After impressing then-Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez during a three-week trial in 2007, a 16-year-old Dean Bouzanis was offered a three-year contract that changed his life forever.
It’s hard to believe that the Greek Australian goalkeeper is now 27 year old. It seems like only yesterday that Benitez called him the “best goalkeeper in the world for his age”.
Bouzanis spent seven years with the English Premier League giants and he told Neos Kosmos that rubbing shoulders with Robbie Fowler, Xabi Alonso, and Socceroo Harry Kewell was a memorable period in his career.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” he says. “Rafa Benitez was the one that signed me and I learnt a lot from him. I’m grateful that he gave me the opportunity to play at such a big club. When he made that comment it gave me a very good feeling. It was one that spurred me on and gave me a lot of confidence.
“I worked my way into the first team and I was part of that environment every day. I spent a good few years with them and saw what top class athletes and professionals did every day. I got to see the likes of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez up close and it was an experience that I will never forget.”
Soon after signing with the Reds, Bouzanis also played youth international football for Greece and he says representing the country of his parent’s origin was an honour.
“It was a good experience,” he says. “I played in the Under-19s European Championships. I’m very proud to have played in the youth set-up for Australia and Greece as well. They’re both countries that mean a lot to me.”
Bouzanis says the high point playing youth international football for Australia came when the Young Socceroos competed at the Under-20 World Championships.
“I got to play at the highest level at a World Cup in 2009,” he says.
“Playing in Egypt for that age group I was happy I got to represent my country. I played with some fantastic players from around the world like Lionel Messi. To have that on my resumé is special.”
With more experienced goal keepers ahead of him such as Spanish international Pepe Reina, Bouzanis left Liverpool in 2011 where his subsequent move to League One Oldham saw him play regular football.
“It’s a club I hold very close to my heart,” Bouzanis says.
“Because that was my first real senior club where I played a lot of big games. In the end I played over 50 matches for the club.”
For Bouzanis, there is one game he played for Oldham that stands out above all the others and it could not have been scripted any better. The League One club were struggling near the relegation zone, but the football gods worked their magic by giving the Sydney-raised goalkeeper the opportunity to play against his former team.
Liverpool were firm favourites boasting a squad that contained Raheem Sterling, Steve Gerard, and Luis Suarez. The club had also just paid an £8.5m fee for Brazilian Philippe Coutinho and it was a day after Brendan Rodgers’ 40th birthday so celebrations were being prepared for an expected victory.
However, Bouzanis and Oldham had different ideas and the club recorded a massive upset with a 3-2 victory.
“I just left Liverpool that year and we ended up drawing them in the FA Cup,” he says.
“It was special to play against those players and when you’re the underdog it’s an even better feeling to beat a Premier League club at your own home ground.
“That’s what football is all about. To be playing in these types of games is what you want to do as a footballer. You want to play in your derbies. You want to play in big games against big clubs to test yourself against the best players in the world. I was privileged enough and lucky enough to do that in England.”
At the beginning of the 2013/14 season Bouzanis left England and signed his first ever European top-flight contract when he made the move to Greece to play for Aris Salonika. However, he ended up playing only one game and says the experience in his parents’ home country was rather challenging.
“It wasn’t the best time, to be fair,” he says.
“I had a three-year contract and the club stopped paying me after three months. It made me stronger mentally and more prepared for what’s out there. It’s very disappointing because it’s a beautiful country and it’s a good league. When these things happen, it’s not good for any footballer in the world.”
Bouzanis returned to Australia in 2014 and played for the Western Sydney Wanderers until a subsequent move to Melbourne City revitalised his career again. Last season was especially significant as it saw the goalkeeper play regular consistent football.
“I’ve come back, and I’ve played a fair few games in the A-League now and I’m just looking to push on,” he says.
“I came to Melbourne City knowing that they were one of the biggest clubs in the league and to work with a great goalkeeper in Thomas Sorensen. Working with him I just pushed myself to play as many games as I could. Because every footballer wants to play and I was lucky enough to do that.”
Earlier this year Bouzanis faced his younger brother Anthony in an FFA Cup tie. The game was labelled the ‘Bouzanis Derby’ with Anthony playing for NSW NPL side Hakoah FC. Even though City won on the day, Bouzanis, the eldest by five years, believes his younger sibling has what it takes to make it.
“My brother is a good young goalkeeper,” he says.
“He’s 21 years old. He’s got a good physique. He knows a lot about the game and he’s very talented as well. My advice to any young kid is that you need to work hard and keep improving. To make sure that every day you get better and better. That’s what it’s about. You can have your goals, set your goals and make sure you reach those goals by working hard and you get rewarded at the end of the day.”
At the beginning of the current A-League season, Bouzanis lost the number one goalkeeping spot to Eugene Galekovic who moved to City from Adelaide. But in round nine against Newcastle Jets the 27-year-old was called up as a late injury replacement and produced a Man of the Match performance in the 2-1 win.
Bouzanis has retained his spot for the last three games and hopes to build on that form with a view to earning another chance to play abroad.
“I [have been] through a lot of ups and downs in my career,” Bouzanis says.
“But I feel that now I am playing my best football. I’ve been to a lot of countries. I’ve played in a lot of big games. I’m still young for a goalkeeper. I still have aspirations to go back overseas and play. I’m very happy and proud with what I have done in my career. I have [many] years ahead of me and I just want to keep playing well and keep progressing.”