Australian teenager Cooper Halfpenny has traded Sydney for Spain and signed a one-year deal with Aravaca Club de Futbol where he is playing against the best young players from European powerhouses Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.
Halfpenny, a Mt Druitt Rangers and Marconi Stallions junior, spent three years with the Australasian Soccer Academy in Sydney’s west.
Tony Basha’s academy, which has nurtured the development of Socceroos such as Mitchell Duke and Tarek Elrich, helped secure a move to the Spanish capital for the defender.
Aravaca CF’s Under-19s play in the Division de Honor Juvenil de Futbol Group 5 competition, against the youth teams of Real, Atletico, Ray Vallecano and Valladolid. The 18-year-old arrived in Spain in November and says already he has improved as a footballer.
“The standard is incredible,” he told The World Game.
“It’s a completely different ballgame to what I’ve been used. Within the first three weeks, even I fell like I’m becoming a completely different player. I’m learning a lot more.
“The head coach can’t speak much English, so it’s hard to get across, but the assistant coaches translate a lot of it so it makes it easier to learn. We played Real Madrid on Saturday, we played Real Vallecano a couple of weeks ago.
“It’s something I’ve gone from in Australia where we might have a local derby against Blacktown City or something, and I’ve come here and we’re up against Atletico Madrid. It’s a dream come true at a young age.
“I’ve played Atletico since I’ve been here and we had a friendly against the Saudi Arabian national Under-19 team at the Spanish national training ground. Aravaca is a very humble club. They’re not all about the fancy facilities.
“You come in, you train, you can use the gym, we can use the field at any time. They really focus on the players and the team, other than these big, beautiful grandstands. It’s good to be at such a humble club because it keeps you grounded.
“We landed in Spain about three weeks ago. Tony’s had a few connections and done a few tours in Europe. He’d become close to a few people at the club and they were looking for a centre back. He thought for me to make a video and send it over and see if they liked me, and luckily they did.”
Basha describes Halfpenny as “a fantastic player”.
“He has been with the academy for three seasons, he was part of our full-time programme. Cooper is a very hardworking player with plenty of skill. He has a very good attitude that drives him to succeed. He is one of the best passing defenders we have.”
Halfpenny grew up in Penrith, in greater Western Sydney, and recently finished his HSC at SEDA College in NSW. The centre back says the COVID-19 situation in Spain is starting to improve.
“At the moment it’s gotten a lot better recently,” he said.
“Everything’s open but it’s compulsory to wear a mask everywhere you go. There’s a curfew between 12 pm and 6 am. Apart from that, it seems like normal life over here.”
The defender is hoping he can impress enough in Madrid over the next 11 months to earn a new deal for the 2021-2022 season.
“I’m trying to perform as best as I can to get them to keep me for another year,” he said.
“I feel like I’ve started off pretty well. I’ve got height on my side as well to win headers, they like players to be pretty aggressive in the air. Hopefully that works with me and we can go from there.
“It would be a dream come true if all the hard work paid off.”