The Sky’s Blue for Chianese

Robert Prezioso/Getty Images

Joel Chianese is a young footballer making an impact. An up-and-comer in the Sydney FC squad, Chianese has put in the hours on and off the park this season to earn a starting spot up front. His story is one of commitment, resilience and a balanced perspective. In an EXCLUSIVE one-on-one, Anthony Siokos chats with Chianese on life, love and football.

At first glance, Chianese appears humble. Perhaps, it’s the 23-year-old’s modest upbringing in Sydney’s West, or his sense of family. Maybe it’s because he almost didn’t make it as a professional, or at all. Whatever it is, it’s deeply intrinsic.

The son of an Italian-Australian father and Anglo-Australian mother, Chianese was by no means destined for football. His father played rugby league and had no real ties to the round ball game. Nevertheless, at the age of five, his parents took him to the Wenty Waratahs Football Club (all kitted out) to register for the U6s. He hated it, but one year later, something had changed. His father had encouraged him to give it a go and he never looked back.

“My Dad got me going. He would always tell me to practice with both feet. Left and right, left and right. I think that’s why I’ve always had the confidence to receive the ball in any situation on the park,” said Chianese, with a reminiscent smile.

It’s clear how close the young striker is to his family. He spent his childhood growing up with his paternal grandparents, as both parents worked full-time. They migrated to Australia from Italy in 1956. He quickly learned to speak fluent Italian and embraced the culture.

Chianese left the Waratahs at age 11 to join the Granville Magpies, while playing tennis in his spare time. He was really enjoying his sport, as many Australian kids do at that age. Thankfully, he stuck with football.

Life as a teenager out West was fun. However, things got unexpectedly serious when an injury at a State Championship in Wagga Wagga left him in toxic shock, hospitalised and isolated for two weeks. He’d received a studded tackle to the back of his leg, which left a nasty cut. He thought nothing of it until he started to feel ill, shaking, with a tingling sensation in his fingers and toes. His whole body went tomato red. He was diagnosed with Scarlett fever.

“I had streptococcal. My throat was on fire. To complicate matters, the doctors at Westmead Children’s Hospital couldn’t work out why I wasn’t responding to treatment.”

“I was given morphine, penicillin and clindamycin. Luckily, my parents and close family were adamant that I should come off the drugs. When I stopped taking them, I started to recover. I’d developed an allergic reaction to them.”

“In the meantime, my Mum was organising club trials for me. Everything was happening at once. It was a crazy time.”

As he hit his mid-teens, he was selected in the Big Brother Movement, a scholarship program assisting school-leavers to develop their skills in Britain and Europe. He was sent to Ipswich Town Football Club. The game, all of a sudden, became a professional career aspiration.

“I spent time with the first team and reserve team at Ipswich and it really opened my eyes. My game changed, my attitude changed, and I felt that I could actually make it as a footballer. Up until then, it didn’t really feel like a genuine goal.”

When back in Australia, his fresh approach led him to selection in Blacktown City’s youth team. By then, he’d finished school and started working for the NSW State Parole Authority, in an administrative role. Later moving to the NSW Department of Lands, where a promising office bound career was starting to take shape.

“I was a decent student at school, in terms of marks. I’ve always been a hard worker. I was moving up in the ranks at the Department of Lands and didn’t want to think too far ahead in regard to my football. As much as I wanted it to happen, I had to be realistic about how to earn a living.”

He kept at it, and after trialling well at Sydney FC, was contracted to the youth team.

It was Vitezslav Lavicka, then Sydney FC coach, who took a liking to Chianese after watching his progress.

“Vitja requested for me to come in and train full-time with the first team. From there, I was offered a short-term contract for the AFC Asian Champions League. I took a risk. I’d secured a decent job that I had to walk away from, but here was my chance.”

“It was an easy decision in the end. I didn’t play a lot but I kept training well and it worked out. From there, I was offered a first team contract.”

Sydney FC coaches, Frank Farina and Rado Vidosic, have given Chianese the opportunity to earn his place in the starting 11 this season. Competition for places in attacking areas is tough at the Sky Blues, and a move from his natural striking position to a place on the wing has been a transition.

“Frank likes the fact that I can chase all day. He’s big on work-rate. I prefer to play as a striker and make runs in behind. I’m naturally more of a direct player, but being one of the fittest in the team, my role on the wing makes sense.”

“Our training sessions are pretty intense. Frank and Rado like to change the tactics to suit the opponent. By Thursday or Friday, we’re confident in executing our game plan.”

“We’ve got a good bunch of boys. I can’t remember the last time there was a fight or anything like that. The experienced players, like Richie [Garcia], Brett [Emerton] and Nicky [Carle], are very approachable.”

Alessandro Del Piero has acted as mentor, giving advice and spurts of motivation at training and during matches, particularly on how to be clinical in front of goal.

“He’s always telling me to hit the front post. Most of your goals are going to come in the box. Get a touch on it for a tap in.”

“At his age, he hasn’t got the legs but his technical ability is phenomenal. He’s got a private training area, where he works out. His core is like a rock. He loves his strength work.”

According to Chianese, your football should speak for itself.

“If you don’t pull out of challenges, if you show the fans that you’re prepared to work hard, if you’re passionate, they’ll respect you.”

“The Cove really pumps up the players. All of the support we get from our fans gives us the confidence to want to play better. We need their support, particularly when we’re not winning. I’d just say, keep on doing it. Keep coming.”

Away from football, Chianese spends most of his time with high school sweetheart, Corinne. They’re both into R&B and hip-hop, with Usher, Pitbull, Eminem, and DJ’s like David Guetta and Havana Brown among their favourites.

Chianese doesn’t like to think too far ahead. Although, with some encouragement from Professional Footballers Australia (PFA), he’s completing a Diploma of Business (Management) with teammates, Rhyan Grant, Matthew Jurman and Vedran Janjetovic.

“You only have a short career. You need to maximise every opportunity. The PFA has been good with helping young players to think about life after football.”

“There are a lot of players out there with unreasonable expectations of what they’ll be earning once football finishes. I don’t want to be unrealistic. I’m confident that I’ll have a long and successful career in football, but it’s good to have something extra.”

For now, Chianese is focused on putting in a good shift for Sydney FC every week. Some have compared him to former striker and Socceroo, Alex Brosque. He’s got the potential, and is committed to playing his part in what will hopefully be a successful season for the Sky Blues.

Two feet are firmly planted on the ground.