Panos Armenakas has just completed his third season in Italy and is taking a well-earned break from his finest season for Udinese’s youth team squad after scoring eight goals and producing six assists in 25 matches.
The Greek Australian finished as their highest goal scorer, with the most assists, and his overall attacking play contributing to 62 per cent of the team’s goals for the season. Incidentally those stats were the best of any of the Udinese Primavera attacking players over the last three seasons.
Looking back over the last 12 months, Armenakas tells Neos Kosmos he is proud of his achievements.
“The last campaign was definitely the best season that I had since I’ve been at Udinese,” says the 18-year-old. “I started in 98 per cent of the games in the Cup and League and I was fit all season, as the campaign before I had some injuries. I was scoring goals and assisting and I was helping the team to do well. I can always be better, I missed a few chances to put some more goals in but all in all it was a good season.”
In fact at the beginning of the Serie A season Armenakas seemed to be stepping up from youth to men’s football after he made his senior debut in Udinese’s 3-1 friendly win over Olimpija Ljublana.
Then three games into the Serie A season Armenakas made the bench for Udinese’s first team away to Sassuolo and it looked like he was on the cusp of making his Serie A debut. However, with Udinese struggling in the league the coach was sacked and after being so close to playing his professional game, it turned out to be the only time Armenakas would be part of the senior matchday squad.
“Personally, I felt like I had a really good season with the reserves from beginning to end, but it was bittersweet,” he says.
The timing could not have been worse for Armenakas because the following week a mouth-watering home game against one of world football’s biggest clubs was Udinese’s next match.
“The next game was against Juventus,” he says. “It’s hard when you need results especially so for a new coach to blend in an 18-year-old into the first team and give him his debut.
“The previous coach said that he was going to give me the opportunity when the time was right but then a new coach came in. It wasn’t like he didn’t like me as a player; it was that he was an interim coach at the time and he needed results straight away, because if he doesn’t, he’ll get fired as well.
“For me the timing was a bit off. It’s football: it hasn’t happened just to me, so I can’t sit here and complain. I’m always thankful for the opportunity that the club and the coach had given me at the time.”
Standing in Armenakas’ way to a first team debut were players such as Argentinian Rodrigo De Paul, French striker Cyril Thereau who was Udinese’s top scorer with 12 goals last season year, and Brazilian Ryder Matos Santos. Armenakas explained that making it into a Serie A first team squad at 18-years of age is historically difficult.
“Italy is one of, if not, the toughest leagues to break into as a youngster,” he says. “In Italy, you are considered young at 22. It motivates me to break that mould but I can’t tell you how difficult it is because the Italians are very defensive in their football.
“They work a lot on tactics and the coaches are very strict so it’s hard to blood in a young player when they need results straight away. You see in Holland and Belgium and some teams in England they are bleeding through those players. But you will not see an 17/18/19-year-old playing regular first team football in Italy.”
So, shortly after Neos Kosmos met up with Armenakas the Australian Under-17 International announced that he would be going on loan to Belgian second division club – AFC Tubize. Speaking from his pre-season training base in Europe, Armenakas revealed that he was looking forward to starting the next chapter in his life.
“Every professional footballer is constantly assessing their personal situation and wanting to make sure they are in an environment that is helping them to reach their maximum potential,” he says
“I am no different and after the season I just had I also assessed the upcoming season from an Udinese first team perspective.
Armenakas added, “In close consultation with my family and my representatives, I decided the best option for me, for season 2017/18, would be to find a league and a club in Europe where I could legitimately fight for first team football every single day and where the level of football would be challenging and would allow me to grow and develop even further.”
Last season AFC Tubize finished fifth in Belgium’s second division and Armenakas hopes the move will provide him an opportunity to play for the national team again.
“Coming from an 18-year-old playing reserve team football the next step now is to be playing regular first team football in Europe,” he says.
“My goals are to improve every day and work even harder than I do now and put more hours on the pitch than anyone else. If I keep working hard and play good football then if I’m considered good enough I hope to be called up to the Australian national team whether it be for the Under-23s or the Socceroos sometime in the future.
“Last season was good and I got called up to a national team camp so if I do get better things can only improve for me.”
Even though the highs and lows of last season may have matured him, the three-year-old who first fell in love with football still lives on.
“I’ve had to mature pretty quickly for my age,” says Armenakas.
“Especially living alone in Italy all these years and having experiences like being with the first team squad where they are playing big games in big stadiums and with the pressure that comes with being at a Serie A club.
“I still get goosebumps just talking about what it was like being on the bench for Udinese. I can’t even imagine what it would be like making my official debut for a big club or scoring my first professional goal or bringing my family over to watch me play for the first time as a professional or making my national team debut if I’m ever good enough.
“I’ll always be a little kid inside because I’ve played football since I was three and I’ve always had that passion. Okay money is a part of football but I play it because I get goosebumps watching the Champions League Final. I want to have that experience and have my name being sung around the stadium or getting a standing ovation from a big crowd. I’ve had to mature and I’ve had to show that on the outside you are taken in by the occasion but deep down I’ll always be that wide-eyed kid.”