The yellow and black of Heidelberg United are colours close to the heart of Greek international Kostas Katsouranis, who arrived in Melbourne on Wednesday for his much-anticipated guest appearance for Heidelberg in Tuesday’s FFA Cup quarter-final match at home to Melbourne City.
The 36-year-old midfielder may be nearing the end of his professional career, but he reserves a special place in his heart for AEK in Athens, donning the yellow and black shirt for four seasons after joining the club in 2002.
It was during his four years at AEK that Katsouranis made his national team début, making the number 21 shirt his own at club and national level, the number 21 tattooed on his wrist as a constant reminder of those heady times.
Katsouranis has gone on to play 116 times for his country and also captained the national team – the highlight of his career being Greece’s 2004 Euro triumph in Portugal.
Now he’s in Melbourne, where he will take to the field in yellow and black once again.
Through an interpreter, he told reporters at a press conference at the Olympic Village, “one of the attractions in coming here was the opportunity to play in front of a large Greek community. It presents me with an interesting adventure towards the end of my career”.
Without knowing much about the domestic game, he is well aware that the Socceroos are a competitive outfit, playing at a very good standard.
Heidelberg coach George Katsakis believes Katsouranis’ presence will give his team of semi-professionals a confidence boost ahead of a match in which they are the underdogs.
“I think by his presence alone, you start to lift in confidence that will give you the extra ammunition going into a game of this magnitude. What Kosta will bring to the table between now and next Tuesday will inspire the boys to lift another gear. I think that will transform onto the park – everything’s possible.”
When Katsouranis was asked at the media conference what position he expected to play in Tuesday’s match, he deferred to coach Katsakis, who replied: “His physical condition is going to play a major role in that, we’ll need to see where he’s at. Believing that everything will go well on the park, I believe you need to allow players to express themselves where they are more adaptable and used to playing – that will be our first preference. However failing all that, we’ll have to make an adjustment to see where we fit him in.”
Earlier in the week, Heidelberg skipper Luke Byles described the mood in the camp in the build-up to the big game.
“The boys are absolutely buzzing. The training’s probably been the best it’s been all season. The intensity, the desire at training, everyone wants to start in the game. It’s probably been a bit long since we’ve finished the season. We haven’t had too many matches, so there’s a concern about match fitness and sharpness against the A-League team’s full-time training. It’s going to be the desire, the hunger that’s going to get us over the line, I think.” On the arrival of guest player Katsouranis, Byles commented, “I can’t actually believe it. Overall it’s fantastic for the club to have a player of his stature to come and play. Not only is he going to play, but he’ll train with us for two sessions. With the Greek population and a few neutrals coming to the ground, the exposure for the club’s been phenomenal.”
Kickoff is at 7.30 pm Tuesday night at Olympic Village.
The other quarter-final on Tuesday night is an all A-League tie in Perth between Perth Glory and Western Sydney Wanderers.