The Story Behind: Sebastian Pasquali

On Ajax Showtime, a Dutch website about Amsterdam Football Club Ajax, I wrote alongside colleague Bram van der Ploeg The Story Behind Sebastian Pasquali (in Dutch). Here’s the translation.

Father Tony and Mother Susie Pasquali are already sitting in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel with a beer and a wine, as we’re getting there through the rain. ‘When Sebastian was on trial back in September 2016, the sun was shining for about two weeks. But if we had known this…’, laughs father Pasquali, who truly enjoys the attention for his son in this interview. If we stop the recorder and put our jackets back on, Susie gets a text. ‘Sebastian asks where we are. Dinner is ready.’

It is typical Sebastian, who went to Holland in the winter of 2016 and moved into a row-house in Amstelveen, a village, town or city near capital Amsterdam. The first few months were hard because Sebastian had to settle in quickly in a new country and culture. ‘Due the cold weather, we watched a lot of Netflix back then’, says Tony. ‘Narcos, Peaky Blinders, Breaking bad… But Sebbi also likes Game of Thrones, Masterchef, My Kitchen Rules or Hell’s Kitchen. He is not a Gordan Ramsay, though.’

Christmas was, just like the Dutch weather, also different. ‘Christmas is big in Australia too, but we celebrate in the summer with many barbecues for example. In Holland we celebrated Christmas with a nice dinner and facetime with the family. New Year was different too by the way. Everyone had fireworks at 00.00h.’ If you look at life and personality in general, there are many comparisons, thinks Tony. ‘The life between Holland and Australia is quite equal. We are both relaxed, casual and friendly. The food is the same and the beer too. Only the animals are a lot bigger in Australia. There you have a snake in your backyard sometimes.’

Between snakes and kangaroos, Sebastian grew up in Wangaratta, a small village on and about three hours away from Melbourne. ‘Seb was always interested in football’, Tony says. ‘When he walked for the first time, he already played with the ball. He began at a local team when he was six. He watched a lot of football at a young age and brought his football to school too. Why? Because his classmates didn’t have a ball. If others didn’t want to play with him — football wasn’t that popular in Australia back then — he trained on his own. Sebastian’s teachers were critical at times, because he only read stuff about football. We pushed him to read papers, but then he went to the sport section immediately. When he got back home from school, he often had lost his football. It ended up on the roof all the time.’

Sebastian Pasquali with his family in Amsterdam.

Despite Sebastian’s passion for football, the Australian did also other sports. ‘He did Australian Football, but he didn’t like that. He has done gymnastics, track and field and also taekwondo for four years. Ah, and hip-hop dancing too’, laughs Tony. ‘Taekwondo he liked the most, because of the disciplinary aspect of the sport. Though, when he was twelve, he became part of a football talent program in Australia and from then on, football was a fulltime job. We had to travel six hours in total to Melbourne. Seb’s debut for Melbourne Victory’s first team was when Seb was sixteen years old. It was a delightful moment after years of hard work. We were so happy for him. Every day he played in the past, came back at that very moment.’

Sebastian had the luck that he was a product of the newly Australian football education program. ‘Han Berger from Holland came and developed the whole new Australian football academies. Sebastian learned by Han the Dutch way of playing’, explains Tony. ‘He always played with the older boys. When he was ten, Seb already played with the Australian national championships for the U13 group. He was captain at the time. He won Player of the Tournament and because he’s out of November, he was always the youngest guy from his team. Despite that, he always played one or two age levels above his standard.’

‘Frenkie de Jong brought him home, sometimes’
 
Sebastian made his debut at a very young age, could move abroad to England, Germany or Juventus, but chose an adventure at Ajax. Mike Panopoulous, agent and friend of Sebastian: ‘Seb played with Melbourne Victory against Juventus and the Italians thought Seb was nineteen. When they heard he was sixteen, they immediately sent a letter of invitation. I explained to Seb Juventus was not a club where young players as Seb himself would get a proper chance, so that’s why we believed in Ajax big time.’ Tony: ‘Of course it was not an easy choice to let almost everything behind and the coaches back at Melbourne weren’t happy too. You changed your — in principle — professional contract at Melbourne for a youth contract at Ajax. It is what you want.’

Sebastian Pasquali’s debut versus Juventus aged sixteen.

Despite all the little details, the family decided to trust Ajax and they went for it. Seb left Australia alongside his dad to Holland, Seb’s mother and brother Riley stayed in Australia. ‘When Seb was young we talked about Ajax because of the link between Barcelona and Cruyff’, laughs Tony. ‘Ajax has great facilities and Amsterdam is relatively seen an easy city. Everyone speaks fluently English, so that was not hard. I think it was hard to step back from the first team in Melbourne to a youth team in Amsterdam. Seb played almost no games during the 2016/17 season because of paperwork, despite that fact Ajax did everything the could. They helped us to find our home. Seb came in November — in the middle of the season — and that was not that easy. You have to learn almost everything and the boys did not accept him fully yet, especially because they have — deep inside — their competitive attitude. You are theirs competition.’

Despite the talent and the competition, all the teammates at Ajax were prepared for Seb. Tony: ‘He trained the first half a year regularly with Jong Ajax, so the guys in that team knew him already. Frenkie de Jong was one of the first guys who put him on the train of brought him home in Amstelveen. Pasquali is now used to the Ajax mentality. Melbourne Victory is Ajax in Australia, if you can say that. Seb is used to play for a big club, so if he doesn’t succeed fully at Ajax, he can go back to Australia to get his career back on track. He will grow because of Amsterdam. Who can say he left Australia for Amsterdam and for a definite time? We saw a chance we couldn’t ignore. Nobody can take two years Ajax from you. One training with Ajax U19’s is as playing five games somewhere else. That’s why we took this step. He will only become a better player.’

‘He wants to dictate play and have a role in build-up. He always wants to create.’
 
Agent Mike does have big influence on Seb, already since a young age. Mike saw Seb as a ten-year-old and the view he had back then, never changed. Mike reached out to Seb’s family and the band between them got better and better. ‘Despite Seb was young, he stood out. He always listened and was eager to learn. That’s unique at that age. He’s a smart kid, who has improved big time’, says Mike. ‘When Seb was younger, I trained a lot with him and I told his dad what had to improve. He had to train for himself and he did that. At this sort of time talent is not enough. You also need the right mindset. I spent a lot of hours with him and it’s great to see where it brought us.’

© Pro Shots

‘We have a very friendly and good relationship at the moment’, says Mike. ‘We have contact almost every day. We talk a lot about football, but also about life in general. I did my best to get him to Ajax, because I thought that was the right step. He had to enjoy it. If he feels bad, I feel bad too. He’s at Ajax at a delightful place and when he’s happy, he performs in the best way he can as a football player. It is important that you’re environment is positive and give you good vibes. During the first six months I went a lot of times to Amstrdam. We didn’t knew everything took so long, but it kind of reformed him. I needed to convince him that everything was going to be okay and that he had to enjoy training sessions.’

Mike is impressed by the development of his pupil during his first six months at Ajax. He compares Seb’s playing style with Luka Modric, but calls Sebastian unique. Tony, who trained a lot with Seb on the physical aspect of the beautiful game, adds: ‘The day you quit developing, is the day you have to think about quitting. Than you have to think about your last contract, somewhere in the Middle East or Qatar. Seb loves assists, but he also likes to score goals. He wants to dictate play and have a role in build-up. He always wants to create.’

‘Back home he’s more brutal in a nice way. He has humour.’
 
Mother Susie says it’s typical Sebastian that he likes an assist more than scoring a goal. ‘He hates it when he lets someone down. If he does that, he has it difficult. He doesn’t feel well. He always does what you ask him to do.’ Tony agrees: ‘He is very loyal and generous. A lot of kids liked him at school and when he played football, others always made Seb captain. Also when he played League football in Melbourne. At Melbourne Victory Seb has still a lot of friends, by the way. He sees them during days off in the summer for example. When he meets new people, when he is in a new environment, he’s a bit quite. A bit shy maybe.’

Sebastian Pasquali when he was younger, playing for Australian youth teams.

At home that’s different, laughs Tony. ‘Sebastian is always busy. He’s very obsessive with things at times. Back home he’s his closet with shoes structured very precisely. He did that in the past with toys too. He is not like Rafael Nadal, but he likes to have control.’ Susie: ‘Back home he is more brutal in a nice way. He has humour, especially with his dad. When he’s nervous, you see he’s more quite. In certain moments he waits at the door till he can leave.’

‘In one moment I saw he was angry’, Tony follows. ‘There were a lot of boys kicking him all the time. Seb was done with it and pushed an opponent. He never went further than that. If you are talented and you are a small kid, you get used to kicking.’ Susie: ‘He was not that happy when he couldn’t play games for Ajax. You saw that in everything he did. During our last holiday, back in the summer of 2017, you saw he was happy again. Much more relaxed.’

‘He surprises you all the time. Sometimes you think he cannot do something, but then he does it. I was happy for him when he went to Ajax. He was ready to go, already for a long time’, ends Susie, who’s curious about all the attention for his son and what that does with Seb. ‘He needs to be ready to sign autographs and that sort of things. When he was younger, someone in Australia wanted an autograph from him on a shirt or pair of shoes, but back then he always asked why. I have not achieved something yet, he always said. But there’s a point you have to see that you are kind of special, if you can say that.’

‘When he understood and talked the Dutch language, he immediately went for his driver’s licence’
 
Sebastian is lucky he always can fall back on a stable family. According to Susie, Seb’s relationship with his brother Riley is very positive. ‘They are typical brothers. They had their fights, but those weren’t that bad. They are very close. Riley plays football in Melbourne as semi pro, but back in the days Riley and Seb played together for years, because Seb played two teams above his age group. They share a lot of memories. When Seb played a friendly at Ajax, he took a corner. He saw that Riley was standing there, watching, and I said that — if Riley was playing — he would’ve scored out of that corner kick. They often played football together, or FIFA or table tennis. Riley was never jealous, despite the fact he was two years older than his younger brother. Seb was — by the way — not the only one who got awards for best player. Riley got those too, at the age group of himself.’

© Reinand Visscher

Riley was different than Seb in almost every aspect. It was like water and fire. Seb is well structured, Riley was chaotic. Seb did everything for his sport, Riley did not, but accepted it when his family went all around Australia to get to youth tournaments of Riley’s younger brother. When Seb moved to Amsterdam, Riley stayed with Susie in Australia. Everyone thought Seb had to take this adventure. ‘We always had a lot of contact, for example via Facetime. It is not the same as seeing him in real life, when you can hug and kiss him, but we are lucky with the current technology’, says Susie. ‘It would be something when we had to send letters all time. I can send him messages whenever I want and he always texts back. I think Sebbi finds his parents very important.’

Despite all the family love, Sebastian wants to stay in Amsterdam, also when he has vacation or days off. Why? Because he is scared to miss something. He enjoys the capital city very much. ‘He is friends with Ricardo Farcas, Oliver Horvath and Szabolcs Schön, because they had Dutch lessons together. One of the guys lives in a guest family and Sebastian had dinner there once’, says Tony, who’s proud because his son spoke Dutch within half a year. ‘Since he’s at Ajax, he followed Dutch lessons every day. Those lessons were lessons from two hours, whereby Seb got two lessons at the same day at times. He learned — looking at school — nothing else during those six months. He is intelligent and the teacher told us Seb was very motivated. He learnt a lot about football in Dutch, so that was nice for him. When he understood and could talk Dutch, he immediately went for his driver’s licence. There are so many rules in Holland though…’

‘Then he took his skateboard, went to the park and did his exercises’
 Sebastian is happy in the Netherlands since the day he got here. Tony: ‘He doesn’t have much free time, he rests on Sunday’s and he watches a lot of football, as he plays FIFA. He plays football by himself in the park too, and he likes to use his bike to cross through town.’ Seb can adjust himself well and quickly, as he does now to Dutch fashion trends, he listens to teammates and to Dutch, popular music. ‘He finds it very important to be good looking. As a young kid he cleaned up his football boots after every match. Nowadays he still does that. He has that from me. You have to be careful with your materials.’ He is often the latest who gets out of the dressing room’, explains Tony. ‘He likes to take his time, to clean it up a bit, get something to eat, have a talk with teammates… We always have to wait till he get out.’

Sebastian Pasquali as captain, playing for the Australian international youth team.

In the little time he has, when he is back in Australia for example, he likes to use his skim board. That’s a kind of skateboard, but in this case on the water. Father Pasquali: ‘He is very good with his skim board. He could do that for hours when we went to the beach. When he came back to Australia in the summer of 2017, he had to stay in good shape from Ajax. Then he took his skateboard, went to the park and did his exercises. Skating, skim boarding, he has always done this. If he could, he is eager to learn surfing too, but we live too far from the beach. Seb loves rollercoasters too. When he was old enough, he got in bigger and faster rollercoasters. His brother doesn’t like it all and me neither, so he always went in there alone.’

With an eating expert, Sebastian cares a lot about his body. Susie is not surprised. ‘It is unbelievable how many salads he eats. Dessert? Salads. He takes a bowl full of salad and within a matter of time, it’s in his belly. It’s a standard meal on the menu. He eats very healthy and good. Ajax gives him advice, but he’s interested in it by himself too. He always wants to know what he should eat and what could be better for him to perform at a high level and to recover as quickly as possible. He knows very well how he’s feeling. If a movie takes too long to watch it till its end, he goes to bed. His guilty pleasure is ice cream. He haven’t got that for a long time due his diet though.’

Mike: ‘He is a very big Tony Chocolonely fan. When he went to Ajax, he told me he couldn’t eat Tony’s for a while and I believe that till this very day. If you give him a Tony Chocolonely, he’ll probably look angry at you. Just like when you say to him that Cristiano Ronaldo is a better player than Messi.’