Aussie "wonder kid" Theo Markelis used to have lunch with Barcelona striker David Villa, has played in Europe for five years and is just 19 years old.
Theo Markelis used to have lunch with Barcelona striker David Villa, has played in Europe for five years and is just 19 years old.
The exciting Australian has had to deal with the “wonder kid” tag ever since he signed for Valencia as a 14-year-old but he takes it all in his stride.
Markelis spent three years with the La Liga giants before signing for Italian Serie B outfit Vicenza in a bid to play regular first-team football.
And although an unfortunate knee injury ruled out the exciting striker for seven months in 2011, Markelis is on the verge of making his debut for Vicenza.
"It's been great at Vicenza," Markelis said.
"I thought getting into the first team at Valencia would be hard. So I tried to move to Italy, which would give me more of a chance to play professionally. It's been good so far. I'm happy to be here."
"The only problem I have had here is my knee injury. That set me back but right now everything's back on track."
Since returning from the ACL injury in November 2011, he has scored four goals in nine appearances for the club's youth team as he closes in on a first-team berth.
Also in his favour is the fact Massimo Beghetto has been appointed the club's new manager.
Beghetto - who coached the club's Under-20 side this season featuring Markelis - was given the job after former manager Luigi Cagni was sacked.
And the Melburnian is hoping that with Beghetto in charge, he might make his debut before the season is out.
"A couple of times they have called me up to train with the first team," he said.
"I hope I make my debut before the end of the season and if not, I think I-m a big chance next season."
"If I continue the way I am going now, there is a high possibility (of playing before the season is out)."
Markelis' football journey began at the Green Gully Cavaliers in Melbourne, where he spent three-and-a-half years.
At the age of 14, he attended a football clinic run by the Genova International School of Soccer and was spotted by his now-manager Morris Pagniello.
Markelis was invited to visit Italy on a football tour and played in matches against Juventus and Genoa.
"One of his (Morris') partners is a Spanish agent and he liked the way I played. He asked me if I wanted to go to Spain for a trial at Valencia. I went and played a tournament. I finished top scorer and they signed me."
He signed a whopping five-year deal at the Spanish outfit and repaid their faith with 14 goals in 17 games in his first season with the youth team.
The goals kept coming for Markelis, who averaged over 15 goals a season in his three-year stint at the club.
"It was a privilege to play for Valencia. It was the highlight of my life. I got to train with the first team, guys like David Villa, David Silva and (Fernando) Morientes a few times and that helped me. Having training sessions with the first team, that was a big thing."
"We also played a tournament in Groningen in Holland. Some of the biggest clubs in the world were there, Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSV and Ajax ... Some big teams. We won that tournament so that was something I was pretty happy about."
Markelis netted the winner in a 2-1 victory over Heerenveen in the final and describes the moment as the highlight of his time in Spain.
Although hanging out with Villa runs a pretty close second.
"I used to sit down and have lunch with him. David Villa is one of my idols." The Australian treasures one of Villa's match-worn shirts, given to him as a gift.
He also takes great pride in his appearances for the Young Socceroos.
"That (representing my country) was a dream. As soon as I went to Valencia I said I would love to play for Australia."
"I got the opportunity and I was very happy. I was injured while the Under-20 World Cup was on in Colombia and I was a bit disappointed that I didn't get to go. But that's football."
Pressure is something Markelis has had to deal with from a very young age, but the well-spoken teenager uses it as motivation.
"When I hear things like that (wonderkid), I try to prove why they say that. I don't get a big head or anything, I just try to work even harder. It makes me more motivated and it makes me want to do more."
"There is a little bit of pressure but it's a good thing."
Moving overseas at the age of 14 cannot be easy, especially to a country where English is not the preferred language.
And after getting accustomed to life in Spain, his move to Italy followed. But Markelis' attitude is admirable and he says he "does not get homesick because I love what I am doing."
His determination is obvious and he takes great inspiration from his former housemate, Isco, who is now a first-team regular at Malaga.
"I lived with him at the Valencia complex and then at his house. His parents took me in when I decided to move out of the complex. He was in the first team at Valencia for a little bit and then he signed a five-year contract at Malaga."
In the future, Markelis wants to play top-flight football, although he is happy to continue learning at Vicenza for now.
He is open to the idea of playing in the A-League if things do not work out in Europe, but the prodigy has so much potential that you would be surprised to see him playing in Australia anytime soon.
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