Few footballers come to Asia beyond the promise of money or comfort; even fewer believe in the possibilities that run deep in the soul of Asian football. Yet, there is a young European premier footballer with French and Italian heritage who loves Asia and has returned to Singapore to grow with Asian football. For Antoine Viterale, football is life beyond those 90 minutes. COVERED Asia’s Liyann Seet speaks with the man who embraces the spirit of Asian football, about his football journey and life in Asia.
What was Antoine Viterale’s childhood and what inspired you to be a professional footballer?
Football is my passion. Growing up as a child, I have never wanted to be anything except a soccer player. I was born in an extraordinary city with a loving family and with football on my mind 24/7. My dad introduced me to the game, and I also had my football heroes who I wanted to emulate but could only see them on the TV or on the big billboards. When I was a toddler, my dad was the first man who taught me how to kick a ball. The first word that I could pronounce was “ball”. I knew from an early young age that there is nothing else I wanted to be except a professional footballer.
We understand that you left Hong Kong and your family at the young age of 13 to pursue a career in football. What was the driving force behind it?
An opportunity presented itself to go to Italy for trials. At that time, this particular opportunity was not very clear, but it was a chance. When you are a kid from Hong Kong, you feel like you are far away from that dream. Even when the tiniest of chances came, I knew that I had to take it. I was scared, and I really didn’t want to leave my family. Nevertheless, there was something in me that said I had to do it.
Would you like to share with us more about the obstacles that you faced in the process?
It was hard for me to leave my family at the age of 13 to pursue my passion for football. I was alone in a foreign country far from home. I learnt that I have to be independent early in life. Growing up in Hong Kong, I have assimilated into the Asian culture. It was hard for my peers in Europe to accept that I am a Caucasian man with an Asian heritage, so I struggled hard to be accepted by my peers in Europe. I am a Caucasian by birth because my father is an Italian and my mother is French.
I am glad to be given the opportunity to grow up in Hong Kong. Yet, I feel that we should not be discriminated because of our race or background. Football is a sport that unites us as one. It didn’t matter where we grew up, our heritage or education background, it matters that our heart beat as one for the sport and we fight for the best interest of the team.
What countries have you played in and what have you learned on and off the pitch?
I started playing in Hong Kong and then moved to Europe. In Europe, I played in Italy, Switzerland, and Spain. Every place has taught me a life lesson. I would say that my learning curve was the steepest in Europe. On the pitch, I learnt discipline and professionalism of top-level football. Off the pitch, I learnt the harsh realities of life at a young age. Hong Kong was like a bubble and facing them alone in Europe has given me great strength today.
Would you like to share with us more about your earliest memories of growing up playing soccer in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong is such a special city in every aspect. However, there was not a lot of space and grass to play in comparison to Singapore or Europe. My fond memories were playing soccer with my best friends literally anywhere, mostly on concrete or dirt pitches. When we felt adventurous, we would sneak into the schools’ field to play football.
Your father is a successful hotelier, what is his impact on you?
I cannot sum up in a few sentences what impact my dad has had on me. If I try, I would be here all day. He was the one who used to throw me the ball to kick and control. Everything started and happened because of him. I remembered growing up when my dad was not the successful man he is today, I watched him climb up the ladder through hard work and dedication. At the end of the day, people might perceive Giovanni as the hotel veteran. To me, he is a loving father.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
A couple of years ago, I would have never thought that I will be playing in Singapore. Life is never a straight line. I believe in conquering the small goals one at a time with the big goal always in mind. For now, I want to be the best player here in Singapore and in the region. And then, I will work hard and strive to go back to Europe to finish what I started.
My final objective is to go back and play in the top leagues in Europe. I need to demonstrate to myself that I can do it. If I am to play the rest of my career in Asia, I would still be a very happy man because as a young boy from Hong Kong, my dream was to become a professional football player. I am here because I want to do big things and give back to Asian football. It is them that helped me from my origins till today.