The Sydney Morning Herald | When the COVID-19 pandemic eventually ends, the world will look very different for Sydney teenager Ikko Ehode Arimoto.
Before the lockdown, the 17-year-old from Sylvania was on the periphery of Australia’s under-17s team and unsure where he would play his next game. As soon as travel restrictions are lifted, he will fly to Spain to finalise a transfer to La Liga club Villarreal before potentially lining up for the Cameroon or Japan youth teams.
In the midst of the suspension of all football activity, the defensive midfielder sealed a dream move to one of the biggest clubs in Spain after a trial at a rival side in the Valencia region. A short stint with lower league side Olimpic de Xativa ended without a permanent deal but it led to a recommendation that could lift his career to the next level.
“They had two ex-Villarreal players and I was basically referred to them,” he said. “We were contacted by Villarreal and they spoke to the players who were training with me to see if I was at the level, then they gave me the opportunity to go over. I was very excited and it made me realise that if I keep working hard and if I keep focused, I can play professional football one day. It gave me a good boost in confidence.”
At Villarreal he will train with the likes of Spanish internationals Santi Cazorla and Raul Albiol, and Colombian striker Carlos Bacca while playing in their youth teams and will become eligible for competitive games next March, when he turns 18.
They are all often at World Cups so I am open to any of them. It would be nice to play for any of them.
Ikko Ehode Arimoto
News of the move to Villarreal travelled to the country of his father’s birth, Cameroon, who are eager to cap him in their national junior teams. They are not alone. Australia have included him in the preliminary squad for the Joeys and there is interest from his country of birth, Japan. While he left at a young age, Japan’s federation has been notified of his progress by the Australasian Soccer Academy, where he has been training.
Ehode Arimoto said it would be tough to pick one country as he has an equal affinity for all three. He speaks English, French and Japanese, has lived in Australia for eight years, was born in Japan and has played in the Brasserie du Cameroun, a prestigious youth academy in Yaounde that helped produce Samuel Eto’o. There is also little difference in the football stature of all three countries.
“They are all often at World Cups, so I am open to any of them,” he said. “It would be nice to play for any of them. I have been in Australia for a very long time so that’s where the foundation of my football is. It wouldn’t be bad to play for Australia, also to be alongside some of the players I grew up playing with, but it’s about where I am most comfortable with. Any one of the three.”
The choice will be solely his to make. Despite having a Japanese mother and Cameroonian father, his family won’t steer him to either nation.
“It is up to him, wherever he feels,” his father Ekanga Ehode said. “He is grateful for learning a lot of things here so it would be a great thing for him to play for the Australian team after being given a chance here.”
Share on Facebook