Sebastian Pasquali……The name rolls off the tongue beautifully.
You may have become acquainted with this precocious sporting talent recently, by dint of social media. He’s the 16 year-old kid who made a dream first-class soccer debut.
You’ll recall Melbourne Victory thrusting him into the spotlight against global giants, Juventus, amidst the heaving atmosphere of a large MCG crowd.
Fitting in like a glove, he moved with the aplomb of a seasoned performer, then stepped up to convert a penalty shot which clinched the match for his team….. He was the talk of the town.
Now, after another couple of A-League cameos, Seb has been lured to one of the world’s most successful clubs, Ajax Amsterdam.
It’s a soccer education at the highest level. The experts say that, with an opportunity like the one he’s been offered, the lad had to grab it with both hands. They’re all in agreeance, that Ajax are among the best developers of talent in the world.
It’s only seems a few years ago that he was running out in the Black and Red stripes of the Wangaratta soccer club.
And before that, as a toddler, being carted to Ovens & Murray matches, where his dad was lauded as a champion of another code………..
Dad – Anthony – has held a life-long fascination with sport – and fitness.
When his parents were growing tobacco in the Ovens Valley, he and his younger brother Walter would turn out for the Myrtleford soccer club. The family’s move to Whitfield saw them shift their allegiance to Wangaratta City.
My favourite story of ‘Pas’ is of a 15 year-old first embracing the game of Australian Rules, and the Wangaratta Rovers.
Tuning in to the radio broadcasts of the Rovers games on 3NE, he is absorbed by the commentary, and visualises himself wearing the Brown and Gold. He becomes entranced. His ambition is now to play for the Hawks.
As an extension of this, he wanders into the Murphy Street Sports Store owned by former Hawk stars Eric Cornelius and John Welch, and queries how he could go about signing up.
They steer him in the right direction and the next season he begins playing with the Thirds, alongside his Galen College mates, Frank Anania and Carlo Tonini.
Twenty-two years later, he retires after a career which scales the heights. He has chalked up a then club-record 322 games, coached the Club and has been an integral figure in one of its finest eras.
The following year he receives an honour he cherishes dearly when he is elevated into the Rovers Hall of Fame…………
But it was not always beer and skittles for Anthony Pasquali.
After winning the Thirds Best & Fairest in his first year, and playing in a Reserves flag in his second, he served a solid apprenticeship, before he was deemed ready for senior football.
He debuted under the watchful guidance of Mervyn ‘Farmer’ Holmes in 1985 and soon became an established player.
With many lads of similar vintage also making their way in the game, ‘Pas’ showed the way with his meticulous preparation and attitude to fitness.
His marking skills – an important part of his repertoire – allowed him to play well ‘above his height’ and with undeniable stamina he could run all day. Some say he was best suited to a wing but, really, he could be shunted anywhere with equal effect.
Half-way through the 1988 season, ‘Pas’ was admitted to the Police Academy and shifted away from Wangaratta. Although his stay in the Force proved to be short-lived, he continued to travel back and forth from Melbourne for several years.
The reward for the vagaries of travel was his place in a crackerjack Rovers side, which was a power for most of the next decade.
A noted big-occasion player, he starred in the 1988 and ’91 flags. A stress fracture of the foot had consigned him to just a handful of games in 1993 , and he watched on as the Hawks again took the honours.
There was no doubting his determination to rebound the following season. The Rovers went into the Grand Final on a 34-match winning streak and were at unbackable odds to defeat Wodonga.
It appeared that the Dogs had an obsession about taking ‘Pas’ out of the game. During a turbulent third term they lost control and three seperate reports were laid for incidents against him. No matter – the Hawks cruised away to win by 59 points.
Several years later, he made one of his toughest calls. He was by now the Rovers assistant-coach and regarded the post as a natural progression to assume a coaching role in his own right.
Benalla came knocking in 1999 and he took charge of them for two seasons. He added further laurels to an already glittering CV by winning the GVFL’s Morrison Medal and their Club B & F.
His dream was realised in 2001, when the Rovers appointed him as captain-coach. The Hawks reached the finals in each of his three years at the helm, but, in my book, 2002 was a coaching triumph.
His side, flying under the radar throughout the year, hit the front early in the final quarter of the Grand Final, but couldn’t go on with the job against North Albury.
‘Pas’ handed over the reins at the end of 2003 and agreed to play on. But injury struck in the form of a broken leg. Despite his best efforts to fight his way back to full fitness the following year, he finally decided that it was time to pull the pin on his magnificent career.
As a 12-time O &M, and 7-time VCFL rep, along with his other football gongs, he had proved his ability to perform consistently, with rare quality, and at a high level.
But it wasn’t long before he was tempted to resume a relationship with Wangaratta City that he had abandoned in his early teens.
His boys, Riley and Seb, were now showing plenty of promise in the junior ranks, and ‘Pas’ also found himself being swept up in the round-ball code.
Who better, then, to take on the main job at City, when it became available ?
So, in a rare twist, ‘Pas’ became the first person to coach both an Ovens and Murray League and an Albury-Wodonga Soccer League club.
He was fascinated by the varying cultures of the two codes, both of them unique in their own fashion, but says, when it all boiled down, it was a simple case of man-management.
And he has thoroughly enjoyed the ride he and Susie have been on, as the boys have made their way in the world of soccer.
Riley (18) is at university and has played at State League club, Altona, for the past two years. Seb, who turned 17 on Tuesday, is completing Year 11 at Maribyrnong High.
” ‘Seb’ has a one and a half-year contract, with the option of another year, so I’ll be heading over to Amsterdam with him, to help him settle in. I’ll be spending a fair bit of time over there, then I’ll go over and back a couple of times in the off-season,” ‘Pas’ says.
“It’s a great opportunity for him. Pro-soccer in Europe is the ultimate,”
And what words of pre-match advice does this Aussie Rules champ and soccer enthusiast give to his kids ?
“I just tell them to make sure they enjoy themselves.”…………