He’s ‘living a dream’ with Bolton

He is considered the most successful of this country’s soccer players competing abroad, as highlighted by the tremendous popularity which attacking midfielder Stelios Giannakopoulos enjoys among Bolton Wanderers fans in the English Premiership. His impressive efforts this season have helped the club figure prominently in the standings of one of the world’s toughest leagues. At national level, coach Otto Rehhagel appears likely to name Giannakopoulos as Greece’s new captain when the squad’s 33-year-old current skipper, Thodoris Zagorakis, retires. In recent months Zagorakis, who led Greece to its Euro 2004 triumph, has said he wants to retire. Team officials, including Rehhagel, have tried to persuade the aging but inspirational leader to carry on. «Without a doubt, I’m flattered and feel great. It’s a big thrill, but also a major responsibility,» Giannakopoulos told Kathimerini, commenting on the prospect of succeeding Zagorakis at Greece’s helm. «We mustn’t forget that, at present, Thodoris Zagorakis is the team’s natural leader – the player who has broken all the national team’s records and is the captain. Now, whether the idea frightens me, I’d say ‘no’.» Zagorakis, who was first capped for the senior national team back in 1994, has represented Greece a record 115 times. The Greek soccer federation chief, Vassilis Gagatsis, has already offered the long-serving player a managerial position at the national team once he retires. Giannakopoulos, on yet another occasion, was one of Greece’s leading players at a recent eight-nation friendly tournament in Cyprus, where Greece won both its games, against Belarus and Kazakhstan. Following its failed bid to reach this coming summer’s World Cup finals in Germany, Greece appeared a spirited side eager to rebound on time for its imminent Euro 2008 qualifying campaign, which begins later this year. Moreover, the national team, whose success in Portugal nearly two years ago relied heavily on defensive play, seemed willing to play more attacking soccer. «I think this can be attributed to the arrival of new players possessing a different style. Perhaps a different mentality, too. No doubt an effort is being made to alter our style of play, at least against the theoretically weaker sides,» said Giannakopoulos. «We don’t know yet whether we’ll be able to do likewise against the powerhouses. A team’s development does not change from one day to the next.» Considering Giannakopoulos’s experience in both Greek and English domestic competition, requesting a comparison from him was inevitable. «As for organization – with 10 as the perfect score – England gets a 20 and Greece gets a six. As for team organization, there is no comparison. It’s like comparing day and night,» said Giannakopoulos. The player said he considered an overall disability to locate and tackle roots of problems as the biggest deficiency in Greek soccer. «The worst thing of all is that we don’t look for what’s going wrong and are not interested. Ultimately, nothing changes. That upsets me,» he said. Asked whether there was anything enticing in Greek soccer to return to, Giannakopoulos, who won a string of league titles with Olympiakos before transferring to Bolton three seasons ago, said that he was currently «living a dream.» «I’ve said many times that I’d like to end my career in Greece with Olympiakos. But the time has not yet come. I have plenty to offer where I am now,» said Giannakopoulos. He condemned Greek soccer’s persisting hooliganism woes. «It all makes me wonder about returning and the conditions I’d be playing under,» inquired Giannakopoulos. «Having stones thrown at you and not knowing whether you’ll be back home in the evening with your children.»