The hunger to pursue his football dreams is still very much alive in footballer Billy Konstantinidis. Thirteen years ago that hunger drove the former Northcote City junior to leave his home town of Melbourne as an 18-year-old in search of a professional career in Europe. Now, after playing with various Greek clubs including Veria, Hraklis, and Aris, the mature 31-year-old is switching continents once more and is about to embark on the next chapter of his career.
The tall striker has just joined Japanese J1 League club Ventforet Kofu as a striker. Currently in midseason, lying third last on the table, with the lowest number of goals scored in the league, the struggling team is hoping that Konstantinidis may be the answer to their goal-scoring prayers.
Speaking to Neos Kosmos just days after signing, Konstantinidis said, “For me this is a big leap careerwise. I’ve pretty much got my opportunity in one of, if not the best, league in Asia. For me, I’m just focused now on being able to assist the team in scoring goals. That’s why I’m here. I need to help the team score goals and for the team to stay in J1 next year to avoid relegation. So, we’re here for a job. We’re here for a task and hopefully that goes to plan. And then hopefully we can negotiate new things in the off-season.”
Although he hasn’t been in the country long, Japan and its people have already made a strong impression on him. He describes Kofu and the surrounds where he is based, as “an area with a very beautiful natural landscape. The main point that has stood out for me is probably the respect people show for one another. They’re a very respectful country. You do actually feel very safe being here. They’ve got great infrastructure. Whatever they build they do it correctly, so it helps them on an everyday basis.”
The infrastructure and planning is also evident on match days. He commented, “The most impressive thing I saw in last week’s game is the organisation they have for events. I see families and children attending events with safety, with organisation, with friendliness. You’ve really got to take your hat off to the Japanese for the way they go about things. It’s really impressive!”
Moving to a new country and playing in a new league doesn’t come without its challenges, but Konstantinidis believes he is committed to meeting these challenges.
He says, “The biggest challenges for me are two things at the moment. One is the physical side of the J1 League. They’re a very fast and very fit league, where the players run an enormous number of kilometres. They’re very sharp and quick. It’s something that I have to adjust to, very fast and quickly in order to be able to help the team.”
The other challenge he faces is the language barrier in a city where there are significantly fewer English-speaking Japanese than say in Tokyo which is 100 km to the east. He’s started Japanese lessons and also has the help of English translators at the club to help him, and fellow Australian teammate Oliver Bozanic, communicate with the Japanese players and coaches. Bozanic has also helped him as he tries to settle into his new lifestyle.
Konstantinidis’ new home of Kofu is in sight of one of Japan’s most revered national symbols: Mt Fuji.
He says, “It’s pretty close. I’ve heard about it, and read about it in geography books, but to be actually this close, is incredible.”
Konstantinidis hopes his time at his new club may put him close to achieving another cherished dream. If he can strike a rich vein of goal –scoring in the J1 League this season, he hopes to come to the attention of the Socceroos.
He says, “I personally believe that if you do find success and they’re backed up with goals in J1, it should be a big enough case to push for the Socceroos also. That’s another sort of aspect I saw J1 offering also. Because it’s close to Australia, it’s a very, very good level of football. And depending on your success you might be knocking on the Socceroos’ door.”
His message to other young footballers with an ambition to make it as a professional is “Follow your dreams. It doesn’t end if you don’t get selected to play for an A-League club. You’ve just got to keep going after it with a lot of hunger. Only you can chase your dream. You’ve really just got to stick it out.”