Youth in focus: Callan Elliot
With another week of action approaching in the A-Leagues, we look to Australia's close neighbours to satisfy our hunger for more promising talent emerging from the league. Returning to a familiar structure for those who are avid readers of Front Page Football's Youth In Focus series, we analyse the talent of Callan Elliot, another modern full-back cutting his teeth at Australia's (and New Zealand's) highest level.
Callan Elliot having a discussion with a referee. (Twitter: @NZStuff)
Wellington Phoenix's season has been an enthralling watch for many neutral A-League Men fans. So far, they are backing up a commendable sixth-place finish from last season without the star power of Reno Piscopo or the handy contributions of Jaushua Sotirio. Thus, the recruitment from Ufuk Talay and the club this season has been celebrated weekly. Acquisitions such as Oskar Zawada and Bozhidar Kraev are the first that spring to mind when discussing Wellington's success this season. However, home-grown talent has lifted the only team from New Zealand to the dizzying heights of fourth place. Alex Rufer, Oli Sail, Ben Old, and Tim Payne have all continued to be reliable members of the Phoenix setup. Meanwhile, the return of Kosta Barbarouses has added depth in attack, and the loan acquisition of Lucas Mauragis is one of the season's more underrated signings. Whilst Talay has yet to build his team's success on a defensive structure, it would be a shame to celebrate Wellington's form without mentioning the impact of New Zealand under 19, 20, and 23 international Callan Elliot. His dynamism as a full-back has earned the admiration of the wider footballing community.
Elliot first broke into the Phoenix squad in 2019, moving from Tasman United. He has since played in Greece with Xanthi before returning to Wellington in 2021 and cementing his spot in the backline. Representing his country at the Tokyo Olympics, Elliot's reputation for being a steady defender with the potential to spring attacks in transition has matured in recent seasons. He shows all the traits required to be a modern-day full-back. Initially serving as a midfielder for Tasman United and in his early Nix career, it is apparent that his good dribbling and superb creativity with the ball have been maintained since being deployed as a defender.
In a piece on January 5th, Stuff Sport journalist Phillip Rollo described how Elliot is currently the unsung hero of the Phoenix squad.
"Elliot has impressed with his accurate deliveries into the box, his hard work in the off-season paying off after sitting behind Tim Payne and the now retired Louis Fenton last season," Rollo said.
Elliot has relished the new opportunity he has been given at his boyhood club.
"It’s much more enjoyable to be playing rather than being on the bench so I’ve been enjoying myself this season," he told Rollo in the same article.
At only 23, Elliot still has years before he hits the peak of his powers.
His contribution to a successful Wellington Phoenix cannot be understated. His defensive presence has been immense, being a disruptor at full-back, snuffing out opponents as they attack in transition. Elliot has also shown near-flawless timing in his tackles for a player who hasn't played a defensive role for long, with a last-ditch effort recently against the Mariners coming to mind. He is averaging 0.5 interceptions per game and 2.5 completed tackles. However, Elliot's physicality could be seen as a weakness, as he has only won 52% of his duels. His attacking contributions almost outweigh his defensive shortcomings, however minor they may be. Elliot has contributed four assists, with his crossing ability reminiscent of a world-class winger, providing several opportunities for Wellington's prolific attack to latch onto for chances. With a passing accuracy of 79%, made more impressive when considering his 0.5 completed crosses per match, Elliot has been entrusted to start attacks for the Nix and provide the end product required to win games. He has become a focal point in both attack and defence. With the departure of Liberato Cacace in 2020, Wellington has found another young, exciting, modern full-back to help them challenge at the top of the competition.
Elliot's form and positional transformation should be admired by all who take in weekly Wellington matches. The Nix are looking down the barrel of another finals birth, and the allure of a maiden championship is a part of that equation. Talay will no doubt look to more inventive players in his squad for inspiration against some of the more established sides come the second half of the season. That being said, Elliot will likely not lose his place in the team unless he picks up an unfortunate injury. At 23, he has much to look forward to, including an inevitable maiden cap for the All Whites. With the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) being handed an automatic slot for the 2026 World Cup, a possible birth at the biggest tournament in world football awaits. Cacace is struggling for minutes at Empoli, whilst other young Kiwi talents such as Ben Waine are building European pedigree. Elliot could find himself in an All Whites squad with promising talent much like himself, aiming to bring some due success to Kiwi football.
Elliot is tackled by Perth's Jack Clisby during an A-League Men fixture between the Glory and Wellington Phoenix in April 2022. (Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
All statistics sourced from SofaScore.
Click here to read last week's 'Youth In Focus' on Kirsty Fenton and Keegan Jelacic.