Being plucked from obscurity and signed by one of the biggest football clubs in Europe sounds like the implausible plot of a feel-good Hollywood movie, but such is the reality of George Timotheou, who recently joined Schalke's reserve team from semi-professional Australian side Sydney Olympic.
Take a moment to digest that, if you will. Schalke recruited a 20-year-old centre-back who was plying his trade at an amateur club over 10,00 miles away. Clearly he must be a talented player, but somewhere along the line the Canberra native was overlooked. Luckily, he has arrived at a club famed for bringing through gifted youngsters, but how did it happen in the first place?
Today has been one of the happiest days of my life so far 😍🔥 I have achieved a goal which one can only dream of as a little boy. Words can’t describe how happy I am for this opportunity Schalke 🔵⚪️ have given me. I wanted to say a massive thank you to everyone involved at Sydney Olympic for giving me this chance. Especially Kerim and Bill for opening this door for me I am eternally grateful. For all those other people unnamed there are too many to list but just know that I am so thankful. To my family and friends who have always stood beside me and supported me in my ups and downs I owe you the world 🌍
Timotheou, or 'Timo' as he is known, joined Australian A-League side Sydney FC in summer 2015 and after a year in the youth academy he was promoted to the first team squad. Things did not go entirely to plan, however, and he was eventually released at the end of the 2016/17 campaign without making a competitive appearance for the senior side.
Although he was obviously disappointed, the defender, who name checks Bayern Munich's Jerome Boateng as his role model, refused to give up. "It was tough but I think it was a good test of my character in the sense that it pushes you even more," he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
"There were definitely dark times where you ask 'why is this happening to me' and you victimise yourself. But I pushed passed that and sometimes it's good to test yourself to see how far you can push yourself. I thought 'If I can get through this than nothing is going to stop me'."
That never-say-die attitude drove the left-footer, whose Greek ancestry eased the paperwork involved in his move to Europe, to Sydney Olympic, who play in the semi-professional New South Wales National Premier Leagues. "I took one step back to take two steps forward," said Timotheou of the decision.
And it has now been vindicated. Following a two-week trial at Schalke this summer, the Royal Blues signed him to their U23 side. "Today has been one of the happiest days of my life so far," he said in a post on Instagram. "I have achieved a goal which one can only dream of as a little boy. Words can’t describe how happy I am for this opportunity Schalke have given me."
Timotheou has already made three pre-season appearances for the team, twice playing as centre-back and once in midfield in victories over Hannover 96, Sportfreunde Baumberg and SpVgg Erkenschwick. The next step is to start learning German in August, while his ultimate goal is to make it into Domenico Tedesco's Bundesliga side. A far-fetched objective? Perhaps, but no more so than his story so far.