AGONAsport Spotlight: Kostas Manolas, from Naxos to Roman Emperor
Kostas Manolas made the headlines this week, scoring an historic goal against Barcelona to send AS Roma into the UEFA Champions League semi-finals. The 26-year old has gradually worked his way through the ranks, becoming a top European defender.
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Highly regarded in Greece from a young age, Manolas starred for AEK Athens and Olympiacos before moving to Roma in 2014, where the centre-back has transformed into one of the most sought after defenders on the continent. AGONAsport takes a look at Manolas’ stunning career so far.
Born in Naxos, Manolas joined hometown club Pannaxiakos at the age of 12. Some reports suggested that Manolas was initially set on becoming a forward, but eager to follow in the footsteps of his successful uncle Stelios Manolas, he eventually settled himself in the centre of defence.
The next step in Manolas’ youth career was Thrasyvoulos, where he made his professional debut in the 2008/2009 season. Thrasyvoulos finished rock bottom of the Super League with a mere 14 points, but Manolas impressed enough in his six matches to attract the attention of Athenian giants AEK. Incidentally, Uncle Stelios, an AEK legend with 447 club appearances under his belt, was the Enosis technical director at the time and convinced the board to sign the promising defender.
THREE SUCCESSFUL YEARS AT AEK
Following the completion of the 2008/2009 campaign, AEK snapped up Manolas for 50 thousand euros. Taking into account Uncle Stelios’ legendary status at AEK, Manolas was thrilled to receive the opportunity to play for the same club, putting pen to paper on a three-year deal. Manolas had to be patient in his first season with AEK, but he immediately made himself a fans’ favourite when scoring his maiden professional goal. Despite breaking a cheekbone in a derby against Olympiacos, Manolas hit the target after six minutes, a game which AEK managed to win 2:1. Manolas was rushed to hospital after the match, but it was a price worth paying for the new AEK hero.
Manolas progressed with every passing season, playing in a combined total of 74 matches in the next two years. His best moment in an AEK shirt came in 2011, when he helped the team win the Greek Cup playing in defence with the experienced Traianos Dellas. A year later, Everton and AEK had agreed terms for sending Manolas to England after the British club offered around 600 thousand euros for the centre-back, but the transfer fell through. At the time, AEK were going through financial hardship but would have been left with practically no defenders had Manolas exited.
NEXT STOP - PIRAEUS
Manolas departed the financially crippled AEK in summer 2012 on a free transfer, opting to join Olympiacos instead of moving abroad. Unsurprisingly, Manolas was an instant hit in Piraeus, grabbing the one goal in his first campaign with the Thrylos and steering the club to a comfortable Super League triumph, the 40th in Olympiacos’ history.
Much to the disappointment of Olympiacos fans, Manolas wouldn’t stay in the port city for long. Manolas continued his superb form in the 2013/2014 season, winning another league title and performing successfully in the Champions League. In the summer of 2014, Olympiacos accepted a bid of 13 million euros from AS Roma and Manolas was granted his transfer to one of Europe’s so-called bigger leagues.
A ROMAN GLADIATOR
Interestingly, his move to AS Roma for 13 million means that Manolas is the third most expensive Greek player in history after Kostas Mitroglou and Panagiotis Retsos. The Greek lived up to his price tag, catching the eye in his first season away from his homeland. Manolas didn’t require much time for adapting to Italy, as he quickly became a key cog of the Roma defence.
However, it looked as though his time at Roma had come to an end last summer. Zenit Saint Petersburg had only just signed Leandro Paredes from Roma, and the Russians reached a deal for the transfer of Manolas. It appeared a foregone conclusion, but Manolas didn’t turn up for his medical and refused to sign for Zenit.
Manolas chose football over money, a decision which is paying dividends. The Greek enjoyed the finest hour of his footballing life to date on Tuesday, scoring the winning goal against Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-final to write himself into the history books.
KEY DEFENDER FOR THE ETHNIKI
Alongside his growing club career, Manolas is a vital centre-back for the Greek national team. Yes, Greece boast a proud tradition of nurturing world class defenders, but Manolas’ star quality is there for all to see. So far, he’s earned 34 caps for the Ethniki Omada, taking his first in 2013. Manolas was brilliant for Greece at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, putting in solid displays at the back to fire the Greeks to a place in the Last 16.
In a 2018 World Cup qualifying match against Bosnia and Herzegovina, Manolas got involved a mass brawl after the final whistle blew in a 0:0 draw, with the Greek even having an argument with Roma teammate Edin Dzeko.
Manolas’ absence in the opening playoff game with Croatia in Zagreb prevented Greece from making the World Cup in Russia. In a group match against Cyprus, Manolas was adjudged as to having purposely picked up a yellow card in order miss the final fixture with Gibraltar. He was handed a one match ban and Greece contrived to concede four goals without Manolas in the side.
RUNS IN THE FAMILY
As previously stated in the article, Manolas’ article Stelios was a centre-back too, playing in 447 AEK Athens matches and staying with the Enosis during his entire career. Uncle Stelios was the man who gave Manolas his break with AEK, signing his nephew when he was the club’s technical director. Kostas Manolas displayed his admiration for his uncle when giving this quote: “My uncle, Stelios, was the best defender in the history of Greek football. I wanted to imitate him, and I’ve managed to do that in the end.”
Konstantinos Manolas, his cousin born in 1993, also plays as a centre-back on a professional level for Bulgarian club Lokomotiv Sofia.
Manolas signed a new contract with Roma in late 2017, keeping him in the Italian capital until June 2022 and earning 3.5 million a year. Nevertheless, if Manolas continues stealing the headlines, Roma may struggle to keep a hold of their Greek gladiator.
His current transfer value stands at 35 million euros, a bargain for a player of his calibre. One thing is for sure - among all of the bad publicity surrounding the sport in Greece, Manolas is providing the country’s passionate football fans with a reason to smile.