Round 6 of the A-League brought the predictable drama and controversy so common in Australian football.
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There have been plenty of good signings, it seems, ahead of the latest A-League season. But one of the most heart-warming, at least for this observer, is one of the most unheralded.
Indeed, having signed a youth team contract, Dimitrios Petratos will probably go unnoticed for much of the upcoming season. But he is definitely one to watch.
‘Dimi’, as he is known to teammates, isn’t a name familiar to many across the A-League landscape, but to those keeping a close eye on the NSW Premier League and the emerging Australian football talent, the 16 year-old’s signing last week by Sydney FC will be welcomed.
Touched by the Johnny Warren Football Foundation, Westfields Sports High and the NSW Institute of Sport, and with a background in Futsal, there’s little doubt Petratos has hitherto ticked most of the development boxes.
But perhaps his biggest influence, as is so often the case with such technical talent, has been his father, former NSL player Angelo Petratos, who is still running around in the NSW premier league in his early 40s.
Indeed, father and son have spent the winter knocking about in the same side, Penrith Nepean United, where the younger Petratos has been making a bit of a name for himself, essentially as an impact player off the bench.
He hit the headlines with this piece in the Herald a few months ago and has since been called up to Jan Versleijen’s next under 20s for a recent week-long camp in Sydney, which was the official start of preparations for the 2011 Under 20 World Cup.
With all this attention, it will be crucial Petratos remains grounded. But the word is he has a very level head and strong work ethic.
Naturally, he will need a strong temperament to take the next step, but what really stands out about his game to-date is his technique, and primarily his ability to get the ball on the ground, dribble and do a bit with it.
He is the type of player we should be encouraging and looking to develop. A modern-day dribbler that likes to take players on and can make a difference in the final third.
When he sees and opportunity to burst past a defender, he has the pace, skill and want to do it. Where there’s a dead-end, he turns out and extricates himself from trouble.
Diminutive he might be, but it’s his mastery of the ball that should be judged.
Cautioning that Petratos still has much to work on, his current coach at Penrith, Ante Juric, himself a disciple of the technical philosophy the governing body have implemented through the National Curriculum, says he is nevertheless the type of player we should be looking to produce.
“He’s positive, sharp, likes to take on players and is good at the one-on-ones,” said Juric, who doubles as Australia’s under 13s coach and was an assistant for Sydney FC’s W-League team in the inaugural season, during a recent catch-up.
“You can’t teach that sort of stuff at a later date.
“He still needs to work on his defensive game and consistency in the front third, but his technique and ability to get out of trouble is what can make the difference.”
For an Australian system which hasn’t exactly had a production line of wide players with an ability to dribble, it is refreshing take.
Certainly, when I recently took in the Sky Blues’ pre-season game against Penrith, Petratos had a blinder, coming on at half-time and catching the eye with his work down the left flank.
For the former Penrith player I was watching the game with, who was seeing Petratos for the first time and was blow-away by his comfort on the ball, it was obvious. Vitezslav Lavicka had to sign him.
Word is there was a bit of interest from Perth Glory, but Sydney got their kid, with youth coach Steve O’Connor and Lavicka now entrusted with nurturing him and helping him take the next step.
Certainly O’Connor’s work last season with the likes of Kofi Danning, Chris Payne, Zach Cairncross, Brendan Gan and Ryan Grant, and Lavicka’s encouraging work with the Sydney kids in the pre-season suggests Petratos might be under the right tutelage.
For Australian football, the hope is he can kick on and become a real front-third influence, wherever his career takes him.