Daniel Arzani: The youngest Socceroo at the 2018 FIFA World Cup

Arzani in Antalya, Turkey. Photo: Robert Cianflone

Arzani in Antalya, Turkey. Photo: Robert Cianflone

Often when he’s leaving home for his Sydney dental surgery, John Arzani will spot wife Maryam sitting at the computer Googling their youngest son.

“I ask her why she’s doing it and she says, ‘I haven’t seen him for such a long time’,” Arzani says. “This is very hard from the parents’ side but, in the end, we’re very happy for what he’s achieving.”

What 19-year-old Daniel Arzani has done in the past few months has turned heads, even those who’ve long suspected his precocious soccer skills would one day place the world at his feet as if it were just another ball to be directed at his will.

When 2018 began, he was yet to make his starting A-League debut for Melbourne City. Entering June, he’s achieved what has consumed his thoughts since he was old enough to form them.

“I was always telling my friends and family, ‘I’ll be at the 2018 World Cup; you’ll see me there’,” says Daniel. True to his premonition, Arzani survived the last cut of Socceroos coach Bert van Marwijk’s squad for Russia.

He is the youngest Australian chosen for a World Cup, and will meet this daunting assignment with sparkling eyes, a joyous smile and the belief that nothing is beyond him.

The Arzani family: John and Maryam, Daniel and Ben. Photo: supplied

The Arzani family: John and Maryam, Daniel and Ben. Photo: supplied

Daniel spent his first six years in the Iranian city of Dorud, where his earliest memories are morning walks to the baker, eating breakfast with friends, and kicking a makeshift soccer ball in the street until long after his parents’ first of many calls to the dinner table.

“We didn’t have proper balls – we had these little plastic balls that were really light, so we’d buy 10 of them and cut them in half with a knife, layer them over each other then cover it with electrical tape.”

In 2005, the Arzanis migrated to Sydney, fulfilling a vision of a better life so long-held that John and Maryam christened their two boys Ben and Daniel “because we knew one day we’d move to Australia”. They moved back to Iran for a year when Daniel was 10, living in Tehran to be with John’s ailing mother, before returning to Sydney’s northern suburbs.

His father remembers a proud boy with a healthy self-confidence. At an interview at Sydney Boys High School, the principal asked Daniel what he hoped to become.

“I want to be a soccer player, to wear green and gold,” he replied. “And I want to be a neurosurgeon.”

John Arzani, the son of a baker, became a dentist. Maryam’s father was a railway station officer; she is a chemical engineer.

A young Daniel played soccer on the streets of his Iranian home town.

A young Daniel played soccer on the streets of his Iranian home town.

Their first son Ben has a decision to make after being accepted into both medicine and dentistry. Daniel’s focus has recently narrowed, having deferred studies in medical science to concentrate on soccer.

As a child in a strange but exciting land, he tried swimming and tennis but soccer was his passion.

At 14, he moved to the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra. At 16, he was signed by Melbourne City, who’d been wowed by his promise in a youth team game.

“It’s been a very long journey,” John says. “We haven’t seen Daniel since he was 14.”

Initially, he wasn’t taken with Melbourne (“it just seemed like a worse version of Sydney”), but since turning 18 and being able to go where he likes, he’s come around.

“Melbourne’s probably a better city than Sydney now; there’s just more to do. It’s a different vibe. People are more relaxed.”

Daniel has fast become a fan favourite. Photo: supplied

Daniel has fast become a fan favourite. Photo: supplied

He knew about AFL when he arrived but didn’t care much for it. “That hasn’t really changed, to be honest. I’d be lying if I said I follow a team.”

He likes to play with a smile on his face and has quickly become a fan favourite.

Descriptions of his football invariably start with that sought-after attribute – X-factor.

He can picture being a “go-to sub” in Russia; lack of experience notwithstanding, Daniel Arzani is the sort of player a coach loves to call on when the game is deadlocked and the clock is ticking.

Beyond the World Cup, the world beckons. Melbourne City’s ties with Manchester City mean that’s where his global football odyssey will most likely begin, but there will be no shortage of suitors.

At 62, John Arzani is still playing six-a-side in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. His joking boast to his son that he’s still better than him won’t stand up for much longer.

The weeks since Daniel was named in Australia’s initial World Cup squad have been a whirlwind, yet also offered a welcome refuge.

He’s been based in Sydney, so has been living back at home, where Persian is spoken and the family gives thanks for how life has panned out.

Having their baby back, even for a short while, has been a blessing. “We love his company,” John says.

“He keeps everybody busy when he comes home. He makes all of us very happy. He’s very active; talking, making jokes – he’s full of fun. He brings the family and the home alive.”

Just imagine if he can do the same for Australia’s World Cup dreams.

  • Australia plays France on June 16, Denmark on June 21 and Peru on June 27 in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

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