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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 26 March 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 26 MARCH 2016 27 SPORT Apostolos Giannou: making of a Socceroo GEORGE STOGIANNOU There are few schools in Melbourne that can boast having a former student represent two countries in international football, but Oakleigh College is one. Former student Apostolos Giannou, who has been named in the Socceroos squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, having previously represented Greece in a friendly, took time out to visit his alma mater last Friday, and received a warm welcome from excited students and staff. It was a step back in time for the 26-year-old, Greek-born Giannou, who attended the school from year 7 to year 11 after his family migrated to Melbourne when he was 10. On a wall outside the school gym hangs a photo of Giannou playing for the Victorian U15 side, a reminder of his earliest representative football. Inside the gym, young students swarmed around the quiet, unassuming professional footballer, as they jostled for photo opportunities. Although he's not yet a household name, the students felt a connection with him and he appeared happy to be there. His former maths teacher Steven Zafiropoulos still teaches at the school. He recalled a quiet, humble student who he says always tried his best at everything. Head of sport, Greg Joyce, remembered Giannou as a gifted athlete who excelled in the school's strongest sports, soccer and volleyball, as well as setting school records for the 200 metres and distance running which still stand to this day. Giannou's potential was also recognised early by coach Former Oakleigh College student Apostolos Giannou represents two countries in international football - Greece and Australia. Ange Postecoglou, who selected him to play for the Australian U17 Joeys. But Europe soon beckoned, and it was his tough schooling in Greek football which largely shaped him into the professional footballer he is today. It has taken Giannou to six different clubs in nine seasons, including Greek Super League heavyweight PAOK, as well as Panionios and Asteras Tripoli. His rich vein of goal scoring at these last two clubs attracted much notice in Greece and abroad, setting off a tussle between Greece and the Socceroos for his international services. Giannou confirmed that the choice was a difficult one. Speaking to Neos Kosmos he said, "as you can imagine, it was not easy”. “Greek and Australian, I feel both the same. So it's really difficult, especially after playing in Greece for so many years. But as I said before, I was pretty much pushed. The Greek politics and everything pushed me to have pretty clearly in my PHOTO: KOSTAS DEVES. were very stable for me. Maybe I'd start playing and do well, then someone else would come and take me out. It's up and down. Sometimes, it didn't matter if you played well or not. In my mind I wanted to get out of Greece even before this move to China. It just didn't happen.” Giannou just recently signed a lucrative three-year deal with Chinese Super League club Guangzhou R&F. Looking back on his club mind where I want to play. And even before that, since I left Australia, I wanted to be part of the national team. Because I was in under 17s Joeys I've always been waiting for the next call up, but it didn't come for one reason or another. I don't know. Maybe some people thought I didn't want to play because I went to Greece. I don't mind as long as I'm here now.” Giannou said his experiences playing in Greece have been challenging, especially in the climate of the financial crisis and the ensuing instability around many Greek clubs. “In general, for me to come this far, I've been through a lot of stuff with teams and Greek football, which pretty much set my mind … I want to go to a healthy environment more than anything, to know where I'm standing. “You know the years that I passed in Greece, there weren't many teams that football career in Greece, he reflects that it has provided him with important opportunities. “You know the Greek League, a lot of people don't think it's that good a league, but it's actually got very good players. It's just if the politics weren't that bad, it would be much better than what it is. But again, I've played in the Europa League. I played at PAOK and played at Tripoli this season. I think that's pretty much what helped me to move to the next step. Because I think if you do well in the European game, if you score, then everyone takes notice. I think that's the main thing it's provided for me.” Nevertheless, he has reservations about recommending a similar path for any young aspiring footballer considering leaving Australia to pursue their dream in Europe. “It depends where you'd go. I think I'd tell them to stay in Australia. For me it was difficult. The first nine years haven’t been all sweet and happy. I went through a lot of stuff that people don't know about, which I don't want anyone else to go through. But then again, that's the thing that's made me who I am - all these difficulties. Footballwise, you need to be mentally strong, and that's what helped me in the end. Normally in soccer, you don't have to go through this stuff and I hope no one has to go through it. That's why I think I'd advise everyone - plus the A-League's getting better and there's a lot of opportunities in Australia to start off your career - I'd tell them to stay here.” That's all behind Giannou now, and his present focus is on helping Australia in its World Cup qualifiers. He seems unfazed by the pressure that comes with such a task. “I think soccer everywhere is the same. In other countries it may be a bit faster or a bit slower. Soccer will always be the same sport. My main issue is that I have to adapt to the soccer here now. Because I've been away for so long, I'm used to a different kind of game, a bit slower. This is my main issue. But I think as I get to know the team and after a couple of trainings, everything will fall into place and I'll feel comfortable with the team.” Del Piero backs A-League move to invest in marquee players Former Sydney FC marquee Alessandro Del Piero has endorsed the A-League's strategy to invest heavily in bigname players, AAP reports. The legendary Italian forward, lured to Australia by Sydney FC, said spending up big on elite talent was crucial to the growth of the ALeague, which has stagnated this season going by crowd figures and broadcast audiences. "As a marquee player, you create a lot of energy," Del Piero said from Los Angeles. "Having good marquee players, good players that can bring a lot of experience inside and outside the pitch, they can help the club to grow together and make another level. "It means a lot from my point of view." Del Piero, who became a Laureus Academy member this week, would know. In two seasons with the Sky Blues from 2012 to 2014, the World Cup winner took Sydney FC to new audiences at home and abroad. He did not bring the club success - they missed the finals in year one and finished fifth in his second campaign - but his 24 goals in 48 appearances delighted fans. More marquees could be headed Australia's way un- der Football Federation Australia (FFA) chairman Steven Lowy's plans to get head office involved in recruitment. Last week, Lowy pledged millions of dollars to find and secure marquees, including overseas-based Socceroos, within FFA's new four-year strategic plan. Reflecting on his time in Australia, the 41-year-old Del Piero engaged in a touch of historical revisionism when considering the flow-on effects of his move to the ALeague. "When I went there, the football become very, very popular," he said. "The stadiums were sold out most of the time. People loved to be involved in football and we changed the philosophy of football in that country. After the two years, Australia won the Asian Cup and one of the clubs won the Asian Champions League. "This means a lot. When you make a lot of investment, a result like that is incredible." While Wanderers fans will no doubt snicker at the suggestion that Del Piero was partially responsible for their continental success, Del Piero also overstated his impact on Sydney's crowds. The average attendance at Sky Blues matches jumped by two-thirds to more than 18,000 during his time at the club, still well short of Sydney Football Stadium's capacity of 45,000. Del Piero said Melbourne City, known as Heart during his time in Australia, were being rewarded for increasing investment in players. "Melbourne City change their ownership [and] you see what it means. It puts a new energy," he said. "They are great in the league now - better than before." Del Piero became just the 56th inductee to the Laureus Academy on Wednesday, the jury for the Laureus World Sports Awards.
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