Haris Stamboulidis' two-pronged approach to a professional career

EXCLUSIVE | The 20-year-old Australian's first year at Columbia University has seen him train with the New York Red Bulls and rub shoulders with the president of US Soccer

Young midfielder Haris Stamboulidis has a plan and believes other Australian footballers could benefit from following a similar path.

The 20-year-old is about to start his second year as a student-athlete at Columbia University in New York, and is confident the American college system can set him up for both a professional football career and his post-playing life.

Stamboulidis has seen a number of friends join European football clubs at a young age and return home with nothing to show for it, and he wants to avoid a similar fate.

"I'm sacrificing as much as I can to pursue [a football] career and I will not stop but I have to have something on the side. I have to have something for the future," he told Goal Australia.

That something on the side is a financial economics degree from an Ivy League university.

It is the kind of education that opens doors, with Stamboulidis having already rubbed shoulders with the likes of US Soccer president Sunil Gulati in his first year in New York.

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But Stamboulidis bristles at the suggestion that his pursuit of a tertiary education hints at a lack of self-belief in his football ability.

"I'm definitely committed 100 per cent to football in the allocated time I have," he said.

"I find my studies kind of relaxing.

"Football is something I've always dreamt about pursuing at a professional level, ever since I was young… I'm pursuing football whilst I can, during this period of 8-15 years that this career's possible in.

"Then I can focus on my career afterwards."

The former Melbourne City youth player plans to graduate six months early - at the end of 2017 - in the hope of securing his first professional contract before the age of 22.

Stamboulidis played in every one of Columbia's 16 matches last year and started 12 as the Lions had their best season since 2002, which earned the Melbournian a training spot with the New York Red Bulls Under 23 team.

Having also played for Greece's Under 19 side and the Australian Schoolboys team, Stamboulidis' on-field talent is clear, while the Socceroos remain his ultimate goal.

With so few professional opportunities at home, Stamboulidis knows he is in a fine position to benefit from the myriad of full-time clubs in the United States.

With former Columbia graduates Antonio Matarazzo and David Najem at the reserve teams of Orlando City and the Red Bulls, respectively, Stamboulidis is in the right place to move into Major League Soccer.

"Long term-wise, I think [the Red Bulls are] a great starting place," he said.

"It's a fantastic club with great coaches and a great philosophy."

Stamboulidis will head back to New York on Wednesday.

The impressive young man isn't the first Australian to go through the American college system and won't be the last but he hopes his story can inspire more promising footballers from his homeland to prioritise a tertiary education.

"Young students and student-athletes should be taking advantage of this [the American] setup," Stamboulidis said.

"You'll always have a fall-back plan, which I think a lot of kids should and must think about."