Jonathan Panzo has an incredibly busy week ahead of him at St George’s Park.
The Monaco defender is part of Keith Downing’s England U19s squad that face Czech Republic, Greece and Denmark, within the space of seven days.
- Born: Brockley, London, 25/10/2000
- Clubs: Chelsea, AS Monaco
- Caps: U16s, U17s, U18s, U19s
- Instagram: @jonathan_panzo
- Twitter: @J_Panzoo
The week-long tournament, dubbed the Elite Qualifying Round, will pit the four nations against each other in a group format. Only the team that finish top of the table will advance to the U19 EURO Finals, being held in Armenia this July.
Considering his hectic schedule, Panzo cuts a relaxed and cheery figure as he settles into a temporary white sofa in the center of England’s Futsal Hall.
Perhaps the long boulevards of Monte Carlo have had a profound effect on the Londoner’s mindset.
It was July 2018 when Panzo made the switch from Chelsea to Monaco, joining the increasingly growing list of young Englishmen leaving the Premier League’s youth set-ups to find opportunities in mainland Europe.
Now, eight months into his venture abroad, how has Panzo adapted to life on the French Riviera?
“It’s [Monaco] been good so far,” he says. “As a defender, the French style suits me more.”
When asked about Thierry Henry’s impact, and then departure, Panzo smiles.
“Obviously he could speak English to me, so that helped," he adds. "He gave me my Monaco debut too. The change of manager [to Leonardo Jardim] brought its ups and downs, but you just have to keep positive.”
His answers are short, but not blunt. Panzo speaks with the maturity and confidence of an individual way beyond his 18 years. Positivity is a recurring theme throughout the interview.
Panzo reflects on his decision to move. He cites former England U17s team-mate Jadon Sancho’s success at Borussia Dortmund as a major factor when deciding his future.
"I spoke to him [Sancho] a lot and he helped me make my mind up to move to Monaco,” he revealed.
Opportunity knocked in December. Following a string of performances in the UEFA Youth League (Panzo has played every minute of Monaco’s campaign in the competition this season), he was called into the senior squad for their Coup de la Ligue tie with FC Lorient. Panzo started at left-back and played the full 90-minutes in the 1-0 win.
It’s a remarkable story for the U17 World Cup winner, considering, as a youngster, Panzo showed little interest in the game.
“I wasn’t into football really," he says.
"It’s just something I played with my cousins. I got scouted [for Chelsea] while playing for one of their teams.”
Panzo has dealt well with being away from his family and friends for long periods of time, but not necessarily by throwing himself into the Monacan lifestyle:
“I play a lot of PlayStation to keep busy, really just Fortnite and FIFA.”
He grins and continues: “It’s been difficult being away from friends and family, but mum visits a lot. The lifestyle in Monaco helps – the weather, the cars. It’s so different to London.”
I ask about the language barrier. He laughs and responds:
“My French isn’t too bad, it’s just about there.”
Interestingly enough, Panzo’s biggest influence at Monaco has been another former Chelsea player, veteran Colombian striker Radamel Falcao.
“I’ve spoken with Falcao a lot," he reveals. "He looks after me and the biggest thing he’s taught me is to be humble.”
Falcao’s words have certainly struck a chord with Panzo, as throughout our time with him, he’s modest and completely unpretentious.
Panzo will continue his development at the club that has nurtured the likes of Kylian Mbappé, Henry, Yannick Carrasco and Emmanuel Petit in its youth ranks.
But does Panzo see a return home to England in his future? He puts it simply: “It’s my dream to play in the Premier League. I’d love to return one day.”
Panzo and England’s U19s made a winning start to qualifying on Wednesday with a 4-1 victory over Czech Republic.They play Greece on Sunday before tackling Denmark in the final fixture on Tuesday 26 March.
Jonathan Panzo was speaking to the FA’s Young Reporters’ Club at St. George’s Park.