South Melbourne FC Youth Director Peter Kokotis is passionate about integrating “new Australians into NPL football.”

“In my work in football across Asia I have met unbelievable African talent, many now close friends, South Melbourne will evolve to another level with young African Australians who have a deep football sense,” he told Neos Kosmos.

“They are not only gifted footballers but offer a different style of playing we can use.”

Mr Kokotis did offer places to African-Australian young people from the West last year however the club’s fees were a barrier for many who come from working class backgrounds.

“I saw the real challenges these kids have in trying to play in the NPL and we need to make the path easier for them,” he said.

“South Melbourne began as a working-class Greek team, it was the club of poor immigrants, just like many of the new African-Australians, so this is deep and personal for me.”

Coach Emanuel Saakai, the son of a Maasai chief was born in the cradle of all humanity, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania.

“It is where all humanity began, it is the source,” Coach Saakai said.

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South Melbourne FC Youth Director Peter Kokotis

He moved to Australia in 2016 after falling in love with an Australian woman. By 2020 he was a UEFA B Licence holder, only two steps from the football coaching summit. He also graduated from the toughest coaching course in Germany, if not the world, the German Football Association (DFB).

The excellence of African heritage footballers is attested on a global level. The most exciting players are now African. Players like the Senegalese Sadio Mané of Liverpool FC and Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli FC and French internationals – World Cup winners – Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe from Cameroon and Algeria, and Manchester United’s Paul Pogba from Guinea.

Coach Saakai told Neos Kosmos that football is loved in Africa because “when it was introduced over 100 years ago, it appealed to our people’s lifestyle.”

Tanzanian-born Coach Saakai says that football provides a sense of “teamwork and collaboration”

“We work together for a common goal which is something we Africans do every day,” he said.

“From a personal point of view, we as Africans move from family, to the village, to the community, to the city and to the nation.”

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Coach Saakai is well-versed in South Melbourne FC’s history and feels “deeply connected to Greeks.”

“I feel connected emotionally and culturally to Greeks, we have similar family and community structures, and I met many Greeks with whom I have become dear friends with, not only from Australia but in Greece and Africa,” he said.

He points to the Greek diaspora communities in Tanzania many of which have been there since the nineteenth century as traders, shopkeepers, hoteliers and clergy.

Coach Saakai says that being with Greeks “is no different to being with Africans.”

Tanzanian-born Coach Emanuel Saakai says that football provides a sense of “teamwork and collaboration”. Photo: Supplied

“I love the Greeks’ passion and excitement, it doesn’t matter that they shout at each other, it’s love and theatre like in Africa,” he said.

The Tanzanian coach has friends in Panathinaikos, Olympiakos and AEK, and the first club he coached in Australia was Clifton Hill, “a Greek club.”

“I look at France, Italy, Germany and Belgium – Word Cup nations – and they have African blood in their teams, be it African-born players who have moved there, those who have come as refugees, or those born there, and Australia is very similar,” Coach Saakai said.

The great difference for Coach Saaki is that the “pathway is not quite there for Africans in Australia yet.”

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“I want them to rise, to succeed and hopefully even become international players, millionaires, that’s what I want,” Coach Saakai said enthusiastically.

He says SMFC “provides a safe space for young Africans and adds that they know that Greeks relate and behave the same way as they do”.

“Young Africans will also feel comfortable in a Greek predominantly club. I will also be a role model and mentor,” he said.

“Young African Australians feel comfortable with me, they can open up if something is not going well at home, without feeling that they will be judged, or they will be looked at in with a different view.”

Mr Kokotis and Coach Saakai, will be reaching out to government and Greek Australian sponsors to seed SMFC bursaries for new and dynamic African Australian talent.