John Anastasiadis is the top dog of Greek Australian footballers. So, when you have the opportunity to rub elbows with the coach and former superstar of PAOK, Alexandros, and South Melbourne Hellas – the clear choice is to tune in and soak up the expertise he’s acquired through his years of football domination.

With his football career, it’s almost like he’s living out a storybook. In 1986, he perfectly fulfilled his childhood dream by signing with the team he adored, Alexandros.

“At 18 years old, I signed for Alexandros. My father, a big supporter of the club, naturally made me a fan of the team when I was a kid. Playing for them felt like fulfilling a childhood dream.”

His transfer to PAOK changed his life forever, leading him to play for the yellow and black club for only two seasons.

“In July 1988, I went to Greece and joined PAOK but I only started playing in December of that year. They informed me of a contract issue at the time, but later revealed it was something like a trial period. I clearly remember the day I signed at the team’s office, where I overheard shouts and celebrations. Initially, I was confused, but soon realized it was due to the draw for the UEFA Cup. PAOK had been matched with the legendary Maradona’s team, Napoli. The whole club was buzzing with excitement as they would be hosting such a renowned club in their hometown of Thessaloniki. Just a few days earlier, I was lying in my childhood room with Diego’s poster over my head, and now I would have the opportunity to see him play in Toumba. It was unbelievable. There was always something enchanting about this stadium, and having a superstar like Maradona playing there added an extra touch of magic to that place”

When I ask him if Maradona is the greatest of all time, he doesn’t hesitate.

“The man had something special, of course. He could be seen on the field, appearing like a dancer. If his career hadn’t been plagued by off-field problems, he would have achieved even greater things.”

He spent eight whole years in Toumba and PAOK.

“I consider PAOK to be a huge part of my life. Through my time with the team, I experienced many unique moments, played alongside both great teammates and opponents, and managed to build a successful career in a challenging and demanding league. Over the course of eight years, we had some exceptional rosters, although it is unfortunate that we were not able to win a trophy. Nevertheless, I take great pride in that period and remain deeply attached to PAOK. Every time I return to Greece, I make a point to meet with my former teammates. The city of Thessaloniki is football-crazed and each PAOK game is a massive celebration. I always revel in being at Toumba stadium. In fact, I aspire to one day organize exhibition matches here in Australia for my former teammates. The veteran players would receive immense love and support from the Greek community, as they could compete in matches in Melbourne and Sydney and bring joy to all.”

Does he dare to dream of leading PAOK one day? Based on the way his eyes sparkle when talking about them, it seems like a possibility.

“PAOK stands as a huge club. I acknowledge that, in order to attain that level, there are still a lot of things for me to accomplish and acquire knowledge about. However, I am also aware that in life, anything can occur when one takes it one step at a time. A first step would be to coach a smaller club in Greece. Once we reach that point, then we can assess what lies ahead.”

He speaks really highly about PAOK’s current team and their Romanian coach, Razvan Lucescu.

“Lucescu is like a master builder, creating a team from the ground up. PAOK boldly trusts their young players, setting a new trend in Greek football. Maybe other big clubs should take a page from PAOK’s playbook and stop burning out their own players before they even have a chance to shine. The Australian clubs also need to start investing in young kids. No need to outsource, invest in the local kids, give them the field and watch the league grow stronger every season.”

After three years in the A-League, Mr Anastasiadis returns to the NPL and to his first love, Heidelberg United.

“I joined Western United as an assistant coach. The people at the club had promised that I would become head coach within a year, but the year went by, then two, and then three. However, at the end of last season, I made the decision to return to my role as head coach at a club. I reached out to A-League teams such as Newcastle and Perth Glory, but unfortunately, I had no success. It seemed that I don’t have the right connections. So, I turned to NPL clubs. I was close to joining South Melbourne, but ultimately, I chose Alexandros. My goal is to lead the club to success and maintain a strong performance every season. I have complete confidence in our ability to achieve this.”

He believes in the concept of the national second tier, but he recognizes that there is still a lot of work needed for the project to be successful.

“Nothing will happen with only eight clubs. They need to add another four teams for the division to be viable. This is a very good idea and certainly necessary for Australian football, but they must make careful moves and find enough money for the teams to handle their obligations during the season. Even travel can be expensive and unaffordable for a club with no income, and most clubs out there have no serious income except for the money provided by the presidents. But how long will that last?”

But he is optimistic about the future of Australian football.

“The sport continues to grow every year, with more and more children coming in to it and showing a passion for the game. And with knowledgeable and capable individuals taking on leadership roles in clubs, these kids are in good hands as they navigate their way towards a future in football. Let’s face it, football is the King of Sports, the one that can get a crowd of ten thousand people to flock to Federation Square. I mean, have you ever seen Aussies take the streets because of cricket? I didn’t think so. It’s time to stop neglecting the game and give it the recognition it deserves, because it’s here to stay and it’s only going to get stronger.”

Finally, he spoke to us about Angelos Postecoglou, the great Greek Australian star of the past few months, and his former coach.

“By the age of 35, Postecoglou seemed destined to become a skilled coach. As my coach at South Melbourne, he stood out for his exceptional leadership abilities. He proved to be highly adept at leading clubs, as every team requires a captain. Since arriving in England, he has already won over the hearts of many and I am certain he will make his mark on the English Premiership.