Greek Australian footballer Haris Stamboulidis’ first season in Greece has provided some tough lessons about the challenges involved in breaking into professional European football.
When he joined Greek Super League club Aris Thessaloniki at the beginning of the season, Stamboulidis became the first professional to move to a top 15 European 1st Division League from any Ivy League University.
After spending the previous three years playing college soccer with Columbia University and being part of Colorado Rapids Under 23 team, the Melbourne born youngster revealed Greece had been a step up.
“It’s definitely been hard,” Stamboulidis told Neos Kosmos.
“It’s been nothing short of hard work. Even though I do speak the language I am considered a foreigner. It’s normal to feel out of place when transitioning to a different country, but I’m in a good spot and I feel I have transitioned well. But everything is going really well and I’m doing everything I can for the process to work out. I’m definitely moving forward and I’m just working hard to get on the field.”
“Honestly people here [in Greece], they really embrace football; it’s more than just a sport. You live, breathe and sleep it. It’s a big part of their lives.”
European football at the highest level is cut throat and that certainly applies in Greece when after four successive defeats Aris’ Spanish coach Paco Herrera was sacked.
While sometimes a change in coach can be detrimental to new arrivals like Stamboulidis, the talented midfielder is keeping his eye on the prize.
“That’s been an adjustment,” he said. “Professional soccer is like this in general and if results don’t come within a certain time frame then changes happen. Especially with Aris as we are pushing to qualify for the Europa League. But you have to be willing to take that pressure and deal with it. Players especially have to be able to adapt to change. It’s all about focusing and keeping at it and not conceding to anything and staying mentally strong.”
After being promoted from the football league to the Super League last season, Aris are currently in fifth place and while competition for places is high, Stamboulidis is confident his opportunity will come soon.
“The group of players that are in the team are very talented,” he said. “They come from all around the world in top European competition. At the beginning of the season I wasn’t making match day squads, but as of late I have been in the squad of 18.”
One notable aspect of his time in Greece, which was different from his experience in Australia and the US, is the irresistible passion with which the local Greek fans support their team and the sport.
“Honestly people here, they really embrace football; it’s more than just a sport,” Stamboulidis said.
“You live, breathe and sleep it. It’s a big part of their lives. That’s something I’ve really enjoyed, being in the thick of things. From young to old, boys and girls they are all very interested in football and everyone watches the Greek league from all around the world.”
With just a few months left of the league, Stamboulidis is hopeful that he can impress Aris coach Savvas Pantelidis and make his professional European debut before the season ends.
“My priority is to get first team minutes and first team consistent minutes,” he said.
“That’s really all that I’m focused on and in the meantime, just trusting the process of training and getting better every day. I’ve done everything that I can to win my spot and I understand in a team like this there are a lot of good players that are knocking on the door, and it’s all about persisting. As a team, we are on a good path in the league and we have definitely made good progress. Now our focus is on our goal to win every game.”