really useful.”
Nicknamed ‘Sleepy’ because of his laconic nature, Nieuwenhof is a player to keep an eye on. Former Socceroo and current Sky Blues boss Steve Corica has described him as "something special".
“I got that nickname a while back,” he said.
“I think ‘Gowser’ [Ryan McGowan] or Alfie [Adam Le Fondre] last year gave it to me, just because I’m laid-back and sometimes out of it. It seems to have stuck with me for a while.
“Steve’s (Corica) been really supportive of me in the past year training with the first-team, always helping me and helping me improve in different ways. He’s been great.”
Nieuwenhof’s goal is to one day represent Australia and ply his trade in Europe. But for now, he wants to cement his place in the A-League and continue his development as Sydney FC bid to defend their title.
“That’s the dream,” he admitted.
“At the moment I’m just very happy to be part of this Sydney FC team, I think it’s the best team in the country. I just want to keep playing as many minutes as possible and learn.
“And, eventually, I want to progress - playing for the Socceroos would be a dream obviously, and so would playing overseas.”