After growing up playing different sports and idolising Australia’s former Olympians, Olyroos attacker Lachlan Wales is ready to create his own history at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Australia has been drawn into Group C of the Men's Football Tournament at Tokyo 2020 alongside Argentina, Spain and Egypt.
While some may find the task of playing against the world’s best daunting, Wales says he is eager to sink his teeth into the challenges posed by Australia's Olympic 'Group of Dreams'.
As kick-off against Argentina on July 22 draws closer for the Olyroos, read on as Wales discusses swapping the beach for the city, and his love of the Olympics as socceroos.com.au provides you with a chance to get to know every member of Graham Arnold's squad that little bit better.
ULTIMATE GUIDE: Everything you need to know about the Olyroos at Tokyo 2020
Olyroo Profile: Lachlan Wales
Place of Birth: Central Coast, NSW
Club: Western United
Former clubs: Central Coast Mariners, Melbourne City
Grassroots club: Terrigal United
International experience: Australia U-23
Did you know?
Before he was rising through the ranks at the Central Coast Mariners, Wales was winning beach flags titles with his local Wamberal Surf Lifesaving Club.
He credits his blistering pace to those years spent sprinting on the sand.
LISTEN NOW: The Olyroos Podcast
From the beach to the city: A sacrifice that has all been worth it
For Lachie Wales, playing at the Olympics is more than the opportunity to challenge himself against some of the world’s best.
It is the realisation of a dream and proof that the sacrifices he and his family have made throughout his career have all been worth it.
“It means everything,” Wales said.
“With all the sacrifices my parents, my brothers, my sister and my partner have made for me over the last 22 years, it means as much to them as it does to me.
To put on that shirt, you know you're representing all those people that have supported you and tried to get you to this point. Once you put on that jersey there's a different kind of feeling in your body.
“To sing the national anthem with 11 of your best mates is also pretty cool and it's something that I'm looking forward to.”
The Olyroos will take on familiar foes Argentina, who they faced in 2004 and 2008, as well as Spain who they faced once before during Atlanta 1996, and Egypt who are first-time opponents at Olympic level.
While Egypt, Spain and Argentina are set to pose a stern test, Wales explained that the Olyroos will show no fear.
“They are some of the biggest footballing nations in the world but hopefully us Australians can shock the world,” he said.
“We've got a really strong belief here with all the players and all the staff that we can do something special.”
How the “Coastie” from Terrigal made Melbourne home
Growing up on the Central Coast, Wales was exposed to many different sports and while a lot of his family members chose Rugby League, he decided to play football after being introduced to it by his Grandpa.
The world game was not the only sport he excelled at as a youngster. When the winter months were over and football with his junior club Terrigal United had come to an end, Wales would compete, and excel, at State Surf Life Saving carnivals throughout summer.
“Running for the beach flags is where I think I get my speed from,” Wales explained.
“I won three state medals from under 8’s to under 11’s and being from a little Surf Lifesaving Club, it made me feel like a superstar.
“It was a good experience growing up at the beach and playing different sports helped me to enjoy soccer.”
It was not long before Wales’ explosive speed and footballing talent was identified by the Football New South Wales National Training Centre (FNSW NTC) - an institution famous for nurturing the likes of Aaron Mooy, Brett Emerton and David Carney.
He spent a year studying and playing at FNSW NTC before moving to the Central Coast Mariners and progressing through their youth ranks.
After scoring 16 goals in 84 appearances with the Mariners’ academy, former Olympian Paul Okon handed Wales an A-League debut as a 19-year-old.
While Wales only featured 11 times for Central Coast before moving to Melbourne City, he fondly remembers the impact Okon had on his early development.
“He was a very good coach. Technically, he worked on me a lot and he saw something in me when I was playing for the youth team,” Wales said.
“He gave me my first run of senior games so any coach that gives you that confidence to go and play first-team football, you always owe them something.
“He was a great person to learn off and from everyone's accounts, he was a top, top player. For him to be an Olympian as well makes him someone that I look up to.”
Just one year after making his A-League debut, Wales decided to swap the beach for the big smoke and signed a two-year contract with Melbourne City.
While the move took some adjusting to at the start, he thoroughly enjoyed the experience - especially learning from managers like Warren Joyce and Erick Mombaerts.
Wales scored three goals in 53 appearances for City and helped the club to the A-League Grand Final in 2020 before signing with Western United in search of more playing time.
He made his debut for United in the club’s first game of the 2020-21 season and he went on to play 24 times, scoring four goals and laying three assists for his teammates.
Despite Western finishing in 10th and missing the A-League finals, Wales believes his decision to move out West was vindicated with an Olyroos call-up.
“It was a good move for me to just get some more minutes in my legs and link up with some experienced players like (Alessandro) Diamanti,” Wales explained.
“The opportunity to go there was a good one and despite it being a difficult season, the opportunity for us young boys to get a lot of game time and score a few goals was great.”
An Aussie sports fan through and through
After a fantastic individual season with Western United, Wales was rewarded by Graham Arnold with a spot in the Olyroos Olympic squad as a train-on player.
With the prospect of just being in an Olympic environment, Wales was “over the moon” to be selected. However, late changes to squad regulations meant that he was soon to be included as an official member of the Olympic team.
“It was kind of a weird phone call with Arnie at the start because he told me that I was going to the Olympics as a train-on which I was still over the moon to just be part of the squad,” Wales said.
“He did mention that there was a high possibility that the squad could be getting changed so to now be a full Olympian is something I'm very proud of and my family's very proud of too.
“Hopefully I can take to the pitch and get a couple of minutes out there with the boys.”
As someone who played multiple sports growing up, Wales has always been a huge admirer of the Olympics.
Now with the chance to represent the Green and Gold on the Olympic stage, he cannot wait to fulfil his childhood dream.
“I think I was three when the Olympics were on in 2000 and my old man and my mum didn't want to take me to the stadiums because I was too small,” he recalled.
“You always grow up with Cathy Freeman’s 400 metres being replayed and watching people like Ian Thorpe swim.
“I was into all kinds of sports but the Steven Bradbury moment where everyone fell over and he just came flying through is probably the one that stands out so there are some pretty special moments there and to say I’m an Olympian is pretty amazing.”
Stay tuned to socceroos.com.au and the Socceroos' social pages for more in-depth profiles of Australia's Men's Football Team at Tokyo 2020. You can check out all of our exclusive pre-Olympic content here.