Kostas Katsouranis: from Greece to Pune via Brazil
He was part of Greece’s 2004 Euro-winning squad and is the only footballer in the Indian Super League to have played in the 2014 World Cup
Kostas Katsouranis, who has been capped 114 times for his country, is a key player in Greek football as we know it today. A member of Greece’s Euro-winning squad in 2004, Katsouranis will be playing in India for the first time as he gets ready to take the field for FC Pune City in the Indian Super League (ISL), from 12 October-20 December. The 6ft defensive midfielder is the only player in the ISL to have played in the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil. Katsouranis, who was in New Delhi for training ahead of the ISL, spoke to us about his experiences in Brazil, and what he expects to do in the league. Edited excerpts:
What excited you about India that you wanted to come here and play football for this club?
The idea to come here was good. The period is not big and that was important. It’s something new in my life, a new challenge. I like it here already, it’s been two-three days since I arrived. I was in Mumbai, and now I am here in Delhi and I find it normal here, not something strange for me. Before coming here, I didn’t read about Indian football, but now this is something new for all of us. Everyone in India wants to improve in football, but it will take a lot of time to do so. You need to have a good base, teams must have their own training centres and more players must start playing in Europe. In football, organization is important, even more than what happens on the field.
You are the only player in the ISL to have played in the 2014 world cup in Brazil. What was the experience like?
You played in Portugal, representing the Benfica club for three years. What was your time like there?
I went to Benfica because it was a huge club in European football and every player would want to play for a club like that. The level in Portuguese football is generally very good, and that’s why I chose to go there. Also, I have a very good relationship with the fans there, and they appreciate everything I did for the club in the three years I spent there, not just as a player but also as a person. When I was in Benfica, my performances didn’t go unnoticed. I had offers from other, bigger European clubs like Chelsea, Atletico Madrid and Villareal. But they (Benfica) didn’t want to let me go. During my last season there, I was given a chance to captain the side, which I consider was a huge honour to lead a club like that. It was a strong relationship, and I still speak to some players from that team.
Greece winning the Euro 2004 was one of the greatest stories in football. Tell us about the tournament and your coach, Otto Rehhagel?
Otto Rehhagel changed everything for the national team, along with the Greek Football Federation president Vassilis Gagatsis. The president basically let Rehhagel decide what he wanted to do, gave him the key to the team, if you like. He was a typical, clever German coach and he brought to Greek football the German mentality. He was very successful at making the national team play like a club. When we won the Euro 2004 in Portugal, we had a very strong team. Winning the Euro was a big moment for all of us. In my 12 years with the national team, we’ve been more successful than what I’d dreamt of.
But the Greeks have come under constant criticism for their style (or lack thereof) over the years...
It’s okay. Greece is not like Brazil, where everyone plays football. We are a smaller country, maybe 9 million (around 11 million, according to the United Nations Population Division) people. Our critics must take this fact into account when they talk about our style. Maybe we are a boring team, but we don’t have a (Lionel) Messi or a (Cristiano) Ronaldo. We have to make do with our resources and strengthen whatever we have, and play with a stronger mentality, where everybody plays for each other. We have always strived to play as a team, and we have been successful. I think every country should play to its strength. Having said that, we try to play slightly more attacking football now, and we are getting better with it each year. But it is normal in football; to play the style depending on the players you have.
What is the current state of Greek football, especially with the financial crisis in the country?
Things aren’t that good, but each year, everyone tries to improve. I think Greek football needs more love for the game. They don’t love football the way they should, they only care about the results;
either win or lose. The organization (of football) can improve too. With the economic crisis in the country, we see a lot of younger Greek players in the teams, because clubs don’t have the money to bring in the players (from other European clubs).
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