Fringe Socceroo Chris Ikonomidis is in the midst of pre-season training when Neos Kosmos interrupts the 22-year-old as he prepares for the upcoming Serie A season with Italian club Lazio.
Ikonomidis has been in Italy since he was 16 and after coming through Lazio’s youth team the Greek Australian made his senior debut for Lazio in a Europa league match during the 2015/16 campaign.
But in the league, it’s been a challenge to break into a Lazio first team squad team filled with international and homegrown stars. So, with an eye on getting much needed game time at a crucial period in his development, Ikonomidis has been out on loan for the past two seasons.
During the second half of the 2015/16 campaign the Sydney-born attacker moved down a division to Italy’s Serie B and played 14 games and scored one goal for Salernitana.
Australian national team coach Ange Postecoglou blooded the youngster in the Socceroos squad and Ikonomidis says the six caps he earnt for his country have been memorable.
“It’s always an honour to play for Australia,” he says. “I’ve been lucky enough to play in World Cup qualifiers and in amazing friendly matches against England and twice against Greece.
“Every time you put on the Australian jersey it’s a big honour. You always give it 100 per cent because you take pride in having the nation behind you as well as the friends and family back home that have always supported you during your career, so it’s a nice feeling playing for Australia.”
Ikonomidis is second-generation Greek Australian, his grandparents migrated to Australia from the islands of Limnos and Thessaloniki, and his parents were born in Australia. So, it’s no surprise the two games he played for Australia against the country of his heritage have stood out.
“They were both particularly exciting matches for me,” he said. “It was really nice, we got a good result in the first game, we won 1-0 and it was a good feeling. I got a good run out there and I did well so it was very nice. Especially playing in my home town of Sydney it was extra special.”
While Ikonomidis spent the 2016/17 campaign on loan his quest for game time saw him venture overseas where he spent the season with Danish side Aarhus GF.
He missed the first two months of the season but adapted to his new surroundings quite quickly and had his most productive year as a professional playing 20 games and scoring two goals.
Looking back Ikonomidis feels that his time at the Scandinavian club was crucial for his development, and his performances pleased his Italian club.
“Lazio were very happy with the year I spent on loan,” he says, “I adjusted pretty quickly in Denmark – everyone spoke English, it wasn’t too hard, so it was a pretty smooth transition. I played lots of matches. It gives you a great platform – it gives you something to build straight off from this season and you don’t have to start off from nothing, so it was a good decision especially as it gave me top-flight football.
“It was good playing in the first division in Denmark but obviously not taking anything from Serie B in Italy which is a very high quality for a second division. There are big teams in the Serie B like Pescara and every year teams come down from Serie A, you must remember so the quality is still very high there also.”
Upon returning to Lazio for pre-season, Ikonomidis has made an instant impact, playing in several friendly matches and scored twice against Auronzo that featured an impressive free-kick.
The attacker hopes to remain with the Rome-based club for the 2017/18 campaign and is concentrating his efforts on impressing first team coach Simone Inzaghi. “I’ve had him since I’ve played in the youth team here and we actually won the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa Italiana in the reserve team,” says Ikonomidis. “So, I know him well and he knows me and he likes me a lot as a footballer and we have a good relationship.”
At this stage he says he has yet to sit down and speak to anyone about what they expect of him, his sights are focused on the day-to-day with Lazio.
“I’m just trying to get myself ready for the pre-season here and training and getting in peak condition for the season ahead.
“Currently I’m still a Lazio player and I’m not thinking about that stuff now and they are not thinking about that either and till they have to or until the time is right. At the moment, I’m here in this team and that is what I’m focusing on.
“There are lots of friendly matches we’ve already had and there is [a lot] of travelling, currently we are away with team and training twice everyday. It’s pretty hectic but it gets you into good shape.”
Ikonomidis’ shoulder injury and late start to his season saw him miss selection for the Socceroos’ previous three camps including the Confederation’s Cup in Russia.
And with this season being a World Cup year, the fringe national team player says he needs to play more games if he is to get back into contention for Postecoglou’s Socceroos squad.
“Obviously performing at club level is very important and when you get called up to Socceroos camps [you want] to do well, there is always a fight for that spot,” says Ikonomidis.
“Healthy competition around spots in the team is always good and so is always doing well at your club. Of course, it’s always exciting to go back to camp and to see all the boys again and play games. There are lots of exciting things coming up for the national team in the coming months and coming years and hopefully I can be part of that.”
Looking at the Italian football calendar, a mouth-watering fixture sees Italian Cup winners Lazio take on Serie A Champions Juventus in the Supercoppa Italiana Final on Sunday 13 August and Ikonomidis is hoping to be involved.
“Obviously, it would be a dream come true to win a cup title in Italy and I’m just taking it step by step and day by day. If you work hard, small steps can get you to big places,” he says.
“I’m 22 now but I’ve been overseas for almost six years – since I was 16. So I’ve had to grow up quickly living in another country. I had to learn a new language and I’ve had to adapt to a lot of things on and off the pitch in particular. I really feel like I have developed [as] a player and finished with my development. Coming as a kid to Italy was one of the best decision I’ve ever made.
“I just need to continue to develop and work hard and keep going on my journey.”