Big things were expected from George Timotheou when in 2016 he was part of Sydney FC’s youth team side that won the National Youth League Grand Final and the NSW NPL 2 League and Championship double.
His performances led to former Sky Blues first team coach Graham Arnold promoting the defender to Sydney FC’s first team squad. But a combination of more experienced players ahead of him and the club achieving record breaking success during the 2016/17 A-League campaign saw Timotheou struggle to break into the first team squad.
After being part of Sydney FC’s youth and senior set up for more than two years, the defender was released by the club at the end of the season. Partly dejected but not defeated, Timotheou looked to get his career back on track with Greek backed NPL club Sydney Olympic. Just 18 months later, the move had paid off big time, with the 21-year-old Australian youth international recently signing a two year U-23 contract with Bundesliga club Schalke FC.
Speaking from his new base in Germany, Timotheou told Neos Kosmos he is living the dream.
“It is unbelievable – I have enjoyed every minute of it,” says the 20-year-old.
“There has been no easing into the pre-season. Every day I can’t wait to go to training, play in a game and attend other team sessions. From day one the hard work began. I started on a Monday and we played our first game on the Saturday. In the first two and a half weeks, we played four games with only one day off and I have loved it.”
Timotheou says he owes everything to former NSL powerhouse club Sydney Olympic, for helping him achieve his dream move to Europe.
“I have loved playing for Sydney Olympic,” he says. “Abbas Saad has done a great job with the team this year, and with me personally. He has allowed me to express my football within the team’s structure and to show my best qualities. When you believe in your football, it makes a massive difference. This mindset has been so important in allowing me to impress Schalke during my trial.”
While some players would be bitter at being let go from a football team, Timotheou looks back at his experience at Sydney FC as a valuable learning experience.
“This is the life of a professional,” he says.
“You train and play in the best way possible every single day and do what is needed for the team. Whether you play or not. That’s what I did and that’s what I continue to do.
“I cannot say that I wasn´t disappointed (at being let go). Obviously, I played in a quite a few friendlies and pre-season games but did not quite get the opportunity to show what I could do in the A-League.”
Former Socceroo Ante Juric, is the CEO of Sydney Olympic and he had nothing but praise for the commitment that enabled the youngster to make the move to Schalke.
“It’s fantastic what he’s done to rejuvenate his career,” he told Neos Kosmos.
“At Sydney Olympic, he has matured by playing in the first team. He’s got better and better, so he’s developed over the year and a half he was at the club. Sometimes players aren’t ready at 20 years of age, so playing in the NPL is a good step. Then, when they are 21 or 22, they have two years of senior football behind them and they progress.”
Juric says that by being at Sydney Olympic, Timotheou went to a club whose strategy is to develop young players who have ambitions to play overseas.
“In seasons gone by our young players have gone over to Schalke and have had opportunities to train with the club,” he says.
“So, it’s huge for the club and huge for any players in their potential development. Most of our first team is aged under 25. We realise that giving young players a go in the NPL that will provide rewards for the club as well. So, it was perfect timing for George when he went. He’s done well in his trial and then was able to join the club and stay in Germany.”
Timotheou was born and bred in Canberra. His big break came when he was awarded a scholarship at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) for 16 months.
During this period, he played in the National Youth League against other A-League youth teams and National Premier League.
Then in 2014, he was offered a chance to be part of Sydney FC’s academy set up. The Canberra born youngster admitted it was a difficult experience to move away from home as a teenager.
“It was scary,” he says. “I was still only 16 and had to leave my family, school, and friends behind in Canberra in the middle of Year 11 and move to Sydney where I didn´t know many people.
“I was only a youth player, but I was training fully with the first team at the time so I had to finish my schooling through distance education, which was really hard. My family are also not rich and were forced to dig deep and go into debt to support me in Sydney, because at that time I was only a non-contracted youth player.”
Timotheou’s dad, Chris, was born in Wollongong and his mum Donna is from the regional NSW town of Yass. His grandparents from his father’s side come from the villages of Politiko and Peraorinis in central Cyprus near Nicosia, while his grandparents from his mother’s side come from Edessa in northern Greece.
Even though he is second generation Greek Australian, Timotheou is close to his Greek roots and says his family’s support has been vital in his football career.
“My dad got me started, he coached me with all the basics, and continues to be an honest source of advice when I need it,” he says.
“I cannot begin to describe how much my family have helped me to get to where I am today. They have made many sacrifices for me and I will never be able to repay what they have done for me. I love my Greek heritage, food, music, dancing and culture. As a toddler, I was bi-lingual. I went to a Greek-Australian pre-school and Greek afternoon schools to learn the basics and I was also part of the Hellenic Club dancing groups for many years.”
After signing with a top-flight European club, you would forgive Timotheou for thinking big but the youngster isn’t looking too far ahead.
“Honestly all I want to do is make a profession out of the game I love,” he says.
“I want to be able to play at the highest possible level for as long as possible. The club initially expects me to be at a standard to be selected as a starting player for the U23 squad during the season proper. They have already spoken to me about how they see me going forward, and what my potential is, and I am encouraged by their confidence in my ability and potential.
“I can´t think of a better place than being at Schalke to keep chasing that dream.”