Why Pasquali traded bright lights of Ajax for Western United's blank slate
Seb Pasquali put himself on the Ajax hotlist with a penalty against Juventus and just 29 minutes of Hyundai A-League football.
But after learning his trade at a club whose famed academy is permanently etched in football history, the teenager now finds himself at a club that up until mid-February this year did not even have a name.
The 19-year-old - who has just been announced in the Australia U23's squad to face New Zealand in September - spent close to two and a half years with Eredivisie heavyweights Ajax Amsterdam after joining the four-time European champions from Melbourne Victory.
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There, he progressed through the club’s academy ranks and worked with an extensive coaching cast which includes the likes of 87-times-capped former Dutch international John Heitinga and ex-Barcelona star Michael Reiziger.
But after sliding down the academy pecking order last season, Wangaratta-born Pasquali jumped at the chance to return to his hometown of Melbourne to join Western United for their inaugural tilt.
“It’s a chance to create something special,” Pasquali exclusively told www.aleague.com.au.
“[At Ajax] There were great role models to play and improve under. But the club that I’m at now also has some Australian footballing legends in Mark Rudan, John Anastasiadis and John Hutchinson – they’ve all played at the top level in Australia.
“They’re creating an environment where we’re going to be looking for success.
“Mark [Rudan] has been great. He really expects perfection from us, that keeps us hungry and striving.
“We come into training every day knowing we have to give everything, not only to improve ourselves, but to improve the team.”
Pasquali was snared by Ajax three months after he buried a decisive pre-season penalty for Victory against Serie A giants Juventus in July 2016, a piece of theatre which saw his name launched into the global spotlight.
International paperwork robbed him of a fast start, but he would soon impress for the Ajax U-19 squad before breaking into Jong Ajax, who play in Holland’s second division.
But despite an encouraging start to last season – in which Pasquali, nominally an attacking midfielder, was frequently deployed in a central defensive role – he began to slide down the pecking order.
“I learned a lot about myself as a footballer and a person at Ajax,” he said. “I experienced a lot of great things in terms of what European football has to offer.”
“And I was lucky enough to play under a number of coaches who have played at the top level and under the Ajax philosophy. It’s a great environment to improve in all aspects of the game.”
Returning to the bright lights of European football remain an ambition for Pasquali, but he acknowledges it’s time to put his head down in the Hyundai A-League.
The teenager made just two league appearances for Victory during the 2016/17 season before jetting off to the Netherlands.
In midfield compatriots Panagiotis Kone and Alessandro Diamanti, both former internationals for Greece and Italy respectively, Pasquali is blessed with two seasoned professionals willing and able to take the former Ajax starlet under their wings.
“They offer something different to our team and offer quality on and off the pitch,” he said.
“They’re really eager to help us young boys with the highs and lows of football. They’re easy going. I think everyone’s pretty comfortable talking to them because they don’t act like the big guys.”
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Pasquali - who is a former Young Socceroos captain - has just been selected alongside Western United teammates Apostolos Stamatelopoulos and Ivan Vujica in Gary van Egmond's Australia U-23 side.
The Olyroos will host New Zealand in a two-match exhibition of Trans-Tasman talent in September, to be played in Wollongong and Campbelltown.
“It’s every boys dream to represent their country,” Pasquali said.
“There’s exciting things on the horizon for the U-23s with the Tokyo Olympics coming up, so it would be great to be a part of that.
“But I have to keep my head down for now and perform, and show that I can perform consistently.”