He's featured regularly in FourFourTwo Aussies Abroad weekly updates for his goalscoring exploits in Lazio's reserves...but Chris Ikonomidis, 19, has yet to play a senior game. Despite that, Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou has just called him up for the Australia squad to face Germany later this month.
We caught up with the teen sensation before his call-up to find out more about our newest Socceroo...
You’ve been at Lazio for over a year now, how has your time at Lazio gone?
My first season with Lazio was an exciting year. I started off with coach Bollini who immediately put me in the starting team for the Lazio Primavera (U 20) who were Italian Champions. Bollini was then promoted to assistant first team coach and that was when Simone Inzaghi took over. We won the Coppa Italia, came runners up to Juventus in the Super Coppa and finished top four in the National Championship. All up it was a good year that also included training with the first team.
What have been the biggest moments so far with Lazio?
There have been many highlights, some of my favourites were winning the Coppa Italia in season 2013/14, then getting a call up to the 1st team. Playing five pre-season friendlies then winning the Italia Supercoppa in 2014/15.
You moved from Atlanta to Lazio what was the experience like moving to big club like Lazio?
Atalanta is a good size club, but everything at Lazio was bigger. It was an exciting time for me and I was made to feel very welcome.
Was it always your dream to play in Italy?
Yes. It is here in Italy that I am maturing as a player and I’m laying the foundations for the future.
How did the move to Lazio happen?
Lazio had seen me perform at Atalanta and approached my agent towards the end of my second year at Atalanta.
What was it like when you first were offered the move to Lazio? It must have been a dream come true?
My agent Ulise Savini rang me and told me that I will be leaving Atalanta. It definitely took me by surprise. Lazio were offering a three year contract. I was flown to Milan and stayed at the Sheraton while my contract was being formalised. After a few days I was picked up and taken to Rome. The first players I met at the Lazio training grounds were Brazilian international Hernanes and German World Cup star Miroslav Klose. I was extremely delighted to be signing with Lazio. It was a step in the right direction.
You recently made your first team debut for Lazio in a pre- season friendly game what was that experience like and what was it like making the move up to the seniors?
I started pre-season with the Lazio first team. I played five games and scored three goals. The first team coach was impressed and was surprised that I had just turned 19. One of those games was against Brett Holman’s team Al Nasr. I was given my first team number #70. Obviously it was a different level but I think I fit in nicely.
What goals have you set yourself this season regarding making the first team?
I would like to make my Serie A debut this season. But I have to be patient. I am making small steps in that direction.
Tell us how much involvement you’ve had with the Lazio first team in terms of playing in friendlies and in training?
I have played the five pre-season games as well as training matches. The players are all friendly and I have made some close friends. Some of the boys did exceptionally well at the recent World Cup.
At first it was surreal training with German international Miraslav Klose, Nigerian international Ogenyi Onazi, Italian international Antonio Candreva, Romanian international Stefan Radu, Dutch international Stefan De Vrij and all the others but now I’m used to it.
What kind of things have stood out about the influence of the coaching staff?
I’ve had three coaches whilst at Lazio: Bollini, Inzaghi and first team coach Pioli. They are all great coaches with their own methods. They have taught me to work hard, to be aggressive on the field and a gentleman off it. I see the first team coach regularly and he always checks on me.
What is your favourite thing about playing for Lazio and what is your favourite thing about living in Italy?
The fans are amazing. When I signed with Lazio I was receiving congratulations from Lazio fans from around the world!Places like Greece, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia... it was amazing. And then I was introduced to derby football. Our games against Roma are major events! Living in Italy is great. The lifestyle is relaxed and the football is amazing. We don’t have to compete with other codes. I’ve become fluent in Italian and I’m comfortable now being interviewed. The food and the girls aren’t bad either.
What were the greatest challenges for you when you first made the move to Italy?
I knew NO Italian and I knew no-one. I had to fight home sickness and being away from my family. I immersed myself in my football and studied the language. But then an Aussie appeared. James Troisi came to Atalanta from Juventus. I spent some time with him and his family. My friend and advisor Antonio Masullo from Monza was also a big help, he kept an eye on me in those early years.
After being in Italy for a few years now, how do you feel you have adapted to the football there, compared to when you first arrived?
I have become an Italian footballer with Aussie grunt. I’m quicker, smarter and more creative. You have to be when you are on the pitch with world class players.
How have you changed as a footballer and as a person since your time in Italy?
My parents tell me that I am much more mature with a lot more life experience. Football really has taken me to a lot of places. As a footballer I’m starting to specialize in certain positions. Italian football heavily emphasises tactics and technique. I think I have improved a lot in these areas.
What is your favoured position? I read you have been groomed as a Trequartista (deep lying playmaker)...
Beppe Bergomi at Atalanta preferred me in that role and I learnt a lot from him. At Lazio however I have become a left winger. That’s where Lazio first team coach Pioli plays me. For the Primavera (reserves) Inzaghi plays me in a variety of positions depending on the game.
Tell us about your youth career in Australia - which junior clubs did you play for?
I started off with Cronulla RSL and eventually at age 10 moved into the “reps” for Sutherland Sharks. I stayed at the club till the Under 15s. In the five seasons that I had at Sutherland, I totalled about 117 goals.
Tell us about your time with the Young Socceroos - you must have been disappointed not to make the youth World Cup only being knocked out on goal difference. What was it like being in camp and tell about your experience at the championships?
It was great catching up with the boys. The mood in the camp was relaxed. Of course we were disappointed not making it to New Zealand but life goes on. It is always an honour playing for my country and I am available whenever needed.
What are your greatest achievements as a footballer so far?
Scoring for Australian U20s, getting a call up to the Australian U23s and of course scoring for the Lazio 1st team. And most recently, scoring the winning goal in the final of the Italian Primavera Supercoppa in our 1-0 win over Chievo Verona. Lazio have never won this title before. The gratitude from the fans, the club and the media has been amazing.
Which coaches have influenced you the most?
Whilst in Australia, Ivan Blazevic at Sutherland was a big influence. He took us to the Manchester Cup finals in England in 2010. I also spent some time with Johnny Doyle who taught me how to move and to be unpredictable. Beppe Bergomi believed in me at Atalanta. At Lazio it was more of a group of people which include coaches, physios, doctors and administrative staff. They’re all behind me and always full of encouragement
Can you tell me in a football and cultural sense what the biggest differences between Australia and Italy are?
The football is quick, skilful and creative. It’s very difficult to make it in Italy. You have to be focused and prepared to ride the ups and downs. With a lot of hard work and perseverance good things will come. Culturally there are big differences. It’s a relaxed lifestyle, especially where I live on Lake Bracciano. I love living in Italy now... but I always look forward to coming back to the Shire for my off season where I can get around in thongs and board shorts.
What is your main motivating factor to succeed?
I fell in love with football when I played my first game at 6. I scored 83 goals that year. What drove me was the joy that this gave to me and my family. Football has become my life and now at Lazio and when playing for Australia , the fans have become a big motivator as well. I can’t see myself doing anything else and I will live the dream for as long as I can.
Con Stamocostas is an Australian football writer. Check out Episode Five of his latest Football Snobcast: The Asian Cup Experience with co-host Rob Toddler.