AGONAsport Spotlight: Sotiris Papagiannopoulos, The One That Got Away
Greece has no shortage of good defenders over the last decade. Even Greeks born abroad seem to have those strong defensive traits. One such player is Swedish center-back Sotiris Papagiannopoulos.
The Stockholm-born Papagiannopoulos is a real rags-to-riches story coming from virtually nowhere to the cusp of a place in Sweden’s World Cup squad.
Papagiannopoulos’ playing career began in the youth system of AIK. He played for the club’s U-19 team before making the switch to his first professional senior side in Vasby United. He remained there for two seasons. He made an impact at the club and was seen as an up-and-coming talent. One of his two seasons at Vasby included a loan spell at Akropolis IF in 2010/11. His defensive abilities and goal-scoring prowess saw him continue to raise eyebrows. Assyriska FF came calling in 2011 and Papagiannopoulos began a four-year stint with the Swedish second division club. He made 75 appearances for the team in those four seasons producing consistent and steady performances at the back for his team.
PAOK Stint Ends Quickly
Word eventually reached Greece of Papagiannopoulos’ talent and exploits in the Swedish second tier. PAOK manager Angelos Anastasiadis was told about the player and decided to take a look at him in training. Anastasiadis liked what he saw and believed that with a little fine tuning Papagiannopoulos could make the grade for the Thessaloniki giants.
Papagiannopoulos signed a four-year deal with PAOK in December 2014 and made seven appearances during the rest of that season. Anastasiadis had tabbed him as one for the future. As he began to acclimate to life in Greece with PAOK, he was shown the door in surprise fashion. Anastasiadis’ departure from the club meant that the Swede’s biggest supporter was gone. In August 2015, then PAOK boss Igor Tudor told Papagiannopoulos he was not part of his plans. The player was making €2,500 per month, a paltry sum compared to others. Despite his low cost to the club, he was eventually shown the door.
A Fresh Start At Ostersunds
Papagiannopoulos went back to his native Sweden and eventually landed at Ostersunds FK.The modest second division side had been showing signs of progress in rising up the Swedish football pyramid under manager English manager Graham Potter. Papagiannopoulos made an instant impact at the ambitious club. He helped lead Ostersunds to promotion to the Swedish Allsvenskan, the country’s top-flight, for the first time in the club’s history. Last season, the 27-year-old was an integral part of the team that won the Swedish Cup as Ostersunds fairytale continued.
This season the fairytale has taken on almost unbelievable form. Ostersunds knocked out Galatasaray in the Europa League preliminary rounds. Then they were matched up against PAOK. Papagiannopoulos led his unfancied team past his former employers as the club reached the Group Stage of the competition. The good times have kept rolling since then. The club reached the knockout stage of the tournament after finishing second in Group J, level on points with Athletic Bilbao and ahead of Zorya Luhansk and Hertha Berlin. Papagiannopoulos has been ever-present in the team even managing to score away to Hertha in the group finale, where he was also named Man of the Match.
World Cup Dream Closer
Now Papagiannopoulos and his teammates are preparing for a dream match-up against Arsenal in the Round of 32 come February. Papagiannopoulos’ exploits have not gone unnoticed in Greece or Sweden. He has been called up to the Swedish national team for the first-time for two friendly World Cup warm-up matches in January in Abu Dhabi against Estonia and Denmark.
The Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) did show some interest in the player, but besides some initial discussions the decision was never made to truly pursue Papagiannopoulos. Despite his love of Greece and pride in his Greek heritage, the player has always seemed to be focused on playing for Sweden. Should he impress with Sweden in January then surely he will be a player to consider for a World Cup squad place.
At 27, Papagiannopoulos is coming into his prime. His career looked to be a modest one a few years ago, but with Ostersunds he has been shot into prominence in Sweden and there is a potential now for an even brighter future. PAOK’s decision surely looks like a mistake now and that perhaps also affected the Ethniki’s chances to bring the player into the fold. Nevertheless, Papagiannopoulos has gone from strength to strength and it will be of great interest to see what path his career will take in the next few years.