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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 14 January 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 14 JANUARY 2017 25 SPORT Aspro relieves Popa’s defensive headaches GEORGE STOGIANNOU When Western Sydney coach Tony Popovic lost his captain of four years Nikolai ToporStanley at the start of the season to UAE's Hatta Club, he was faced with a gaping hole in the centre of his defence. But the ex-Socceroo central defender knows a good prospect when he sees one, and he put his faith in young upand-coming player Jonathan Aspropotamitis. Known as 'Aspro' to his teammates and fans, the 20-year-old has since established a place for himself in the heart of the WSW defence alongside Spaniard Aritz Borda, playing in 11 of their 14 matches this season and extending his total A-League appearances to 24 matches. His performances this season have earned him the December nomination for the Hyundai A-League NAB Young Player of the Year award for season 2016-17. "It’s an honour to be recognised by the selection panel for this nomination," said Aspropotamitis. "Each week I am working hard to improve and concentrate on the little things that can make me a da and a subsequent threematch ban means that the youngster will bear an even greater load in Popovic's defensive structure. This week he is preparing himself for arguably his biggest test this season, when the Wanderers take on unbeaten bitter rivals Sydney FC in the derby match of the round. The Wanderers, who have Young Western Sydney Wanderers defender Jonathan Aspropotamitis (R) tussles with Melbourne City forward Bruce Kamau in their recent clash. PHOTO: A-LEAGUE.COM.AU better player. I am in a fantastic environment to learn and I am really enjoying my football at the NRMA Insurance Western Sydney Wanderers." Aspropotamitis joined the Wanderers NYL side as an 18-year-old in season 201415, after the Wanderers' then assistant coach Ian Crook spotted him playing for NSW NPL club Sydney Olympic. Before Olympic, the teenager had played for Paramatta FC and Apia Leichhardt after beginning his junior football at Queens Park. He made his senior debut in season 2015/16 before be- ing offered a two-year professional contract, and he's currently combining playing A-League football with his business studies course at UTS in Sydney. Along the way he has won two Australian caps at Under 20s level. The slightly-built defend- er's youthful looks belie his strength and tenacity, and his recent sterling performance against Socceroos' legend Tim Cahill earned him even more plaudits. While the game against Melbourne City enhanced his reputation, the sending off of his defensive partner Bor- won just two of their fourteen matches this season, would dearly love to bring down their high-flying rivals a notch or two. Aspro and his teammates will have to contend with the most prolific attack in the league which includes the in-form Bobo, Holosko, Brosque and Ninkovic. "Obviously they're in great form and high-flying, unbeaten in 14 games," Aspropotamitis said. "We're confident, looking at how the Mariners rattled them. We can take a few things from that and implement that in our game plan. "The form guide goes out of the window when you play a game like this. From our perspective it's about keeping a clear mind and going into the game fully focused." Sydney FC passes up on chance to sign Greek defender For a brief moment earlier this week, it seemed that A-League frontrunner Sydney FC may have found the player it was looking for, an experienced central defender to solve its defensive crisis in the wake of the transfer of defensive pillar Matt Jurman to Korean club Samsung Bluewings and the injury to his immediate replacement Seb Ryall. Into the frame stepped former Greek international and a former skipper of Greek superpower Olympiakos, Avraam Papadopoulos. The 32-year-old Melbourne-born defender had an impressive playing resume, including five Greek Super League titles with Olympiakos, numerous UEFA Champions League matches, the 2010 World Cup with Greece, and the individual honour of best Greek player of the year in season 2010-11. Sure, at 32 his best years may have been behind him, but he was a free agent after playing in Turkey for Trabsonzpor, China's Shanghai Shenhua and J-League club Jubilo Iwata, since leaving Olympiakos two years ago. The timing seemed right for a return to the country of his birth, which he left as a three-year-old, when his parents relocated back to Greece. However, it's believed that Sydney's interest in Papadopoulos cooled once it emerged that the dark cloud of match fixing allegations hung over the player's head. Papadopoulos' name was first mentioned when the so-called Koriopolis scandal first broke in Greece in June 2011. At the time, his name was mentioned alongside Olympiakos owner Evangelos Marinakis in relation to a number of matches allegedly fixed in 2009-10. Others to come under in- vestigation included numerous club and league officials and referees. After protracted investigations, Papadopoulos and Kostas Mandrinos were two players named in 2015 by prosecutors as having evidence against them relating to match fixing investigations. So Graham Arnold's search for an experienced defender continues, with reports that he now hopes that former Socceroo Michael Thwaite, who is currently playing in China with Liaoning Whaowin, will become available in the January transfer window. Other possible targets for the Sky Blues include Perth Glory's Rhys Williams, reports The Daily Telegraph. In the interim, Sydney FC youth team centre back George Timotheou may be called upon by coach Arnold to play in the centre of his defence. The Special One targets Roma’s Greek defender Manolas Greek international defender and current AS Roma star Kostas Manolas could soon be swapping the purple-red shirt of Roma for the red of EPL giant Manchester United if coach Jose Mourinho, a long-time admirer, finally gets his man. United boss Mourinho is keen to bolster the United defence and has kept a close eye on Manolas for quite a long time, stemming from his Chelsea days. According to reports in the UK's Sun newspaper, United is reportedly willing to fork out close to £50 million for the signature of Manolas, whose Roma contract is due to expire in 2019. However, despite the amount the Red Devils are willing to spend, it still faces several challenges in landing the defender's signature. Roma currently sits in second place on the Serie A table, just four points behind leader Juventus. The Italian club may be reluctant to let its star defender go even at that attractive price. There are also reports in the Italian media that United could face a bidding war for Manolas, with Inter Milan reportedly also keen to sign the defender. The former AEK and Olympiakos defender has played 83 Serie A games for Roma since making the move from Olympiakos in 2014 for an estimated signing-on fee of €15 million. He's also made 27 senior appearances for the Greek national team and established himself as an in- ternational footballer, with an impressive 2014 World Cup tournament in Brazil under then national team coach Fernando Santos. It's not the first time Manolas has attracted the attention of a Red Devils coach, with Sir Alex Ferguson's replacement David Moyes reportedly keen to sign the young defender in 2013-14 while Manolas was playing for Olympiakos. He's also attracted the interest of other EPL coaches in the past including Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger. PHOTO: CORBIS.
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