Retsos’ move to Leverkusen latest chapter in meteoric rise
As club football comes back to the fore this week, Panagiotis Retsos has arrived in Germany. The 19-year-old shattered the Greek transfer record last week with his €22 million move from Olympiacos to Bayer Leverkusen. It was the largest fee ever paid for a Greek player, beating out Kostas Mitroglou’s move to Fulham in 2014 by €7 million. It was also a historic fee in the sense that Leverkusen has never spent more money on a single player.
Retsos’ transfer caps off a fairy-tale year for the South African born youngster. Virtually unknown to the average supporter at the start of the 2016/17 season, Retsos is now a household name amongst Greek fans all thanks to a breakout season like few others seen in the Greek game in recent seasons.
Having convinced then Olympiacos boss Viktor Sanchez of his quality, Retsos earned a spot in the team’s 2016/17 preseason squad. The rest is basically history. After impressing in a friendly against Gent, Retsos took his chance and stayed in the team for the rest of the season. Despite Olympiacos having a season of chaos as far as their managerial situation, Retsos persevered. Whether it was Viktor, Paulo Bento, Vasilis Vouzas, or Takis Lemonis, Retsos was able to stay between the squad and starting eleven all season such were all those coaches impressed by the poise and ability of the young talent.
Retsos’ development is a testament to his work over the years as well as the Olympiacos academy system. Retsos began at the club as early as 2008, spending over a decade with Olympiacos and climbing through the ranks all the way to the first team.
Vouzas in particular had a big impact on Retsos’ growth. In the 2014/15 season, Vouzas brought Retsos from the U-17 side up to the U-20 team he coached. Retsos rewarded his new manager with a series of impressive displays after being thrown into the deep end initially with a match against PAOK at Toumba Stadium. Retsos won the league in both the U-17 and U-20 divisions that season. The very next year he gained more experience and exposure by playing for the Erythrolefki in the UEFA Youth League where he was able to play against the likes of Bayern Munich, Arsenal, and Dinamo Zagreb.
The leadership and maturity of the youngster eventually led him to the first team last season. Retsos played in 34 matches in all competitions last season. 18 of those appearances were in the Greek Super League, eight were in the Greek Cup, and eight in the Europa League. His performances in the latter caused scouts around Europe to take notice. Not only was this an individual who seemed to be playing well beyond his years, but Retsos’ versatility became one of his biggest assets. For Olympiacos last season he played as a defensive midfielder, center-back, and full-back.
Retsos began this season without losing a step. His early season displays were solid and composed and put to rest any lingering doubts about being last season being a one-off. As the transfer window grew to a close, talk of clubs interested in the 19-year-old intensified.
Leverkusen got their man at the third time of asking after initial bids of €16 and €18 million were rebuffed by the Greek champions. French club Rennes were also in the running and tabled a bid reportedly nearing €20 million.
After a week where he earned his first international cap for Greece, Retsos is now ready to begin his career at Bayer Leverkusen. It has been a whirlwind 14 months for the player, who now must do all he can to make a name for himself in Germany and become a player that will lead the Greek national team forward in the years to come.