Young defender Adrian Neoklis has detailed his fortunate exit from Spain back to Australia last month as the Coronavirus took a dangerous hold in the European country.
Neoklis, who is on the books at fourth division club Mislata CF, arrived back in Sydney on March 16 as the pandemic spread across the world. Spain has been one of the countries hit hardest by Covid-19, with more than 230,000 cases and nearly 24,000 deaths.
The 19-year-old admits he was lucky to get back to Australia as the situation worsened in Spain.
“I had to come back as soon as possible,” he told The World Game.
“It was getting really bad in Spain. I had to come back and there was only four weeks left of the season. Now they’ve actually cancelled the season, so I was lucky I did come back otherwise I wouldn’t have been allowed.
“We didn’t really know at the start how bad it would get… And this wasn’t’ even at the stage when it was a pandemic. Everything was getting cancelled – training that day got cancelled, and the game on that weekend got cancelled and I was like what’s going on.
“Then the season got suspended for two weeks and it was out of nowhere. So something’s really going on. I started asking the coach questions and he said there’s been a Coronavirus outbreak.
“I went to the shops and I couldn’t even get supplies. There was no food there to survive. So I thought I really do need to get out of here.”
Neoklis was living on his own, near the city of Valencia, and has followed the situation online and on TV worsen in Spain after returning to Australia.
“Unfortunately there’s a large population of old people there and they’ve had to let them go,” he said.
“I’ve watched videos and understand a bit of Spanish now, and they’ve had to let them go because they don’t have a lot of facilities there. It’s pretty bad.
“In Australia we’re starting to get better now. Obviously the social gatherings and all that, all the guidelines are starting to help, and the cases are getting lower every day now, which is good to hear.”
Neoklis, who has spent time in the youth teams of both Western Sydney and Sydney FC, had moved to Spain at the start of last year at the age of 17 to further his career.
After trials at several clubs, the fullback from Wattle Grove earned a deal at Mislata and was called up to the Young Socceroos training camp in Holland in February.
“I really wanted to go overseas. I just felt like I wanted to step up and start improving, becoming more independent with my football,” the former Rockdale City Suns left-back said.
“It was the step I felt I had to take, outside of Australia. You go there and trial – that’s all it was at the time. I was lucky to trail for a few clubs and Mislata really liked me. “
They have a lot of money and they’re going to go places. It was really hard at the start – the language barrier, getting a position in the team. I just had to patient and it just worked out at the end of the day.
“There was a lot to overcome. They didn’t think that much of Australia. When I got there they were just shrugging their shoulders and not caring about me, and I earned their respect through playing football.
“I went to Spanish classes, I really wanted to make it there and do everything that I can. That really helped me getting a starting position. It’s ruthless in Europe.
“I wasn’t even getting the ball in the trials, if they wanted to give me the ball they would smash it at my legs. You really had to be mentally tough in those situations and push through. Fortunately I did.”
Neoklis said the ultra-competitive environment and regular football helped him improve and earn the call-up to the Australian Under-20s.
“I did a full pre-season with my team, I cemented a left-back spot with my team,” he explained.
“There’s 34 games there in the season, which really helped me develop my game. We got through the season, I started playing some really good football.
“I started to hit some good form in December and January, then in early February I got the call from Gary van Egmond at the Young Socceroos. I went to the Netherlands camp and it was a great experience.
“I had a meeting with Gary at the end and he said he was impressed with me at the camp. His feedback was I just want you to keep working hard and keep in contact. I was really excited to hear that, as it was my first camp.
“I went back to Spain and then I got called up for the first-team [at Mislata]. Things were starting to work out, I started to train with the first-team. This was literally just before the Coronavirus started, we only had four games of the season left.”
With his contract finishing at the end of the 2019-2020 campaign, Neoklis is planning a return to Europe when the global health crisis clears.
“I’m currently looking at next season, whether it was in Spain, in Europe or in the A-League,” he said.
“This is a good time for me to look around. My goal is to do probably one more year in Europe. It’s such a different environment over there, so ruthless and competitive, and I think I needed that.”