Armenakas learning from 'incredible' Di Natale

Teenager Panos Armenakas spent his first season in the Serie A rubbing shoulders with Italian football royalty.

The 16-year-old, who is at Udinese, is the youngest Aussie ever to sign for a club in one Europe's top five leagues.

After getting a taste at an international youth tournament in the USA last year when Australia took on Brazil, England and the hosts, Armenakas is eager to take part in the FIFA U-17 World Cup in October and November.

"Hopefully if everything goes to plan and the Australia coaching staff believe I can be an important contributor to our goals, then I will be part of the Joeys squad, which travels to Chile for the U-17 world championships," Armenakas told FourFourTwo.

"Right now, however, I am just focusing on what I can control which is doing my best at club level and if my club performances are good enough to secure a spot with the national team, then that will be great.”

Speaking about his experience in Florida last year, Armenakas said: "It was an honor and a privilege to represent Australia with the Joeys and it always will be in the future at any level I may represent Australia at.

"It was great to be around boys that I had also grown up with and share the experience of competing at an international level with friends and team-mates.

“The staff from the ground up were amazing with everything and having a coach like Tony Vidmar who has played at the highest level could only benefit me by playing and learning under him. He was easy to talk to and I look forward to any opportunity to work with him in the future."

Armenakas spent his first season in Italy playing in Udinese’s Primavera Squad (the under-19s) and takes inspiration from fellow Aussie Chris Ikonomidis, who made his Socceroos debut after shining in the under-21 competition for fellow Serie A club, Lazio.

“Seeing Chris Ikonomidis do so well, of course it spurs you on. We speak from time to time and he is a great guy," the California-born Armenakas said.

"I was really happy for him when he made his debut.  He is still so young even though he is three years older than me.  To have a Sydney boy also playing in Italy and now for the Socceroos is something that I think any young boy would like to achieve. Hopefully my Serie A debut won’t be that far off either."

In Italy, the youth teams and first teams are kept close together which gives Armenakas – who is a number 10 – the opportunity to learn his craft off one of the world's best.

“I started to train with the first team, on and off, a couple of months into the season and as the season progressed it became a more regular thing, so I was delighted about that, especially being still only 16," he said.

“Watching and playing alongside Antonio Di Natale on a daily basis can only ever improve me. He is incredible and just to be in his presence leaves me in awe, especially on the pitch.

"The things that he can do leaves us as players and even the coaching staff speechless. He is a genuine leader and a role model for any aspiring footballer and without a doubt I try to learn and pick up little things from him, whether it be his movement off the ball or the defensive work he gets through."

Before Armenakas moved to Udinese, he was in the Watford youth setup in England.

After a year training and playing in Italy, the biggest revelation for Armenakas was getting used to the technical and physical rigours of Italian football.

“The common factors that all teams have in Italy are their fighting spirit, the will to do anything to win, and the physical side that I was actually quite surprised with," he said.

"So far I think my physique and my conditioning have come a long way in respect to when I was previously in England. Some of that obviously comes with age but Udinese quickly saw those areas I needed to improve on and set me up with a clear program.

“Italian football is also very, very tactical and that's another area of my game I believe has improved this first season. I am now stronger both physically and mentally and these attributes have helped me to become a more complete player.

"The quality of players I train with on a daily basis are of a very high standard, especially tactically, and that is shown with the results we have secured this season against top opposition."

Going into more detail about the level of preparation that Italy is renowned for, Armenakas added: "The training in Italy is much more intense than I have ever experienced.

"I have never run so much in my life and my body gets pushed to the limit every day. We always focus on tactics and how to close out games in the most efficient way possible and as quickly as possible but that usually comes just a few days before our next match. 

“The matches we play are all very tough whether it be Inter Milan, who probably have the best squad in the championship, or whether it be a team further down the table. 

"It took a while to adjust because coming from England and previously before that Australia, the style of football is totally different but the players and staff have all made it easier for me to integrate and straight away I felt at ease with everything."

Armenakas had just turned 16 when he joined the Bianconeri last season and playing in a league that had players up to three years older than him initially had its difficulties.

“I was the youngest in the squad so it took extra effort to compete in sessions and fight for places,” he said

“The quality of any top European club is always going to be high so meeting their expectations is a challenge itself.

"Like any new and motivated player would try and do, I felt the need to work harder than every other player in the squad and show what I’m all really about. Even though I am the youngest in the squad, I still wanted to show that I’m here to make it count."