A spell living in Uruguay as a child put George Stamboulidis on the footballing path and now the Young Socceroo is out to make his name at Spanish club Rayo Vallencano.
Stamboulidis, who hails from Melbourne, joined the Under-19s of the Segunda Division side last February. Despite the upheaval caused by Covid-19, the midfielder has returned to Spain and has moved up into the club’s Under-23s.
The former Bulleen Lions, Northcote FC and Heidelberg United product is now also training with Los Franjirrojos’ reserve team and is eyeing a senior breakthrough at the Madrid-based outfit.
“I’m with their Under-23s and I’ve started training with the B team as well,” he told The World Game.
“It’s amazing, I’m loving the experience. Football’s a way of life here and being able to connect with people from all corners of the world, and appreciate people’s motivations and how desperate they are for football… I think that’s really shaped my perspective on the importance of football here.
“My goal is playing in a pro team, playing for the [Rayo] first-team hopefully, which I need time to do and need to be ready for when the time comes. It’s being in Spain – whether it’s Rayo or somewhere else, Spain’s the perfect environment to do that.
“And I think Spain’s way of football is kind of suited to how I play. I’m a technical player, I’m a good dribbler and passer, which I think are important to do really well here in Spain. That’s the plan – to continue developing and get ready for professional football and for any future Young Socceroos tournaments, which I’d love to be a part of.”
The skillful midfielder was with the Under-19s of second division club Extremadura UD when he was called up to the Australia Under-20 talent identification camp in the Netherlands early last year.
He joined Rayo Vallecano after the camp, but when Covid-19 struck Europe the season was cancelled and he returned to Australia for eight months.
“As the pandemic cancelled the season I was forced home, but I was luckily able to keep training with my brother and a UEFA Pro-licensed Greek coach at Heidelberg United,” Stamboulidis said.
“But it’s great to be back [in Spain], honestly. We’re playing games, even though there’s a lot of Covid cases here football doesn’t stop for anything. We have had some setbacks with postpone games due to Covid and now the snowstorm, but we continue.
“That’s a positive of being here. I’m loving the football culture and being in a professional environment, which I think has really helped me.”
Stamboulidis hails from Melbourne and grew up in a football-loving family. But it was nearly a year spent living in the Uruguayan capital Montevideo as a five-year-old that really ignited his passion for the beautiful game.
“I have a Greek background and obviously apart from being raised in a house full of football fanatics, my passion for football also started when we moved to Uruguay when I was a young boy,” the 19-year-old said.
“Football was the tool that helped me integrate with my surroundings, which were obviously really daunting at first. My first real football steps came in Montevideo where I played with friends at school on the street.
“We made goals of makeshift wooden pallets and just played wherever we could. It was in Uruguay where I would see young kids, at the age of eight or nine, practicing overhead kids and being taught how to land using their hands and how to roll correctly so they don’t get hurt.
“I thought that was something I hadn’t seen before and it really opened my eyes. Once I headed back to Melbourne I joined Bulleen Lions, that was the start of my development.”
He spent his teenage years with Northcote City before joining Heidelberg’s Under-20s in 2019 and then spent time training with Melbourne City’s Under-20s NPL team. The midfielder prefers to play as a 10 or as winger but is comfortable playing across central and defensive midfield as well.
Being comfortable with both feet is something his father and brother drilled into him from a young age.
“As a late developer I cannot thank Football Victoria and Melbourne City enough for selecting me into their late developers program, having gone through their SAP, NTC and TIDC programs. Their belief in my abilities gave me and other boys a lot of confidence as we focused on technical and tactical solutions on the field whilst our bodies developed.”
Stamboulidis got his first taste of international action with the Young Socceroos in 2020 and is hoping for more in the years to come.
“It was an amazing honour and a privilege,” he said.
“When I put it into perspective and consider all the things I’d done to get there, from a small boy playing at every moment I could at school or dribbling in between milk crates at my dad’s work, playing for Australia was one of the greatest and most rewarding experiences of my life.
“And getting a taste of international football has only motivated me even more.”