Many young boys dream of becoming a professional footballer. Some pursue them. Others get waylaid by exams, teenage distractions and a silent admission they don’t have the commitment needed.

Others go for broke knowing there will be tough sacrifices ahead.

Costel Pantilimon – Watford’s vertiginous goalkeeper – made those hard choices aged just 14.

He left the comfort and security of his home in Romania, where he lived with his deaf parents, to seek his destiny.

They supported his decision and he joined Aerostar Bacău with their blessing. Simply, Pantilimon didn’t want to settle for an easy life – only to grow up unfulfilled and fretting about missed opportunities.

He said: “It depends what you want in life. If you want to live at home with your parents, and complain about things that might have been, then it might have been difficult.

“But I love football and I love what I do, nothing could stop me once I wanted to become a footballer.

“Of course it was hard at times. Being away from your parents isn’t easy. But I still had so many happy memories.”

Pantilimon said his parents remain proud and supportive of their only child: “They are, and always have, supported me. It is important to know they are happy with what I do.”

Both have been deaf since childhood and the 29-year-old talks to them each day using sign-language via Skype and Facetime. “They are quite good with technology,” Pantilimon says with a small smile.

“We speak every day. I speak sign language and so does my wife. She found it easy to learn because she spent time with them at the house. Sometimes they come and visit me if they have time.”

It’s been a long journey since he bid his family farewell.

In 2011, Pantilimon joined Manchester City on a one-year loan deal from Poli Timisoara to act as cover for Joe Hart. A season that ended in one of football’s classic moments.

He described Sergio Aguero’s heart-stopping injury time winner, making City Premier League champions, as “insane.”

“It was unbelievable. If you want to make a movie about it, it would be impossible. Nobody would believe it was a true story.

“It was an important moment. They had spent money and were building the club. Winning the Premier League was the perfect way to become a big club,” he said.

Pantilimon was signed permanently in the summer of 2012 and had a spell in the first team after Joe Hart was dropped.

The two goalkeepers were fierce rivals but, first and foremost, friends.

“We spent a lot of time together but we were fighting for the same position,” he said.

“Good competition is important. It helps you get better and better. We were still friends [when I took his place].

“That is part of football and we were old enough to understand why it happened.

“The most important thing was the team were doing well. I have some good memories from Manchester City. In three years we won two Premier Leagues, a league cup and the Community Shield.

“I really enjoyed my time there and I gained a lot of experience. It was the perfect club for me at that age, 24.”

After three years, predominantly on the substitutes’ bench at City, Pantilimon opted to leave. He simply wanted to play.

Sunderland offered him that chance and he joined the Black Cats in June 2014. He established himself as the club’s first choice stopper, impressing as they avoided relegation last season.

He remained the club’s number one and made 18 appearances during the current campaign before being dropped from the starting XI on Boxing Day. Three games later he lost his place in Sam Allardyce’s match-day squad.

Pantilimon’s time on Wearside was up. Watford offered him a way out. The Hornets approached the goalkeeper over a move to Vicarage Road and two days later the deal was done.

He made his debut in the FA Cup fourth round win over Nottingham Forest. He played well and kept deserved clean sheet.

But he has since been back on the bench with Heurelho Gomes returning to the side.

Pantilimon understands he’ll have to bide his time at Watford. He doesn’t expect to easily displace the Brazilian who has excelled since joining the Hornets last season.

Pantilimon is likely to start against Leeds United in the FA Cup fifth round this weekend but he will then, in all probability, return to the bench. 

But, eventually, he wants to become a dominant force in the Watford team. At 6ft 8in high – he’s thetallest player in the Premier League – he’s hardly inconspicuous.

He also has a dressing room advantage that has proved to be an ice breaker when forging a bond with his new teammates.

He is multi-lingual, communicating not only in sign language but English, Romanian and Italian.

He has moved south with his wife and three-and-a-half month old daughter and has found, courtesy of his language skills, it easy to settle in at Vicarage Road.

“Everyone has been really good with me especially the captain (Troy Deeney). He went around and introduced me to everyone." 

The Romanian international remains a striking figure between the posts. But he has a confession. Initially he played as a midfielder. Then he played as a striker. Then he learned to dive around and the rest, as they say, is history.

He has played 40 times for his country, inspired by legends such as Gheorghe Hagi and the so-called “golden generation” who lost in the 1994 World Cup quarter-finals to Sweden. He would like to one day emulate them.

“Gheorghe Hagi is a legend in Romania,” he said. “Everyone respects him as he played for two of the biggest clubs in Europe in Barcelona and Real Madrid.

“He also played for Galatasaray and people from Turkey say he changed the football style there.

“There was also Dan Petrescu who played for Chelsea. They are the golden generation for Romania who almost got through to the World Cup final.”

He added: “I want to be part of the national team because I’ve played for them since I was 21. But I want to find my place in the Watford team first.”

Pantilimon’s dreams may have shifted over the years since he left home as a youngster.

He’s now more experienced. He’s more worldly wise. He’s certainly taller. But he still has some dreams to make come true. He hopes they will at Vicarage Road

This article was originally published in the February 5 edition of the Watford Observer.