After a tumultuous 18 months in Greece, Terry Antonis is back in Australia, looking to revive his club and Socceroo ambitions after a dream move to Europe turned into a nightmare.
Antonis’ experience with Greek Super League PAOK saw the talented midfielder given limited playing time in his first season, and a subsequent loan move to Veria FC in year two proved to be a disaster.
Luck has not been on Antonis’ side when it comes to making a career abroad. In 2013, Italian side Parma cancelled a contract that had already been signed, after the 23-year-old picked up an injury that put him out of the game for an extended period.
That setback proved to be a blessing in disguise as Antonis’ improved fitness and form saw him have a successful season with Sydney FC as well as making several Socceroos squads.
Impressive performances in the A-League saw PAOK come calling and in August 2015 Antonis put aside the disappointment of a cancelled transfer to the Serie A and set off to play in Greece. But breaking into the Thessaloniki-based team was going to be a challenge, as standing in Antonis’ way was Greek talent Dimitris Pelkas, Slovakians Robert Mak and Erik Sabo and Cape Verde international Garry Rodriguez.
Unfortunately, Antonis started life with his new Greek club with an injury and had to wait several months before he made his professional European top-flight debut, but the wait was worth it.
“The day before the game, my coach Igor Tudor said I was starting against Asteris Tripoli at home in the Toumba,” he said. “The PAOK fans are great fans and especially playing at home at the Toumba − we won as well so it was unbelievable for me to play a home game as my debut. My second home game was in the semi-final against Olympiakos in the Greek Cup. Before the game, it’s crazy, it’s unbelievable, you have to watch it for yourself to see how the fans are. It’s quite an amazing atmosphere walking onto the pitch and seeing everything.”
But just as Antonis started to play regular football, circumstances beyond his control meant that he soon lost his place in the squad.
“I was doing really well but I was unlucky, as my coach Igor Tudor got sacked,” he says. “I was playing under him and a new coach Vladimir Ivic came in. We had nine or 10 midfielders in our squad and there were only three spots in the midfield, so as you can imagine there was a lot of competition for places along with international players.
“It was very difficult to get a starting spot. I started playing well under Igor but then the new coach came in and it changed a bit. Igor was a great coach, I learnt a lot from him. I also learnt a lot with the new coach as well, but Tudor was the one who brought me in.”
Former Socceroo Peter Katholos was watching Antonis’ progress in Greece closely and says that the former Sydney FC midfielder started to make progress before Tudor was sacked.
“When he played in the Cup semi-final against Olympiakos he was probably the best player on the park,” he says. “He did really, really well against players that came from Inter Milan against a team that beat Arsenal in that particular year. But a new coach comes in and see you later. Terry showed to me that he could make it in Greece, it’s just that he needed the opportunity.”
Antonis played seven games in his first season for PAOK, and in his second year was loaned out to fellow Greek Super League side Veria FC, which proved to be an unhappy period.
“To be honest, it wasn’t a good experience at all,” he says. “At PAOK everything was amazing, I could never say that they did anything wrong by me. But with Veria FC I can’t say the same. I went out on loan and I didn’t get what I wanted. I learnt other things about football. I went through a lot of hard times over there. That football is not always about happy moments.”
Former NSL star Peter Katholos also played in Greece and can see parallels with Antonis’ experience to his time at Larissa.
“I spoke to Terry and the family before he left about what to expect before going to Greece,” he says. “What he experienced in Greece, I experienced exactly the same. At the end of the day it’s not how good you are. There are so many other factors involved. The political pressure makes it a rat race in Greece. Terry didn’t play because he was involved in that sort of atmosphere − it’s really hard, you’ve got 25 players and the coach is aligned with certain players and certain people.”
Since his return to the A-League with Western Sydney Wanderers, Antonis has got much-needed regular game time and is eager to show the kind of form that earnt him a contract with one of Greece’s biggest clubs.
“Coming back and playing in the A-League, I don’t just want to show them, but everyone what I can do on the pitch,” he says. “After the A-League finishes I’ve got one more season at PAOK left and I can’t wait to play here and we’ll see what happens from there. For me it’s all about working hard and going on the pitch every day and training like it’s your last training session so you can get everything out of it.”
Katholos believes that if Antonis can play to his optimal level, getting another shot in Europe again is a distinct possibility.
“The Sydney derby was his third game in a year,” he says. “He is doing really well. He’s stabilised that team and they are going to go really, really well now. He looked good, he looked confident, he wanted the ball and his work rate was exceptional.
“He’s a 23-year-old young man with the world at his feet. He needs a year under his belt playing good football again to re-establish himself. His former coach Igor Tudor is now at Galatasaray and if Terry starts playing well I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a connection there for him to go to Galatasaray.”
While form and fitness is the main objective, Antonis’ focus is also on a national team recall and making Ange Postecoglou’s squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers and Confederations Cup.
“I’ve got a lot of goals that I’m trying to hit and the Socceroos are definitely among them,” he says.
“I got called up once or twice when I was overseas in Greece but I was unlucky not to go because I hurt myself in training before the day of the game, so I spoke to Ange then.
“Football is a roller coaster, you are not always up. It’s ups and downs, otherwise everyone would be doing it. So, you learn a lot, you go through a lot of things and see a lot of things and it makes you stronger. You get determined and you set your goals on where you want to be. So that’s what I’ve done and so we’ll see how everything goes.”