Sydney youngster James Demetriou said his dream move to English Premier League side Swansea City turned out to be the start of a steep learning curve.
Demetriou made headlines in May when he fell foul of Football Association betting rules for what he described as a “naïve mistake”.
Now the 19-year-old striker, who joined the Swans from Nottingham Forest last year, says he’s keen to make his name on the pitch, not off it.
He’s on course to do just that, after helping the club to their first U-21 title, in a campaign that included a 15-game unbeaten streak.
“Signing for a club in the English Premier League has always been a goal of mine,” Demetriou said.
“To have the interest after a very fluctuating season at Nottingham Forest was humbling, but I knew it was something I had to pursue.
“Having the opportunity to play in one of the best leagues in the world is an incredible feeling, and signing at Swansea is the most satisfying move of my career to date.”
Demetriou put pen to paper on a two-year deal with the Welsh club just before the transfer deadline in 2014. And, while he’s yet to make a first team appearance, the former Sydney Olympic junior says he wants to make his last contracted year at the club count.
He is upbeat about the upcoming season, which includes moving on from the betting offences that saw him slapped with a £700 fine.
“It wasn't fun, and it's not something that I ever plan on going through again,” he said. “It was a mistake, an honest mistake, I wasn't aware of the rules, but I know that's not an excuse and I'm not using it as one.
“What I am sure is that I apologised profusely for it and know that it will never happen again.”
Demetriou’s full focus is on the year ahead.
“This season I have set some very realistic goals, which I believe are achievable,” he said.
“I am currently at the start of preseason and looking forward to a successful year of football. I am injury free, and also it’s the first time I’ve been involved in a full UK pre-season.
“The previous two were interrupted by international obligations and transfer talks. I feel great, and have already done well in my testing.”
The move to the Welsh side was made easier after the striker was joined at Swansea by fellow Aussie Giancarlo Gallifuoco, who Demetriou played with when he was still at school.
Demetriou added: “On my first day at the club, I walked into a full change room and saw Giancarlo's face straight away. It was honestly one of the best moments of my life, weirdly enough.
“You don't see many Australians in Wales, and to see such a good friend and ex-teammate was just incredible.
“We grow up playing in the same representative team - called Sydney University back then – and we always crossed paths through state teams and futsal competitions.
“Giancarlo and I had an understanding with each other from day one. Throughout the season we had played a number of games together, the highlight being our 2-1 victory over Liverpool (reserves) where he beat me to the near post for a header.
“Both of our families were watching, and even though he stole my tap in, I was over the moon for him. He is a fantastic player and I thoroughly enjoyed playing with him.”
Training with international players like Wilfried Bony (now at Manchester City), French star Bafetmbi Gomis and Ecuador winger Jefferson Montero was a highlight for the former Marconi junior.
“Bony is an unbelievable talent, and I knew that I had to learn off him as much as possible before he was snapped up by somebody else,” Demetriou said.
“Training with the first team squad is definitely a step up, but doing the simple things right keeps you in the good books.
“The entire squad have attributes you can learn off, and you have to make the most of your time playing with, and watching, them.
“The set up at Swansea is one that should be replicated across all football clubs. There is no separation from the young pros to the first team boys that play on the weekend. We eat, train, shower and relax in the same quarters. Nottingham Forest was similar, but the facilities at Swansea are world class.”
Swansea is known for playing fluent attacking football, with an emphasis on the ball being played along the deck.
“The philosophy, spread from the first team down, is the type of game any striker would love to be involved in,” he said.
“All of our squads mould their game around the way the Gaffer likes to play. Keeping the ball on the deck and moving it quickly from side to side, opens up channels and always provides the forwards with chances on goal. It was one of the reasons I agreed to join Swansea City, as it was a brand of football that appealed to my style of play.
“It was definitely an amazing time to join the club. There was no expectation, or pressure for us to do as well as we did in the first part of the season. It was an amazing achievement, which was internationally recognised, and a credit to (coach) Garry Monk and our squad for applying the game plan so well.”
Monk defied expectations after Swansea finished with their highest ever position of eighth at the end of the EPL season. It was a record-breaking season for both of Swansea’s sides, with Demetriou’s youth team also excelling.
“Gary Monk is always around and keeping an eye on us in the club,” he said.
“He helped me settle in, and made sure I went through the season with as little issues as possible. Being a player, as recently as he was, helps when it comes to communicating with the boys. He has a fresh memory of what it's like being a pro, and trying to impress the right people.”
Speaking about his U21 coach, Chris Llewellyn, Demetriou added: “He is one of the most approachable coaches I have ever had – he made it easy for any of the lads to address issues within the squad.
“Being a striker himself, and playing at the highest level, he has never-ending advice on a variety of striker-related aspects. I learnt a lot from his sessions, and that was obviously a common theme throughout the reserves - as we won our first ever title in the U21's League.”