Ikonomidis: how mum's 'massive sacrifices' helped forge my football career
When reflecting on his earliest memories in football, Perth Glory forward Chris Ikonomidis feels nothing but gratitude for the 'massive sacrifices' his mum made to help send a kid with the eagerness for a first taste of the game on his way to becoming the A-League star he is today.
The 26-year-old is a multi-capped Socceroo with six years of European football experience and an A-League Premiership under his belt - some of the achievements made to date along a career which was ignited at the age of four by the initiative of a dedicated mother, Liz Ikonomidis, who saw her son's disappointment in not having a team in which to play - and took matter into her own hands.
Ikonomidis' mum features prominently in all of his earliest memories of the first years he spent with a football at his feet, as she took charge of his junior team with no experience of how to perform in the role.
He says he can now see the full extent of the commitments and sacrifices his mum made to help turn his love for the game into a flourishing career in football, and says there's no better way to celebrate his career milestones than to share them with his family along the way.
"I’ve been very close to my mum, ever since I was very young," Ikonomidis told a-league.com.au.
"To be honest, I was close with both of my parents, but me and my mum always had a very nice, special relationship.
"In terms of football, I actually was dying to get started when I was four years old. I went to the trials at my local team in Cronulla from where I was from and about six kids showed up.
"No coach showed up, no one wanted to take the team. So I was actually going to have to miss out on playing my first year of football because there wasn’t enough kids, and there wasn’t anyone willing to take the team.
My mum, not coming from any particular soccer background just saw the disappointment in my eyes and took it upon herself to coach the team, and to go and recruit players from my suburb where I grew up.
"She ended up coaching me for a couple of years, and not that she had any particular expertise in football - she used to google drills and exercises to do - we’ve just been close ever since."
"At the time I was so young," Iknomidis continued.
"You’re just enjoying it. I didn’t know any other kind of reality besides being in the back of my car with five of my mates heading to soccer training.
"It was just the best, best memories created for me.
"Even when I got a little bit more serious about football at 13 and 14, at the time you kind of get the little sacrifices that your parents make - (like) driving me one hour to go to training from my house three times a week.
But it’s not until you get a bit older and you have the fortune to do this as a career that you really understand that: the massive sacrifices and the opportunities my parents made possible for me, just out of pure love."
Ikonomidis built on his earliest years spent learning the game amongst friends coached by his mum to earn a promising opportunity in Italy as a teenager, departing the comfort of home in Cronulla to sign a youth contract with Atalanta, before joining Serie A side Lazio 18 months later.
Ikonomidis returned to Australia in 2018 as a 22-year-old for a brief stint with Western Sydney Wanderers, before joining Glory ahead of the 2018/19 A-League campaign.
"It was really nice being back in Sydney for football, being around my family and everything," he said.
"But for me, just the cooking of my mum, I probably ate a little too much when I was back there.
"When I’m in season and focus mode I probably prefer to be living on my own away from my family just for that reason, so I don’t eat as much good food."
Ikonomidis continued: "I see them a little bit less now, but they’re always there to support me, they fly over whenever they can.
"Obviously it’s been a bit harder this year with COVID, I haven’t seen them - I don’t think they’ve flown here once.
"When the league got called off (midway through last season due to COVID) I went home and did a lot of my training in Sydney.
I spent a good chunk of time with them there, which was the first time I’d spent maybe longer than two weeks with my family in the last ten years.
"They were really happy and excited to have me back for a few months, and it was definitely nice. We made the most of it, even though I was still fully focussed on my training.
"With family we just kind of keep it (about) family stuff, we don’t talk too much about football, because that’s the way I prefer it.
"I like to do my business on the pitch, and when I leave I kind of just like to become the son, the brother, the best friend that I am off the pitch."
Regardless of Ikonomidis' willingness to keep football and family separate, the forward understands the importance of celebrating the good times with those closest to him whenever those opportunities arise along the way.
From plying his trade in Europe, to securing an A-League Premiership, to playing in front of a bumper crowd in an A-League Grand Final and venturing overseas with the Socceroos camp for an AFC Asian Cup campaign: these are the moments which serve to remind Ikonomidis that behind every success in his football career are the key family sacrifices which allowed him to pursue his dream from a young age.
"My family flew over to (United Arab Emirates) for the Asian Cup, they flew over for the (2018/19 A-League) Grand Final," he said.
"They’re always my first people to come and help me celebrate milestones and achievements.
"In football, the highs are the best, the achievements, and the most important thing is having people to enjoy that with.
"And who better to enjoy these moments with than people that helped get you there?"
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