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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 4 March 2017
28 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 4 MARCH 2017 SPORT From Australia to Greece and the world, Avraam Papadopoulos’ perfect circle After a career that saw him reach football great heights, Greece international Avraam Papadopoulos is back where he was born and ready to show what Australia missed out on DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM ISSN 1321-1676 9 771321 167062 CON STAMOCOSTAS In a career spanning 13 years that featured five league titles with Olympiakos and World Cup and EUROs appearances for Greece, Avraam Papadopoulos has returned to play in the country of his birth. Papadopoulos was born in Australia but his mother is from Peloponnesos and his father is from Halkidiki. His father lived in Australia for 25 years and his mother for 15 years, and it was in their adopted country where they were married. Initially they lived in Kerang in northern Victoria before moving to Melbourne. With his career now coming full circle, the 186cm defender says that getting the opportunity to play in his birthplace has been an emotional journey. "I am very happy to be playing in the country where I was born," he says. "I love this country very much. I have very many relatives that live in Melbourne and I am very happy to have returned to Australia. I left very young, I was only two years old, so I remember very little. But my parents have told me that we had a very nice life here and how good all the people were." Soon after Papadopoulos was born, the family packed up and moved back home after his grandparents found work for them on a farm in Greece. But Australia's loss became Greece's good fortune, and Papadopoulos would become one of the country's finest players. Papadopoulos made his name with Greek Super League club Aris, where he is viewed as a legend of the club. In his five seasons playing at Kleanthis Vikelidis stadium, the defender gave the home fans some great memories including two Greek Cup finals appearances and a famous victory over Real Zaragoza in the UEFA Cup. "I grew up at Aris, I played there for many years and lived very good moments," he says, reflecting on his time at the Thessaloniki club. "The people there loved me and I loved the people and the team back. I gave a lot to that team but I also won a lot as well. I was very happy to have played for such a large team like Aris." His performances with Aris caught the eye, and the seminal moment in his career came when he made the switch to play at Karaiskakis Stadium in 2008. "Olympiakos was Greece's best team at this time," Papadopoulos says about his move to Piraeus. "Both teams are big teams, although the last few years Aris did have a few problems. But when you play at a team like Aris for all those years, you're ready to take the next step and go to Olympiakos, which is what I did. There's always pressure to win all the time but we had very good results with league titles and cup wins." During his time at Olympiakos the robust defender won the League on five occasions and the Greek Cup three times, but Papadopoulos says the 2010/11 campaign was the season that stands out. "It was the year I was announced as the best player in Greece and it was one of my best years," he says. "Naturally I have kept the love and appreciation of the fans and the people and what they showed me from the moment I went to the team. I am very happy that I got to play and be involved with such an organisation. Of course, the titles and championships are very important to me, but that which I hold dearest is the love and appreciation from the Olympiakos family." Papadopoulos featured for Olympiakos on many European nights, with a famous victory over Arsenal in 2010 a highlight, but looking back, the 32-year-old feels the club was unlucky on occasions. "Playing in the Champions League is one of the pinnacles for any footballer and it's very important for all footballers," he says. "We had a good run in Europe, even though we could have done even more and could have reached even higher. Sometimes we were unlucky though, and other times we had some very serious injuries and weren't able to progress." After leaving Olympiakos Papadopoulos blazed a trail overseas, becoming only the second Greek to play in Turkey, followed by stints in China and Japan before coming to Australia. "I was at Olympiakos for a lot of years, the people there wanted me and loved me and I could've continued there but I suddenly went to Turkey," he says about his football travels. "From Turkey I had an offer to go to China. You hear and see what's going on in China now but back then people were telling me not to go. But the offer there was so good, especially from the team and they pressured me a lot. It was a very good experience for me. After that I accepted an offer from Japan. The Japanese League is very good and they play at a very good level. Now I am in Australia – which is something I wanted very much." Papadopoulos played for Greece 37 times, with the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 Euros the highwater mark, and it's those memories out of a 13-year career that the 32-year-old cherishes the most. "It is a dream for all footballers to play for their country," he says. "We had a lot of successes in the last years. And before me were the boys that won the Euro in 2004. For us it was the driver to build on that. It was a good atmosphere and climate in the team, a real feeling of family. We were all playing for that family, that country Greece which has gone through so many difficult times. I am very happy and proud that I got to play all those games for the national team and that which I hold dearest is all the successes we had over the years." The last appearance Papadopoulos made for Ethniki came in November 2014, and while the defender says his time playing for Greece is over, a return to the red and whites is a possibility. "As I said earlier, it is a dream for all footballers to play for their country," he says. "But now there are even younger players coming up behind me and it is natural and logical to give opportunities to younger players. "But the personal desire to play doesn't stop. I don't know what the future holds or what will happen. It would be nice to go back and finish my career where I started it at Olympiakos. I know I am only 32, I am not that old and I want to play for a few more years still." Even though his playing time in Brisbane is limited, Papadopoulos is determined to give both the Greek community and Roar fans his finest performance. "I want to show that which I have shown all these years, which is my best self, so that I can make them happy for all that they do for us," he says. "I know that there are very many Greeks here in Australia. I am very happy to see them at the grounds and to meet them. Here in Brisbane I know there are a few Greeks that I have met and it's like being in my home country. What I am focused on is the now and playing well for Brisbane, and beyond that we'll see."
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