Former Melbourne City NYL Championship winner Haris Stamboulidis has moved from the northern suburbs of Melbourne to New York to study economics at an Ivy League University. He talks to the PFA about the importance of education and how he balances study with his goal of becoming a professional footballer.

While part of the Melbourne City Youth team that won the National Youth League Championship in 2014/15, Haris Stamboulidis also achieved an ATAR score of 97.45 in his final year of high school.

“I thought to myself, why can’t I do both and achieve what I’d like to achieve simultaneously. So that drove me. It took a lot of sacrificing of time and luxuries,” said Stamboulidis when asked about how he balanced two such demanding pursuits.

“Also the support system that I had at home and certain teachers which drove me to achieving my goals. It wasn’t easy, it was quite tough having to study all day and then go and train and then the third branch is having a social life as well which is important. It was an interesting time,” said Stamboulidis.

Nearly three years later, balancing football and education is something that still drives Stamboulidis as he studies Economics at Columbia University in New York, while playing college football for the Columbia University Lions during the academic year, and with MLS outfit Colorado Rapids’ Under 23 Premier Development League team in the summer where he has now officially has been transferred to, from Melbourne City FC.

“I think education is a very important piece of life. Getting an education overseas gave me the opportunity to grow as a person, and live independently and figure things out by myself. There are a lot of young kids that aspire to become professional footballers and that’s great, but you always have to have a second option, and a third and fourth option, as my dad says. You never know what happens, it a cliché, but it’s key to living a successful and happy life, because it’s a tough business professional football. One week you could be the star of the team and the next day you could be nowhere,” said Stamboulidis.

The importance of education was instilled into him by his parents.

“My mum was a teacher in Greek and English literature. My dad…chemistry and math. Even from a young age I was encouraged to read, I was always encouraged to study, to be aware of your surroundings and what’s going on in the world,” he said.

Changing surroundings from Melbourne to New York has been inspiring for the young midfielder and even though he sometimes misses the big family gatherings and Greek food of home, the multiculturalism of New York has made him feel at home.

“I think it’s a more diverse population, especially in New York and that is something I’ve really embraced. It’s fantastic to get to know other people and their perspectives on different issues and meeting people you never though you’d come across, so that’s been a great attribute of living in New York.”

Stamboulidis found his love of football in the northern suburbs of Melbourne where his father played semi-professional football for George Cross SC and Northcote City FC.

He started playing at six years of age in the Under 8s and as he progressed from Heidelberg juniors to the Essendon Royals, Northcote City and Heidelberg seniors he mostly played in the age group above his own.

He credits his time in the Melbourne City youth team as a crucial time in his development as a young footballer.

“Our coaches worked with the first team so a lot of things were implemented into our training that the first team would do. I guess the intensity and breaking physical barriers and just the awareness and quickness of the game was all implemented in our training sessions to help us get better, so that had a big influence on me and I’m grateful for that opportunity,” he said.

Melbourne City were very supportive of his education during his time there.

“At our initiation lecture at AAMI Park, John Didulica, the Football Manager at the time, expressed that they assist every player with their academic studies during the year, especially during exam periods,” said Stamboulidis.

“Integrating and understanding the demands of school whilst providing the best opportunities on the field is something I will always cherish, being a part of Melbourne City.”

He continues his development playing for Colorado Rapids in the summer and Columbia in the winter in the Ivy League Conference Division 1, the highest in the country. His football dream remains to play professionally and one day play for the Socceroos, despite representing Greece at Under 19 level.

“Contact with both the FFA and Greece’s EPO have kept me focused as I am on the radar for both the Under 23 Olyroos and the Under 21 Greek national team, however I was born and raised in Australia and my dream as a young kid has been and still is to play for the Socceroos,” he said.

Stamboulidis has a year left at Columbia until he graduates and believes that no matter what his footballing future holds, his time there will hold him in good stead for the rest of his life.

“Time management is of upmost importance as we also travel interstate for midweek and weekend matches, leaving roughly 40% less time to study compared to non-athlete students,” he said.

“It’s an amazing school, the opportunities that we are given to learn and develop as people is amazing. I’ve learned a lot about myself but also about the world in general. I think that’s what Columbia and other Ivy League schools encourage, to create a self awareness that you can take with you for life.”