Student Stamboulidis revels in juggling act

Promising Australian midfielder Haris Stamboulidis believes a strong academic background will help him realise his boyhood dream of playing professional football.


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He also urges young players with aspirations of becoming professionals not to neglect their education because "you never know what the future holds" and which scenarios one may be confronted with.

Melbourne-born Stamboulidis, 20, has already donned the green and gold jersey at schoolboy level but the Socceroos team remains his major ambition.

Stamboulidis can play in midfield and in defence but his preferred position is at No 6.

He has just finished his first year at Columbia University in New York City, where he is studying economics.

He helped Columbia Lions win their seventh consecutive Team Academic Award of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America after the side's strong collective grade point average in the academic year.

He also played in every game of the season as the team finished fourth, just missing out on the NCAA national finals, which are broadcast on ESPN.

His success with Columbia also led to a 10-week training stint with Major League Soccer club New York Red Bulls, where he trained with some of the finest young college players in the country.


"Two and a half months is not a long period of time but in such a professional environment it definitely helped me develop as a player," Haris said in Melbourne while on a northern summer break, where he has been training with his former club Melbourne City to stay fit for the upcoming season.

"Living by myself in New York for the past year has taught me a lot about myself and also how to efficiently manage issues on and off the field."

But it is the enriching and rigorous academic experience he is gaining at Columbia in such a big city like New York - and the hardship that goes with it - that could turn him from a promising player into a full-time pro.

"I've always been a staunch supporter of education, even from a young age," he said.


"This aspect of life I have inherited from my parents - my father is a professor in business strategy and my mother taught Greek and English literature."

"I not only see education as a safety net for what the future holds for me as a footballer but I also believe that it is a necessary element of life in general.

"My view of education is not just the acquisition of knowledge from reading but the ability to transfer intelligence in a way that makes you think more clearly and act more decisively on and off the field.

"It teaches you how disciplined you must be in life and it certainly it has helped me mentally and enabled me to perform better as an athlete.

"An important aspect for me is the idea of time and how to manage it.

"Time management is by far my greatest challenge as being aware of all my responsibilities as an athlete, student and citizen, with the intention of striving for perfection is both physically and mentally exhausting."

Stamboulidis was further inspired by ex-Columbia Lions teammate and past Red Bulls player Antonio Matarazzo, who was drafted into the MLS by Orlando City. He now trains alongside former AC Milan legend Kaka and former Arsenal star Júlio Baptista.

Matarazzo's succession into the MLS has only strengthened Stamboulidis's belief that attaining a degree from one of the world's best universities and living the life of a professional footballer is more than possible and that the pathway he has chosen does actually work.

"A problem with a lot of kids who go overseas to pursue a pro career is that the opportunity to grow as an individual through education in most cases is lost," he said.

"Even learning a new language equips you better by knowing more about the foreign culture you may end up living in. That is what happened when I lived in Uruguay and speaking some Spanish has helped me now in New York.


"Yes, I am trying to pursue a professional career and I am doing everything possible and making all the sacrifices so I can achieve my dream but football might not be my life for ever."

Stamboulidis is believed to be on Australia's radar and his Columbia coach Kevin Anderson has been in communication with Football Federation Australia.

He is also on Greece's plans, having played twice for the Greeks at under-19 level.

However he remains eligible to play for both countries until he must chose after he turns 21.

Stamboulidis said he intends to focus on the matters that he can fully control and hopes to keep all his options open at club and international level.

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5 min read
Published 6 August 2016 at 10:00am
By Philip Micallef
Source: SBS