Two months ago, Aussie whiz kid Xane Zaineddine was the subject of intense media scrutiny.
Linked with clubs such as Real Madrid, Ajax and Paris St Germain the 15-year-old looked set for a massive move.
Xane’s father Imad, fielded questions from Australian media as interest in the promising midfielder exploded on the internet.
Speculation grew that the youngster was on the verge of leaving English club Watford – not so the teenager said.
For the time-being the precociously talented footballer is staying put. Here he talks with FourFourTwo.
“Watford is a good club – I’ve learned a lot and developed my game a lot here,” Zaineddine said. “At the moment my attention is focused on Watford.
“What happens in the future will be interesting. Every player wants to test themselves at the highest level.
“I’ve won futsal and football titles and visited some great academies but playing for Watford, a professional club, is a great achievement.
“And it’s only the start. There’s more to come, I’m sure of it.”
In the week following the media storm surrounding Zaineddine, the teenager tweeted: “Unexplainable feeling right now”.
Zaineddine says now that time has passed he’s been able to process all the media scrutiny and everything that comes with it.
“The response has been great both from United Kingdom and Australia,” the former Barcelona Academy starlet said.
“It’s overwhelming but in a good way. I’m learning to use the attention in a positive way to take my game to higher levels.
“I’ve had friends call me or message me lending their support. Family has been great also with all their best wishes. Even people I don’t know are following me on Twitter and Facebook congratulating me and encouraging me to work harder and wanting to see me play.”
Zaineddine first moved to Barcelona when he was 10-years-old. He was on tour with a football camp and the Barcelona coaches liked what they saw, sending a written invitation to attend the club’s famed youth academy for one year.
For the first three months he lived with his immediate family but had to leave early due to visa restrictions, missing out on living at La Masia.
Zaineddine was coached and supervised by a legend of the Barcelona youth system, Albert Benaiges, who was the co-ordinator of La Masia and spent twenty years at the Catalan club bringing through current world football superstars like Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta.
“Barcelona was great,” Zaineddine said.
“When I was there we lived near Camp Nou and I remember walking daily to training past the stadium and saying one day I will play here and score goals.
“That period was great. Dad would take me running around the city on my days off and I experienced something rare both in a family and sporting sense.
“Training with the academy was great. Putting the FC Barcelona strip on for game days was unreal. I learnt the real tiki-taka way of playing when training at the academy.
“The coaches were great and spoke English to me. Barcelona made me want to work harder and become a better player. I dream of playing for Barcelona one day.
“I learned from the best coaches in the world at my age and this has made me a better player.
“I also spent time in Real Madrid where I was offered a place in their academy but due to family reasons and Dad’s work we remained in Australia.”
Zaineddine ‘s football journey was mostly influenced by his father who coached him from a young child, but after the age of 10, his football education continued through the Football NSW elite coaching program and private run academies.
“Dad played Rugby League in Australia,” he said. “He’s a diehard Parramatta fan. However in his words he wanted me to play the ‘beautiful game’.
“He coached me since I was four and up to the age of 10. And then after that he started monitoring my game from the sidelines and helping.
“I haven’t played for any (NSW) Premier League clubs since the age of 12 because I was at FNSW Project 22 and then in the FFA Skillaroos program. After that I spent time at AC Milan Academy in Sydney where I also learnt a lot.
Zaineddine also cites the influence of his High School coach as a big part of his football education.
“My school coach, Jeff Stanmore, at Bossley Park High was great, said Zaineddine.
“He’s a top coach and a joker when needed. He runs the Talented and Gifted Football Program at the school, which I was a part of for three years. The school was great with my football and real supportive.”
Zaineddine mirrors the football journey of another young Australian footballer, Panos Armenakas. Both Armenakas and Zaineddine spent time at Barcelona and the AC Milan Academy under Serie A great Andrea Icardi and both played youth football for Watford.
At the beginning of this season Armenakas signed for Serie A Club Udinese, where the 16-year-old has been an integral member of the Primavera squad’s Under 19’s.
It was while Zaineddine senior was visiting London in 2013 to see Armenakas senior, that Watford asked Xane to trial.
Two weeks into a six-week trial the club asked the Aussie youngster to join their academy. He has now been at Watford for 16 months.
Armenakas journey is a little different as he bypassed the football 22 project because he preferred the methods and the philosophy of the AC Milan Academy.
Zaineddine said that he also preferred the coaching methods of the Serie Club instead of Football NSW’s elite coaching program.
“The FFA and FNSW programs were good but were too structured and didn’t allow players like me to express themselves,” Zaineddine said.
“At AC Milan, the coaches frequently allowed me to play my game and the coaching was great.
“There were more intense and European tactics which improved my vision both as a forward and a midfielder. I wish Australia can follow Europe when it comes to football.”
Con Stamocostas is an Australian football writer. Check out Episode Four of his latest A- League Football Snobcast with co-host Rob Toddler.