06:44 EST, 16 April 2014
06:44 EST, 16 April 2014
Dimitrios Konstantopoulos has made a successful return to English football and has earned the trust of Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka.
After Shay Given’s loan spell ended at the Boro, the Real Madrid veteran decided to lay all his hopes on the 35-year-old goalkeeper who has now played nine straight games for his new club.
Nevertheless, the former Greek international’s road back to the Championship was extremely rocky. He had to experience some rough times in Greece where he played for three years.
Appalled: Middlesbrough keeper Dimi Konstantopoulos (right) has revealed the desperate situation at some clubs in Greece brought on by the national financial crisis
Dimi, as he also goes by, left Coventry in 2010 to return to the Greek Superleague and play for Kerkyra. The Greek stopper had an impressive season winning the Goalkeeper of the Year Award – which was something that didn’t go undetected by the biggest teams in the country.
Eventually Konstantopoulos signed a two-year deal with Greek giants AEK Athens – a team with a very rich history which featured famous players such as former Greece captain Theodoros Zagorakis, ex-Rangers player Moises Emerson and football legend Rivaldo. However, that is when things started to get tough for the team and the keeper.
‘Kerkyra was an organised club but deteriorated once I left,’ he told Sportsmail. ‘My first year at AEK was hard and later on things became worse.’
The Middlesbrough player arrived in the country at a time when the recession boiled up and former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou asked for aid from the International Monetary Fund. Many sectors were affected and football was no different as clubs found it hard to meet debts and pay their players.
‘Football works as a mirror for every
society. The Greek league is suffering for many reasons. One of them is
because there was always a lack of competition and that is why the Greek
teams would constantly be eliminated early from European competitions.’
were struggling financially and administratively since 2003 when their
historic ground at Nea Filadelfeia was demolished even though there was
no money to rebuild it.
Union’s debts increased under chairman Makis Psomiadis, who was removed
almost a year later, and is now incarcerated and charged for embezzling
£17.5 million (€21 million) from the team. By last year the club’s
debts rose to £27.5 million (€33 million), according to Greek media.
Flicked wide: Konstantopoulos makes a save from Burnley’s Ashley Barnes in their recent game at Turf Moor
Konstantopoulos was part of the team’s darkest period as during the summer of 2012 almost all of the experienced players left and were replaced by very young and inexperienced footballers.
The financial situation was so bad that the players would remain unpaid and were unable to afford the basics.
The 35-year-old confirmed that some of his teammates would pass out during practice as they were so malnourished and because of the administration’s failure to protect its players they would receive threats on their phones by angry fans after a bad result.
‘Things were tough. Every day was a struggle for football survival as there were no experienced players and the footballers had no money to afford a proper diet. We all wanted to help but it wasn’t up to us.
‘Supporters would frequently show up at the training ground during practice to express their dissatisfaction. The atmosphere was not comfortable.
‘The lads carry absolutely no blame for what happened as they gave the best of their abilities. That hard time was something completely new to us.’
The climax occurred just two games before the end of the season when AEK Athens’ supporters invaded the Olympic Stadium’s pitch and chased players from both AEK and visitors Panthrakikos.
The club took the fall and from then on it was just a breath away from relegation.
‘It was unbelievable that so many fans had so much time to come in and cause that much damage,’ said Dimi who was watching from the stands. ‘I was in shock by the security’s incompetence. All of the players were scared and worried for their bodily integrity. It is those kinds of images that give such a negative reputation regarding Greek football.’
Summer plans: Konstantopoulos is still hoping to get into the Greek squad for the World Cup
A week later the Union lost their last
match to Atromitos and were relegated – a day that officially marked
the club’s darkest day. ‘We all felt horrible. It was inevitable and
beyond our powers,’ said the Greek keeper who saw his team-mates falling
to the ground and breaking down in tears.
of their enormous debt, AEK got relegated to the third division and
Konstantopoulos’ contract expired. Even though he witnessed some huge
problems in the Greek League he believes that things could still improve
if radical changes occur and if the right people take charge.
Greek stopper is sure that the Superleague can never be compared to the
Championship but he would not rule out a chance of him returning there
in the future. ‘The Superleague has helped me a lot as I got the chance
to play in the Europa League and was also called up by the Greek
I am not making any long-term plans but I would not consider returning
now, especially if things remain the same over there.’
He is now very happy at Middlesdbrough and is glad to be back in the UK – a place that he considers home almost as much as Greece, as it is where he spent a large portion of his career and played for the likes of Hartlepool United, Swansea and Cardiff.
He is completely focused at Boro, who he considers a team with Premier League stature that will return to the top flight soon. He would love to join the Greek national team at the World Cup this summer but for now he just concentrates on his club performances.
‘Of course I would like to play at the World Cup – who wouldn’t? But I don’t want to make any speculations. The only thing I can do is play well for Middlesbrough and from then on it is up to Greece’s manager.’
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GREECE’S chances of recovery after six years of misery are improving. Its first bond offering in four years, seen as a test of confidence, did much better than expected. Tourists are flocking in for Easter; hoteliers predict a record 19m visitors will come this year. One long-blocked resort project on Crete seems poised to go ahead, raising hopes that foreign investment may flow into other industries such as electricity and ports. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor and often one of Greece’s harshest critics, spoke encouragingly to young Greek entrepreneurs during a quick visit to Athens on April 11th.
Yet the new optimism does not seem to be trickling down to most voters. Unemployment fell slightly in January, but still stood at 26.7%. The social safety-net is stretched so thin that only one in ten of the unemployed gets any benefits. Private-sector workers complain of being paid months in arrears. An estimated 35% of Greeks now live in poverty, according to social workers and charities.
No wonder Greece’s clientelist political system is in tatters. It was once a politician’s responsibility to find jobs in the public sector for his (rarely her) constituents. Ambitious MPs extended their patronage to the private sector. “My application for an assistant supermarket manager’s job was picked on merit, but it wasn’t approved by the local MP—he wanted someone else,” says Simos, a 28-year-old economics graduate now working in Germany.
Angry voters used to shout “Thieves, traitors” outside parliament as lawmakers waved through a string of unpopular reforms demanded by Greece’s creditors. The centre-right New Democracy (ND) and the PanHellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), partners in a fractious coalition with only a two-seat majority in parliament, are now widely blamed for the collapse of the patronage system that they built during 30 years of alternating in power.
Some voters have switched instead to “anti-systemic” fringe parties that advocate extreme solutions to Greece’s woes. At next month’s European elections, being held at the same time as local elections, two new moderate centre-left parties, Elia (Olive tree), led by a group of academics and former ministers, and To Potami (the River), led by Stavros Theodorakis, a television journalist, are trying to plug the gap opened up by Pasok’s slump.
Many on the left now back Syriza, a radical left-wing party led by Alexis Tsipras, a fiery 39-year-old who scares Greece’s businessmen with talk of imposing a wealth tax and suspending debt repayments. Evangelos Venizelos, the Pasok leader (and foreign minister), is fighting attempts by George Papandreou, a former prime minister, to reassert authority over the party founded by his father Andreas, Greece’s first Socialist prime minister. Mr Venizelos backs Elia, but Mr Papandreou refuses to join him, prompting speculation that he seeks a political comeback to stop his dynastic party disappearing.
ND has proved Greece’s most durable party, surviving several changes of leadership. Yet its voters provide much of the support for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, a homophobic, anti-immigrant party whose 18 deputies are accused of running a criminal organisation. Embarrassingly for Antonis Samaras, the prime minister and ND leader, a leaked video showed his chief of staff, Takis Baltakos, telling Ilias Kasidiaris, Golden Dawn’s spokesman, that the public prosecutor had found barely a shred of evidence against him. Mr Baltakos quit; and the affair has had little impact on ND’s poll rating. Mr Samaras is far ahead of Mr Tsipras as “most suitable prime minister”.
Opinion polls nevertheless give a slight edge to Syriza over ND, with both parties consistently on 18-20%. Pasok has sunk to around 3.5%, and could fail to win any European seats. More than three-quarters of Greek voters would like Mr Papandreou to retire from politics. Golden Dawn has fallen from 11% to about 8%, but it could bounce back on a sympathy vote if Mr Kasidiaris, who is running as Golden Dawn’s candidate for mayor of Athens, is placed in custody before polling day on May 25th.
Elia is polling around 5% but is seen by many as a dull and outdated revamp of Pasok. But To Potami has picked up voters at dizzying speed, moving into third place, with 11-15%, within three weeks of its launch. The 50-year-old Mr Theodorakis, wearing a T-shirt and trainers and carrying his trademark backpack, tours the country making low-key speeches about cracking down on tax evasion, promoting meritocracy and creating jobs for young Greeks. These are soothing sounds for voters fed up with traditional politicians.
Some analysts claim that To Potami is backed by powerful business interests determined to stop Syriza and, perhaps, to force Mr Samaras to call an early general election later this year. Mr Theodorakis insists his party is financed by small donations. Questioned by a Pasok deputy about his party’s finances, he snapped back, “It takes a lot of chutzpah to ask about our campaign when your party has dumped €140m on the Greek taxpayer.” He was referring to unpaid bank loans run up by Pasok when Mr Papandreou was in power. Greece’s political landscape is shifting—perhaps for the better.
«Χαίρομαι που η Ελλάδα ξανακέρδισε μια κάποια εμπιστοσύνη, αλλά μένει η πίκρα για το ότι χρειάσθηκε υπερβολικά πολύς χρόνος. Αν η Ευρώπη δρούσε άμεσα και ενωτικά, ίσως θα μπορούσαμε να αποφύγουμε την εξορία από τις αγορές», τονίζει ο πρώην πρωθυπουργός Γιώργος Παπανδρέου σε συνέντευξή του προς την ιταλική εφημερίδα Corriera Dela Sera.
«Ο Παπανδρέου διάλεξε την οδυνηρή πορεία διαφάνειας ενώπιον της διεθνούς κοινότητας και ενέκρινε το πρώτο πρόγραμμα μεταρρυθμίσεων. Τέσσερα χρόνια αργότερα, με την επιστροφή της Ελλάδας στις αγορές, η Ιστορία αρχίζει να τον δικαιώνει», γράφει η ιταλική εφημερίδα.
Ο Παπανδρέου υπογραμμίζει ότι «τώρα χρειάζεται ένα νέο μοντέλο ανάπτυξης» και υπενθυμίζει ότι «ανέκαθεν υποστήριξε ότι το κύριο πρόβλημα δεν είναι το έλλειμμα αλλά τα διαρθρωτικά προβλήματα, τόσο θεσμικά όσο και οικονομικά.
»Υπερβολική γραφειοκρατία, διαφθορά, πελατειακές σχέσεις, φοροδιαφυγή και σπατάλες που δεν επιτρέπουν την αποτελεσματική αξιοποίηση των πόρων και εμποδίζουν την ανάπτυξη».
Σε ότι αφορά την πρότασή του για διεξαγωγή δημοψηφίσματος, ο πρώην Πρωθυπουργός δηλώνει στην Corriera Dela Sera ότι αν είχε πραγματοποιηθεί «το τοπίο θα είχε ξεκαθαρίσει, οι μεταρρυθμίσεις θα είχαν γίνει με μεγαλύτερη ταχύτητα, ο λαός θα ένιωθε πως συμμετέχει ενεργά στην όλη διαδικασία και θα είχε σταλεί ένα ισχυρό μήνυμα στο εξωτερικό: η Ελλάδα δεν εγκαταλείπει το Ευρώ».
Σε σχέση με την «αλλοίωση των στοιχείων της δημόσιας οικονομίας», στην οποία αναφέρεται η Corriera , ο κύριος Παπανδρέου απαντά:
«Η Ευρωπαϊκή Επιτροπή και το ΔΝΤ παρακολουθούσαν την κατάσταση. Μπορεί και να απέστειλαν προειδοποιητικές επιστολές στον τότε πρωθυπουργό και τους υπουργούς Οικονομικών.
»Δεν δημοσιοποιήθηκε, όμως, τίποτα. Η κυβέρνησή μου κλήθηκε να αποκαλύψει το μεγάλο ψεύδος, και για να αποδείξει ότι ήταν πρόθυμη να αλλάξει ριζικά την όλη κατάσταση.
»Εγώ και η κυβέρνησή μου τιμωρηθήκαμε για αμαρτίες που έκαναν άλλοι, αλλά νομίζω ότι άξιζε τον κόπο. Θα προτιμούσα η Ευρωπαϊκή Επιτροπή και το Διεθνές Νομισματικό Ταμείο- πριν από τις εκλογές του 2009, τις οποίες κερδίσαμε – να έλεγαν με σαφήνεια πως είχε η όλη κατάσταση».
Ο πρώην πρωθυπουργός, προτείνει την θέσπιση ενός «προγράμματος Erasmus για τους ανέργους», με επενδύσεις ώστε οι έλληνες, ισπανοί, ιταλοί άνεργοι να μπορέσουν να αποκτήσουν νέες γνώσεις και να καταρτισθούν επαγγελματικά, με την δυνατότητα να μετακινηθούν, για τον σκοπό αυτό, μέσα στην Ευρώπη, σε μια νέα χώρα.
«Ξεκινώντας από την κρίση πρέπει να ξαναδημιουργήσουμε την ελληνική κοινωνία, χωρίς μεμψιμοιρία», υπογραμμίζει, τέλος, ο Γιώργος Παπανδρέου, σύμφωνα με τον οποίο «η Ευρώπη είναι ένα σχέδιο το οποίο πρέπει να αλλάξει, να διευρύνει τα σύνορά του. Διότι ή εμείς θα εξανθρωπίσουμε την παγκοσμιοποίηση, ή η παγκοσμιοποίηση θα καταστήσει απάνθρωπη την Ευρώπη».