Terry Antonis, 16, has already experienced some of the world’s biggest clubs, writes David Sygall.
It’s hard to keep straight faced when Terry Antonis reminisces as though he’s reflecting on a 20-year career.
”When I was young” is, after all, an unusual way for a 16-year-old to start a sentence.
But when Antonis starts rattling off the super-clubs that have sought his signature – or discusses his friendship with Tim Cahill, training sessions with David Beckham or plans to play for the Socceroos – only a fool would pay scant attention.
That’s because Antonis, who just signed a three-year deal with Sydney FC, arrives on the scene this season with more expectation than perhaps any Australian player before him. He is already being talked about as a $2 million player should the European clubs come knocking when he turns 18. It’s a lot of pressure for a kid whose favourite success till now has been winning the state league age group indoor football comp at a local indoor centre at Marrickville. But there’s a glint in Antonis’s eye – and a long list of glowing references – which suggests greatness will one day be within his grasp.
It might not be far off. Last month AIS senior coach, former Socceroo, Gary van Egmond picked Antonis in his Australian side for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. ”He’s a bit out of the box because his technique is so good. He’s both-sided and can play as a 10, an 8 or even a 6,” van Egmond said. ”He’s a very complete player. He could work a bit harder on his defensive duties.
”But with the ball, he’s a very clever player who scores goals from midfield, like Cahill and [Brett] Holman. He’ll develop over the next four years and I suspect he’ll have a rapid rise.”
Antonis, who at age 10 was one of 20 worldwide competition winners to star with Beckham in a coaching DVD in Madrid, is matter-of-fact when he talks of the interest there’s been in him. ”The first club that tried to sign me was Marseille when I think I was 10. Then when I was 12 or 13 I went to Inter Milan and played there for a while. A few other clubs wanted me around that time, too. Then when I was 14 I went to Everton and signed there. But then a rule came in which said you have to be 18 [to be signed by an overseas club]. I was playing at Marconi at the time and the AIS people saw me. I ended up going there and people from Sydney FC came to watch me and ended up asking me if I wanted to play for them.”
Asked if he had any choice in where he went to play, Antonis finally shows his age. ”I don’t know how it happened or why, these clubs just came around and asked if I wanted to play for them,” he says shyly. ”But when the Sydney chance came up, straight away I wanted it. Everyone wants their dream club to come to them and this is my dream club. My father Peter in some situations in the past would make the decisions. But in this case I just wanted to play here.”
Antonis clearly holds his father in the highest esteem. Players and staff at Sydney FC are keen to ensure Antonis keeps a level head, but it seems Peter already has that covered.
”My family never said to me that I had some great talent or anything like that,” Antonis says. ”My dad told me to just do as well as I can and make the best of what I’ve got. I think that’s really important. My father has been great to me. All my family and friends have inspired me to become my best.
”Football is in my family. It was around me all the time and there are heaps of people who tell me to keep going, keep practising. It’s something I want to do and they help me. The players here at the club are like that as well.”
In what could be a hint to other youngsters hoping to improve, Antonis, who last year completed both years 11 and 12 at the AIS, says he honed his skills playing futsal and indoor football.
”My mates had a team and asked me to join them to play at Marrickville in the sort of state league of indoor football. We were pretty good, we won a couple of competitions. I think it helped me to become better.”
It was around that time that another friend, a cousin of Cahill’s, asked Antonis to join him at a barbecue to meet the Socceroo star. ”We started talking and I told him I like football and that I wanted to do well,” he says.
”Tim said we should stay in touch. He’s a nice guy, his family is very nice, too. It was a great thrill to play for Sydney FC last week against Tim.”
Not least because he has been a fan of Sydney FC, well, since he was young. ”It’s an honour to be asked to join Sydney FC,” he says. ”When I was young, I always went for them. When the A-League started I went to all the games, I loved watching Dwight Yorke play, Steve Corica, Mark Rudan, all the guys. They were my team. When the chance came up to play for them it was great for me. I don’t know yet what they want from me, but I’ll do whatever they tell me. I’m an attacking player. I like to set up goals and score them myself.”
Sky Blues Swiss international Stephan Keller is glad Antonis, who is of Greek heritage but says he’s ”100 per cent committed” to playing for Australia, has elected to stay.
”Why wouldn’t he?” Keller asked. ”What is the use of playing reserves in England or France or Spain? He is much better off playing here for now. He is at the best club in Australia, he’s just 16, he has a great opportunity to learn here before he considers playing overseas. He has all the skills and if he keeps learning he will become a very good footballer. I think it’s great that he is staying here.” And if Antonis doesn’t hit the heights many believe he is capable of, maybe his brother will. ”My brother and sister both play football,” he says.
”My brother George plays for South-West Strikers at Bankstown.” Does he play the same position as you? ”Well they haven’t got positions yet.”
”How old is he? ”He’s seven.”
When Antonis was born in 1993 …
- Jurassic Park was the biggest-grossing movie.
- The Australian of the Year was Mandawuy Yunupingu.
- I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) by Meatloaf was the No.1 song.
- Variable interest rates were at 10 per cent.
- The ARIA album of the year was Hepfidelity by Diesel.
- Sydney was awarded the right to host the 2000 Olympic Games.
- Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
- Coaches Phil Gould and Wally Lewis went head-to-head as NSW beat Queensland 2-1 in Origin.
- In a federal election, Paul Keating’s Labor defeats John Hewson’s Coalition to retain power.