Apostolos Giannou has declared that he has switched allegiance from Greece to Australia and will now become eligible for a call-up to the Socceroos.
The sensational announcement occurred last week following Giannou’s securement of a move to the Chinese Super League with Guangzhou R&F.
“I want to play for Australia,” Giannou told Fox Sports Australia.
“Australia would be better for me as a footballer and to play for them and give everything that I can and bring the best out of me.”
The journey to gain approval for Giannou’s eligibility to represent the Socceroos, from football world-governing body FIFA, took several months of planning, discussions, research, paperwork collation and negotiations, beginning mid-2015.
These were conducted by Giannou’s representatives, FIFA-registered intermediary Jon-Paul Michail and the team at FIA Sports Management, who worked closely with the Football Federation Australia (FFA) legal team.
Having only recently signed as Giannou’s new representatives, FIA sought out to gain clarification of Giannou’s eligibility status for the Australian national team.
Giannou had been included in a squad for the Greek national team in March 2015 – a UEFA Euro 2016 qualifier against Hungary. However, Giannou never took the field that night – meaning he was not automatically and irreversibly tied to Greece.
Upon discussions with his representatives at FIA, Giannou decided that he wanted to pursue the possibility of representing Australia.
In October 2015, FIA spoke with numerous media contacts and a profile piece of Giannou was published by David Lewis of SBS’ The World Game. Lewis’ article was the first run on Giannou by mainstream Australian media (other than Neos Kosmos) for the last few years. The article received great exposure and was well received.
Soon after the release of this article, FIA officials reached out to the Football Federation Australia (FFA) for the first time – informing them of Giannou’s ever-growing reputation in Greece, not just in the league but also in national team circles.
By this time, Giannou had set the Greek Super League season on fire – leading the goal scorer’s chart with seven goals in nine games and with calls growing ever louder that he ought to be selected and capped by Greece.
Socceroos head coach Ange Postecoglou previously worked with Giannou in the Australia U17 team, the Joeys, some years earlier. Upon his appointment to the Socceroos job in 2013, Postecoglou enquired about Giannou’s eligibility, but uncertainty and confusion over his status halted any further action.
After a couple of months of investigative research and administrative work conducted by FIA representatives and the FFA, Postecoglou stated his desire to have Giannou as part of his national team plans moving forward.
A few days later, Giannou was called up by the Greek national team for friendly matches against Luxembourg and Turkey, with FIFA law dictating that a player must heed all national team calls as well as attend any and all camps they have been selected for.
Consequentially, Giannou made his debut for the Greek national team on 17 November as a 70th minute substitute against Turkey in Istanbul.
Because these matches for Greece were friendly matches and not part of an official FIFA competition, it did not rule out Giannou’s eligibility for Australia on that fact alone.
This did not derail the campaign to confirm Giannou’s eligibility for Australia. Over the next two months, FIA team members and the FFA legal team, with the assistance of Apostolos’ father Takis, all worked tirelessly to gather all relevant information and paperwork behind the scenes in order to present the best possible case to FIFA.
There was a large degree of sensitivity to this work, as Giannou still played his club football in Greece (and was still aligned to the Greek national team); all parties wanted to avoid a potential backlash.
In late-January 2016, the FFA received a positive ruling from FIFA. It was at this point that Postecoglou orchestrated a confidential meeting with Giannou via his representatives at FIA Sports Management.
The meeting was arranged and Postecoglou flew to Greece to meet with Giannou to discuss his future plans, answer questions he may have had and also help Postecoglou get an insight into the player’s thinking. The meeting went very well, with all parties pleased with the process and the outcome.
The official announcement was delayed until Giannou’s transfer to Guangzhou R&F was confirmed, as the Greek FA would have to approve his International Transfer Certificate (ITC).
Fortunately, a potential issue was avoided as Giannou was transferred out of Greece to play his club football in China in late-February.
The Socceroos are set to face Tajikistan and Jordan in FIFA World Cup qualifiers next month, with Postecoglou expected to call up Giannou for the first time for these matches.
Giannou’s switch to the Australian team will add an intriguing sub-story to the June friendly matches announced last week between the Socceroos and Greece at Sydney’s ANZ stadium and Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium.