Sophia Varley walked into the locker room at Kingston Heath on March 14 and read something every aspiring footballer dreams of – VARLEY 30.
Not written on a team sheet or whiteboard, but printed on a jersey she had to put on for a professional match.
From Finley, Varley is now calling Melbourne City – arguably the biggest footballing aristocracy in the country – home, having signed her first professional contract earlier this month after spending the season training with the Citizens.
The 17-year-old goalkeeper may have to bide her time to warm up the bench – legendary Matildas goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri remains City’s starting goalie – but the teenage talent seems destined for the top.
Varley caught up with the Youth academy scouts to discuss his huge career milestone.
Soph-Var, everything is fine
After two seasons with the Goulburn Valley Suns, Varley made her way to the famous Football Victoria National Talent Center, where she spent four seasons honing her skills and becoming one of the figurative brick walls of the division. Representative honors have been plentiful during his short time in the game.
Youth academy: How does it feel to sign with Melbourne City?
Sophie Varley: It’s very exciting. I’ll be honest; I have the impression that I haven’t really assimilated it yet. I didn’t really realize until I rocked on Sunday and saw my name on my shirt and experienced being in a professional environment. It didn’t seem real until I witnessed it.
YA: What conversations did you have with City before signing?
SV: I have been a coach all season. I spoke with (Melbourne City goaltender coach) Jordy Franken, who said if either of them got injured I would be called out. I really wasn’t expecting anything, I was trying to work to improve myself and it was a great environment. Then I got the text saying that Teagan Micah was injured. It was right before I had a chemistry bag, so I was like “why is he texting me?” As much as I didn’t want to see Teagan hurt, I guess it worked in my favor.
YA: Where were you before joining City?
SV: I had been with the NTC, the state’s women’s team, for four years. Last year I was in the emerging Matildas. I was the second goalie there and now I’m the first goalie for the coming season.
YA: Moving from NTC to Melbourne City, what are the main differences that you noticed?
SV: To be honest, when I first started training I had a lot of work to do. I wasn’t in good physical shape, there was a lot of conditioning to get me where they were at. It was a bit of a shock at first, but it showed me the progression to the W-League and how much I had to invest to reach that level. I had a good base, I needed to fix a few things. Now I’m on the right track, I know what to wear, what to do better.
Glove to see it
Gifted with the ball in her foot, Varley’s potential to leap up the ranks was identified when she got involved as a goalkeeper. The 11-year-old and already on trial for a representative team as an outfield player, expert advice allowed her to stand out from the crowd and truly begin her journey to stardom.
YA: What made you want to play goalkeeper at the start?
SV: At the SSV trials for the Under 12 team, Atila Kerestes told me that I had a lot of potential as a goalkeeper, he was in charge of the trials at the time. When he said that, I said “okay, I’m a goalie now”. I was chosen as an emergency guard. I played GV Suns for a while, and being surrounded by boys everything is more intense and you have to develop. When I was playing with boys I was able to develop a lot more technical skills and that allowed me to be one step ahead of all the other goalkeepers in terms of distribution.
YA: Have there been any mentors you’ve admired in your career?
SV: Melissa Barbieri, who I train with, is someone I have admired for a long time. She was captain of the Matildas for a few years, she is 41 years old and still plays in the W-League. I learned so much being with her in City.
YA: What are you doing outside of football?
SV: Right now, I’m studying like nothing else, whether it’s for that or to meet up with friends. Coming home when I have a break, which doesn’t happen that often.
YA: What was your favorite football moment?
SV: Probably when I entered the halls for my first W-League match, seeing my name on my shirt. It just reminds me of how you have to keep showing off, putting in the effort and finally getting something back. You might not expect it, but you should always be prepared for such an opportunity.
YA: And what was your least favorite football moment?
SV: Obviously you have times when you stuff and concede an easy goal, but I don’t think I had a bad time that really put me off.
YA: Who is your football idol?
SV: For a goalie, probably Lydia Williams. She is the best goalkeeper in Australia; she’s playing at Arsenal right now under coach Joe Montemurro and is killing him there. She has had her problems like everyone else, but she gives everything and continues. She also does books away from football – you don’t see it that often for professional footballers.
YA: If you could play for any team in the world, who would it be?
SV: Arsenal. You watch them play and they are amazing. They are under the direction of a great trainer, Joe Montemurro, he was Victoria’s trainer. If I ever get the chance to go overseas, I would love to play for them.
YA: What is the next step for you in terms of football?
SV: Everyone aspires to play for Australia and go abroad and play for European clubs. Right now I’m focusing on where I am and seeing where it’s taking me.
● Youth Academy is an ongoing investigation into the football wonders of the Goulburn Valley. Each episode will feature an upcoming talent that has captured the attention of the local football scene.