Socceroos' Ikonomidis learning from Serie B's school of hard knocks

Australia youngster Chris Ikonomidis believes taking the Tim Cahill path to the top by facing up to the toughness of Italy’s second tier, much like the Socceroos icon did in England in his formative years at Millwall, will make him a stronger professional in the future.

Chris Ikonomidis

Chris Ikonomidis with the Socceroos. (Getty) Source: Getty Images

The 20 year-old attacker, who has two Socceroos’ caps and will return to the fold for this month’s FIFA World Cup qualifiers after completing his dual mission with the Olyroos, reckons getting roughed up in Serie B will make him a more complete player as his career unfolds.

Loaned out by Serie A giants Lazio to struggling Salernitana for the rest of the season is proving character forming for the kid from Sydney’s South, who made history a year ago becoming the first Australian to win a cap before making his club debut.

Set to be named on Tuesday by coach Ange Postecoglou in his squad for the looming qualifiers against Tajikistan and Jordan in Adelaide and Sydney, Ikonomidis has already racked up seven straight appearances for Salernitana, and has the bumps and bruises to prove it.

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"As an attacker I am often faced by these huge defenders who basically just want to clean me up," Ikonomidis said.

"It will toughen me up, for sure. It's maybe a bit similar to the story of Tim Cahill when he was at Millwall (in England’s rough and tumble second tier)."

Cahill, now 36, spent six years with the unfashionable London club between 1998-2004 forging his trade and honing his craft before departing The Den for English Premier League side Everton, where he became a club legend still eulogised by fans.

"He was getting knocked and kicked around, and I am learning to withstand that side of things also," Ikonomidis added.

"After every game I have at least three or four knocks that I have to get ice on straight away.

"Also psychologically, it's good for me being able to play at a club that’s struggling and doing my bit to try and help them out of the relegation zone."

Having made his Lazio debut away to St Etienne in the UEFA Europa League in December - playing 84 minutes in a 1-1 draw – Ikonomidis took the chance to go out on loan to a club sitting second bottom of Serie B to get the first team football which he knew would bring him back into the Socceroos' orbit.

"It was a big factor in my decision," he said. "I want to forge my way back into the squad and maybe even get a starting spot.

"That’s really one of my main goals: to have a long career with the national team. This is about getting game time in a respectable league in Europe and to start turning heads in Australia.

"I want to be part of the next qualifiers, the World Cup, the Confederations Cup and the next Asian Cup."

The quick and slick Ikonomidis knows the level can't rival Serie A, but he has no qualms about mixing it in competition known for its physicality.

"It’s obviously a step down, but the level is quite good. A lot of the Serie B is formed from ex-Serie A players.

"I got my first look in the Europa League at Lazio and that kind of set the bar for me.

"Coming from here in a way seemed easy for me in the sense that you have so much time on the ball ... it has given me the confidence I needed to do well.

"It hasn't taken me any time really to adjust to the new club, the new coach or the new players."

Having signed a five-year contract extension with the Biancocelesti last year, he remains a big part of coach Stefano Pioli’s long-term plans.

"I will be back at Lazio in May ready to play a bigger role at the club next season," he said.

"I spoke to the coach (Pioli) a few days ago and he was very upbeat. They have been following me very closely since I have been here.

"My role comes with a lot of defensive duties. It’s also about getting back and being the fifth and sixth defender at times, so I am learning a lot."

"There’s pressure from the fans and the club … it’s all good experience for me."


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4 min read
Published 5 March 2016 at 11:26pm
By David Lewis