AGONA Interview: Con Boutsianis, talking football with a South Melbourne Hellas legend
AGONAsport’s Greg Gavalas sat down with South Melbourne legend, Con Boutsianis, discussing what could be at fault in the fall of Greek football in recent years. Con, who now runs “Football First,” has taken a whole new dimensional look at football physics and science, studying what really makes a footballer successful.
Greek Football has taken a huge backward step since the heights of the Ethniki’s last major tournament run at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Since then, the Greek national team has gone through numerous coaches and players, having failed to qualify for the 2016 Euros, 2018 World Cup, and are now on the back foot for the 2020 European Championships.
From the Claudio Ranieri disaster to the Angelos Anastasiadis roller coaster, even the simplest of games on paper have been a horror show. Two losses to the Faroe Islands, a friendly loss to Luxembourg, a loss to Estonia only last year, and most recently a 2:3 loss to Armenia are just a few embarrassing results the national team has suffered in recent years
All in all, Greece have played 45 games since the 2014 World Cup and have only won 14 games - statistics that have not been seen since the 1960s.
For many people, the question is about the coach or players. Reports clearly show the camp is in disarray under the leadership of Anastasiadis, which comes as a surprise given that Angelos Basinas and Stelios Giannakopoulos, both members of the successful Euro 2004 team, are part of the coaching staff.
So whilst the coach takes up some part of the blame, what about the players and player culture? Can the coaches really be blamed for all these failings?
For clarity on this matter, AGONAsport’s Greg Gavalas spoke with former Australian International and legendary South Melbourne Hellas player, Con Boutsianis. The 47-year-old now runs “Football First” and has taken a whole new dimensional look at football physics and science, studying what really makes a footballer successful.
One of the other reasons Greg went to Con was to gain some insight on how the Greek players look on the field in terms of technique and skill - which is very poor - as the likes of Armenia and Finland look much more composed, faster, and technically superior compared to a very stagnated Greek player, who lacks the first touch and movement of other players from other nations.
AGONAsport: You have studied football for many years now having played in Australia’s NSL and achieving the greatest height of all, the national team. Tell us what you have done with Football First?
Con Boutsianis: Football First is at the forefront of developing footballer’s skills. For many years I have been studying many different areas, to understand how some players perform certain skills exceptionally well, while others do not. This problem is global and not only for Greece and Australia. Skills need to be taught and then the player must repeat the exercises until they have mastered them.
Everyone’s perception of technique varies, so I do not want to just give an opinion about this area. I have established my own system of how to measure technique, skill, first touch, kicking skills, etc. This is now called The Football First Grading System. Coaches, players, and parents have something tangible in their hands to see exactly where the player is at, not just words or opinions. These tests have been developed over 17 years of trialing and testing.
To find out more about what Con does visit the Football First website at https://footballfirst.com.au/.
AS: Was the footballer a greater player back in the day, say pre-2006, or have players become more athletic nowadays whilst a footballer was more tactically superior back in the day?
CB: Players have certainly changed their training techniques but the biggest change has been the number of matches played and traveling schedules. Nowadays, players only have time to recover from games and not develop their talents, and as a result, players do not improve much more once they become professionals. Development actually seems to cease. Any player in any era is just as great as the other. The ball is still round and you have to score to win.
AS: Tell us about your experience with Greek Football?
CB: I was at Panathinaikos for a trial in 1991 after becoming an Australian Champion. Ferenc Puskas and Jimmy Pyrgolios, my coaches then, were past players of this massive club. I was 19 at the time and I did so well that they offered me a five-year contract. At the time I was earning close to $400 a week, but they were offering close to nothing. I knew that this was not going to work as I was only offered an apartment, car, and a wage to give me an opportunity to learn and prove myself. Living on 200 Drahmas ($100 Aussie) per month was an insult really.
I also had signed with Apollon when I was 26, but never got a chance to play. My experiences were not the best there but I always did my best.
AS: Greece has really struggled to produce quality talent compared to most other nations. From your experience why is this?
CB: Greece has a particular culture that is very different from other countries. Most players produce themselves with the help of their closest friends or family. They work tirelessly over many years no matter what their obstacles are. It is simple, they need to work harder!
AS: The Greek national team has fallen to new lows post the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Some blame the coaches, some blame the players, with losses to teams like the Faroe Islands and Luxembourg, and at times getting outplayed, especially in attack. What are your thoughts on why this can be?
CB: You cannot blame the coaches entirely on just these particular results. The economic situation in Greece is not great and this always has a direct influence on players’ commitment there. Losing to the Faroe Islands is not credible, but maybe they are becoming better teams, so you must respect every opposition and take nothing for granted.
AS: Is there a cultural issue in football in Greece from a professional player perspective?
CB: As I said before, culturally, Greek players have their way of doing things. Like the rest of the world, until you start to change what you are doing, you cannot expect different results. Development is the key to success over many years and coaches need to start focussing on these areas more, as opposed to just tactics. Players also need to be doing something to improve their skills every day.
AS: We discussed academies, many people think club football academies are the way to go but you think that is not the answer. Talk about your stance on this matter.
CB: Unless you are lucky enough to be at Ajax or La Masia’s Academy, then you really have to understand the power of training on your own skill development. People are wasting time traveling too many nights just to go and learn possession when there are so many other skills that need to be learned first! Find yourself a great mentor, a coach, that can actually teach you the skills. This is more productive and time efficient. Don’t send your kid overseas until they have really learned it and are better than all the players in your state and then, country.
AS: Who are examples of players/coaches that a Greek professional can look at and what was the secret to their success?
CB: Cristiano Ronaldo is an incredible professional, and never stops working. There are many players and coaches around the world that you can follow and learn from. For me, Pep Guardiola is an incredible thinker of the game and is always looking to be better.
AS: In recent times, we see most Greek players take off to Greek islands (i.e. Mykonos) for postseason relaxation. Is this a hindrance to pre-season conditioning?
CB: It all depends on what they are doing in Mykonos. Are they developing their skills there? Conditioning the body is not for preseason only but something that is practiced and improved on a daily basis until you retire. A 100-meter sprinter trains to become faster every day, not just for preseason.
AS: In the current offseason, we have seen Dimitrios Emmanouilidis of Panathinaikos undertake an intense pre-season program, working on football skills and physical development. Is this something the Greek player has lacked traditionally?
CB: Greek players are technically good and have been for many years. If they are not, well, they need to work harder. Physical development is not their greatest strength. As for me, I think they can be on the lazy side of things. This game is a running game, so learn to run!
AS: What are the key ingredients to success in football in the modern game?
CB: Like anything in life, success is determined by the amount of time you put into your chosen field. To practice deliberately and consistently over many, many, many years while taking the smallest of opportunities that may come your way.
AS: In your personal opinion, who is the best player of all time?
CB: I don’t have one, they are all great to me. Until there is a Michael Jordan of football, that can be the world’s best attacker and defender, then that’s the one that I will pick. He or she may not have been born yet. Haha...
Con, thank you for your time with AGONAsport.com.