PANOS ARMENAKAS PANOS WHO? WHAT’S HIS STORY?
Eligible to represent Greece, Australia and America at international level, it’s a measure of 16-year-old Panos Armenakas’ ability that the debate about which senior football side he’ll choose is already underway. Having grown up in Sydney, after being born in Newport Beach, California, Armenakas is looking like one of the world’s brightest prospects. The youngest-ever Australian-raised player to sign a professional contract in Italy, Germany, England, Spain or Holland, he recently inked a three-year deal with Udinese Calcio in Serie A.
“Of all the junior players I’ve seen in my time in Australia, he’s the most gifted,” says veteran SBS commentator Les Murray.
Australia’s rival nations for Armenakas’ international pledge are also aware of his immense skills, with Greece selecting him to play in an under-17s fixture earlier this year. Despite accepting their youth cap, Armenakas’ affiliation with Greece shouldn’t concern people Down Under, says Murray. “My information is that his heart’s with Australia,” he said. “The boy was born in the USA, but was brought to Australia before he could walk. He speaks with an Aussie accent and has never lived in Greece or America for five minutes of his life.”
It was 13 years ago that John Armenakas made contact with a class-mate from Sydney’s Fort Street High School, which marked the official start of his son’s football journey. “I got a call when I got back from Greece and it was Panos’, dad, John,” former AEK Athens and Socceroo Jim Patikas said. “He mentioned his little boy – he wanted me to look at him. He was three and a half years old. I said, ‘He’s basically still wearing nappies!’
“A year later John asked me again to please look at him, so I went to the park and had a little session, you know, to see if Panos could run [laughs].” After conducting ball stops, one-touch passing and running drills, Patikas quickly realised what many others would soon see. “Even at that age, Panos was a freak,” the 50-year-old says.
Rising through the youth ranks at Sydney Olympic, Armenakas joined AC Milan’s academy in Sydney; there, his reputation only flourished after star performances against elite juniors worldwide.
As he evolved from suburban secret to known prodigy, Ajax, Man United and Barcelona were among the suitors who tried to lure Armenakas to their clubs. Ultimately, Watford FC secured his signature in 2012 before he transferred to fellow Giampaolo Pozzoowned club Udinese Calcio in July this year.
It’s a career progression Armenakas Sr also deserves plenty of credit for. “We had a technical culture [in Australia] at the time which was quite destructive in terms of technical influences,” Murray says. “We were basically trying to produce weightlifters. His father clearly saw that and kept him away from that. The decisions his father made, in collusion with Panos, were based on what was best for him. At Watford he was in good hands. He was at a club that believed in him, took good care of him and trusted him. That’s why he chose to go to Udinese.”
Udinese Calcio boss Andrea Stramaccioni inked Armenakas to a three-year deal.