In June 2013 Sydney FC midfielder Terry Antonis seemed to have the football word at his feet. A move to Serie A side Parma beckoned and the 2013 Under 20 Youth World Cup in Turkey was on the horizon.
But while in preparation for the tournament Antonis suffered a quadriceps injury. The incident scuppered the move to Italy, robbed him of an opportunity at the Youth World Cup and put Antonis out of action for nine months.
A year later, and with Antonis fit again, Australia coach Ange Postecoglou cast his national team selection net wide and the three-time Socceroo was called into the squad to face Belgium and Saudi Arabia.
Again injury struck, and the talented midfielder was forced to pull out of the friendlies with a groin problem inflicted during a pre-season cup tournament with Sydney FC in Townsville.
Antonis, 20, admitted the setbacks had been frustrating but was putting the disappointment behind him to focus on the Sky Blues’ opening A-League clash against Melbourne City.
“I worked hard, this whole pre-season,” Antonis said.
“The whole Sydney FC staff, Andrew Clark (the Sydney FC strength and conditioning coach) and with Graham Arnold as well - I was feeling good and it was hard for it to get ruined and not to join the Socceroos.
“Hopefully there’s more opportunities to come and I got to keep working. But at the moment I’m just looking forward to the first game of the season which is my main priority now.
“I was out for nine months last season, it was tough, especially being out for that long, you get to see your friends out there playing and actually running around,
“But when you come back, you got the big adrenaline rush you want to run everywhere and do everything, so it was pretty good to come back after a long time out
“I’m feeling good, really happy with how the team’s going and how the club is going and I can’t wait for it to start.”
Sydney FC ‘s hectic pre-season featured games against English Premier League teams Newcastle United and West Ham as well as two competitive fixtures in the FFA Cup. Antonis says it was the ideal preparation leading into the team’s 2014/15 A-League campaign.
“It was pretty amazing - you watch these clubs on TV and actually playing against them and testing yourself up against them was a great feeling and we performed pretty good,” Antonis said.
“Of course it’s always good having tough teams to play in the pre-season to test the team out and see how it’s going.
“It’s really good for the team to play against competitive squads.”
Sydney has an impressive attacking arsenal this season and Antonis will have an array of top quality options to feed from midfield.
Among them, Austria skipper Marc Janko, New Zealand World Cup striker Shane Smeltz, ex-Fulham striker Corey Gameiro, newly announced Socceroo Bernie Ibini and returning Sky Blue legend Alex Brosque.
Antonis said: “We recruited really well and we got an unbelievable side now.
“It will be great for the season ahead and for the start of the season and I can’t wait.”
Graham Arnold’s arrival at Allianz Stadium could signal a change in the club’s fortunes after a disappointing four consecutive seasons where the Sky Blues have failed to pick up any silverware. Antonis believes the arrival of the title-winning coach and his man management style can bring success to the Sky Blues.
“He’s a great coach, he’s amazing, he’s done really well and this whole pre-season he’s helped everyone,” Antonis added.
“Everyone one’s willing to play for him and everyone one wants to win for him and the club. He’s taught us heaps of things and we’ve just got to go out on the field and do it.
“He’s amazing to talk to, for me personally, and he’s taught us to do things on and off the field that helps as a player.
“He talks to the players. No one’s got any issues talking to him or anything bad to say about him, everyone likes him.
“With Arnie coming along, and with how everything is going, I think we will be up there. I think we’ll do really well this season.”
Antonis, who has been with Sydney FC since the age of 16, is no longer the new young kid on the block.
Now, following a year blighted with injury, he faces what could be a defining season.
“I’m not thinking too far ahead,” he said.
“I just want to get the physio done because last year was a really disruptive season what with my big quad injury and I’m just looking forward to the games. I’m just wanting to play and that’s it. “
The young gun has been deployed in various positions across the midfield and it waits to be seen how Arnold capitalises on his talent.
Antonis said he had no preference: “Wherever the coach puts me.
“I’ve always been brought up to play anywhere in the midfield. I don’t really have a preferred position. Wherever the coach tells me to play I’ll play.”
There was probably no better exponent of how to play in midfield than former Sydney marquee and Italian superstar Alessandro Del Piero.
Antonis said it was huge education watching, training and playing alongside the Juventus great and World Cup winner over two seasons.
“A player with his calibre has won everything in the world of football,” he said.
“When he came to the club he helped all the youngsters, he was an amazing person to be hanging around with - especially training with him, it was a huge thing.
“You’d watch how he moves off the ball and how he creates the space and how he jinks and beats players. It was pretty amazing to watch, so I learnt a fair few things off him.”
Injury and failed overseas deals have not muted Antonis’s desire and ambition to try his luck in Europe but after last season’s tumult his first priority is staying fit.
“I think every youngster wants to go overseas,” he said. “Since I was young I wanted to play overseas.
“You’ve just go to make the right choices, and make the right steps to go. Of course I want to go overseas (but) at the moment I’ve just go to concentrate on playing, on playing well and that’s it.
“Last season with the Parma deal, I’ve realised I’ve got to play and keep fit and just go from there.”
Con Stamocostas is a football writer check out episode one of his Australian football podcast with co- host Rob Toddler : http://www.robtoddler.com/podcasts/episode1.mp3”