AGONAsport Spotlight: Lazaros Christodoulopoulos, AEK’s former hero
Experienced midfielder Lazaros Christodoulopoulos enjoyed a career renaissance at AEK Athens, firing the Kitrinomavri to Super League glory and contributing with some fantastic performances.
Watch LIVE GREEK TV including full GREEK SPORTS coverage from AGONAsport.com!
Following a hugely successful 2017/2018 season, it was expected that Christodoulopoulos would duly extend his AEK contract for another year, but in a surprising turn of events, he turned down the Athenian giants and opted to join their arch rivals - Olympiacos. AGONAsport takes a closer look at the 31-year old’s fascinating, unpredictable career to date.
EARLY STEPS IN THESSALONIKI
Born in Thessaloniki. Greece’s second largest city, Christodoulopoulos initially started out in the sport with Omonia Sindos and SA Neapolis, before he was eventually picked up by PAOK in 2004. Despite only having just joined the Dikefalos tou Vorra, the midfielder made an immediate impact, even making one league appearance late in the 2004/2005 season alongside being a key figure for the club’s under 20 side.
In the following season, Christodoulopoulos continued his development, participating in 24 Greek championship matches and finding the back of the net on three occasions. Regarded as one of Greece’s top young players, he attracted the attention of English outfit Liverpool, who offered him a trial in the summer of 2006.
LIVERPOOL DISPUTE, PANATHINAIKOS MOVE
Liverpool’s manager at the time, Rafael Benitez, was struck by Christodoulopoulos’ performances in Greece, impressed enough to give the Greek a trial after the 2005/2006 season’s completion. Unfortunately for the midfielder, the trial turned into a nightmare, as PAOK refused to let him sign for Liverpool and Christodoulopoulos was practically frozen out of the PAOK first team in the upcoming season, competing in only seven league games.
Christodoulopoulos eventually made it back into PAOK’s good books, but in 2008, he was sold to Panathinaikos for around 2.2 million euros.
SUPER LEAGUE GLORY WITH THE GREENS
The intelligent winger had shown potential with PAOK, but he came to life with Panathinaikos, spending five successful years with the Prasini. In 2010, Christodoulopoulos finally won the maiden trophies of his professional career, playing in Panathinaikos’ amazing double-winning campaign. The Greens won the Super League by six points ahead of rivals Olympiacos, losing only four games with Christodoulopoulos scoring once in 16 matches. He also helped Panathinaikos claim the Greek Cup, coming off the bench in the 1:0 final victory against Aris.
After playing in 131 matches and grabbing 25 markers, Christodoulopoulos’ Panathinaikos journey came to a sad end in January 2013. With the club in a dire financial site, he was allowed to leave on a free by the Greens, choosing to move abroad and join Bologna in Italy.
POSITIVE START TO ITALIAN LIFE
Playing in a foreign league for the first time in his career, Christodoulopoulos made a flying start to life in Italy, scoring on his debut in Bologna’s 2:1 victory against Fiorentina on February 26. Having built up a reputation as a skillful, flair player, he arrived in Italy expected to transform into a leader for Bologna. For the most part, Christodoulopoulos lived up to the weight on his shoulders, standing out above the rest and constantly included in Bologna’s starting line-up.
Christodoulopoulos’ brilliant form enabled him to be included in Greece’s squad for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, where he was present in the Ethniki Omada’s memorable run to the Last 16. Upon return to Italy, Christodoulopoulos transferred to Hellas Verona after Bologna had suffered relegation from Serie A.
STRUGGLES WITH BOLOGNA AND SAMPDORIA
In the next two seasons, Christodoulopoulos only played in a combined total of 32 Serie A matches, struggling to find consistency. He was shifted out on loan to Sampdoria in August 2015, but that move didn’t work out at all, scoring just the single goal in a mere 10 championship matches. Sadly for him, his Italian expedition ended in 2016 when he flew back to his homeland with AEK Athens after his Verona contract expired.
It turned out that Christodoulopoulos’ decision to sign for AEK was the best thing possible. Since joining AEK on a 2+1 deal, he has reminded everyone why he was the country’s brightest prospect all those years ago with PAOK, flourishing under Spanish manager Manolo Jimenez. During his first campaign with AEK, Christodoulopoulos assisted the club in qualifying for the UEFA Champions League in a fantastic playoff run, but the best was yet to come.
A record-breaking 2017/2018 season started with the memorable AEK-Olympiacos duel at the Olympic Stadium, a 3:2 AEK triumph in which Lazaros Christodoulopoulos scored a stunning free-kick to level the score. As the season progressed, Christodoulopoulos improved further, coming up with big goals and terrorising the opponents with his speed and directness on the right wing. Jimenez got the best out of his number seven, inspiring Christodoulopoulos to the most productive season of his life with seven Super League goals. He returned to the Greek national team too, selected by Ethniki boss Michael Skibbe for the decisive 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
In an interesting statistic, Christodoulopoulos has won the previous two Super Leagues when Olympiacos didn’t become champions - 2010 with Panathinaikos and 2018 as an AEK player.
SHOCK TRANSFER TO OLYMPIACOS
It all seemed to be going swimmingly with AEK, but out of the blue, the winning formula turned sour. Taking into account his contract expires this summer, AEK asked Christodoulopoulos to stay, pointing out the extension option. However, Christodoulopoulos, allegedly engaged in negotiations with Olympiacos, rejected AEK’s offer, complaining that the newly crowned Greek champions put too much pressure on him to remain an AEK player. On the other hand, AEK revealed that Christodoulopoulos had agreed to stay until 2019 and threatened to take the matter to court.
On Tuesday, Olympiacos officially revealed Christodoulopoulos’ transfer, pinching him on a two-year contract. Incredibly, he is now the first player in history to play for all of Greece’s big four - PAOK, Panathinaikos, AEK and Olympiacos. Apparently, Christodoulopoulos was an Olympiacos fan as a child, but you can bet a tasty atmosphere at the OAKA awaits him next season.