AGONAsport Spotlight: PAOK for life...Dimitris Pelkas
This is the first installment of a new series called AGONAsport Spotlight, where we take a look at athletes making waves in the world of Greek sports. This first edition features PAOK phenom Dimitris Pelkas and his growing reputation as one of the Thessaloniki giant’s key men.
Derby Double Brings Recognition
Chances are if you follow Greek football, you have heard of Dimitris Pelkas. He first appeared for PAOK in 2012, so his is a name that has been around for a few years. It may not have been until his two-goal salvo against Panathinaikos last weekend though that people (PAOK fans aside) have really begun to take notice of the 24-year-old.
Pelkas’ wonderful first goal, a curled effort from well outside the box that ended up in the top corner, was a stunning strike. His second of the night was also notable, a skillful run and finish from close range showing his creativity and dribbling ability.
The two goals were both high quality and scored in a high-profile derby. Panathinaikos were poor, but the occasion was still a big one and Pelkas showed he was ready to lead his side in matches like that.
PAOK For Life
As a young boy in Giannitsa, Pelkas began to show promise signing for the local club as early as 8 years old. He quickly began to show his ability and it was only a matter of time before the bigger club academies came calling. Though he was a PAOK fan, it seemed at one point that Aris would snap up the youngster. In 2008, Aris and his Giannitsa academy came to an agreement for Pelkas to join PAOK’s bitter rivals. However, at the last minute PAOK came swooping in to sign the 15-year-old into their academy system.
Pelkas spent four years in the PAOK youth sides before signing a professional contract with the club in 2012.
Far from waiting for a chance to make an impact, Pelkas was thrown into the deep end by then-PAOK manager Giorgos Donis immediately. The current APOEL boss was convinced of Pelkas’ qualities from the get-go and was unafraid to give the talented player his chance. Pelkas featured 16 times in all competitions in that rookie season for PAOK. The highlight was his first goal for the club, in Europe no less, against Israeli side Bnei Yahuda in the Europa League.
Donis’ departure from the club meant that Pelkas had to prove himself again to a different manager. He was loaned out to Apollon Kalamaria ahead of the 2013/14 season. In the Greek Football League, Pelkas shined. Despite missing over two months due to an injury, he still managed to rack up 7 goals and 5 assists in that loan season.
Another loan followed, but this time it would be abroad. Pelkas joined Vitoria Setubal from Portugal in the 2014/15 season. Far from being out of his depth in his first move away from Greece, Pelkas instead thrived. In 29 appearances he scored four times chipping in with a few assists. He made a mark while with Setubal, so much so that his performances drew the attention of Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon and Panathinaikos back home. With only months to go before his contract with PAOK ran out, o Dikefalos tou Vorra finally signed Pelkas to a new deal.
Highs And Lows In 2015/16
Pelkas shone bright in the 2015/16 season. With his future sorted, the 5’9 attacking midfielder/winger got down to solidifying his place in the PAOK team. He made 49 appearances that season, his most to date in one campaign, while also setting personal season records for goals (9) and assists (7). It was a prolific season for Pelkas, but it was not without its low points. Inconsistency plagued his game. His lack of defensive help and his occasional knack for doing a little too much with the ball did frustrate.
Pelkas’ rise as an important team member was capped off that season by his wearing the PAOK armband for the first time. It was a gesture made to Pelkas, recognizing his importance to the team along with his long-term loyalty to the club.
Present Form Suggests Bright Future
Last season, Pelkas fought through injuries to make 26 appearances for PAOK, registering seven goals. Of note was the match versus Veria, where he scored and shed tears as it was his first goal for PAOK as captain and it occurred after an injury layoff.
This season has been all about maturity for a player who is one of Greek football’s brightest talents. At 24, the time has come for Pelkas to find the consistency necessary to be able to lead this PAOK side. And this season he appears to be doing that. Five goals and three assists thus far shows his increasing knack of scoring goals. But, more so than just statistics, Pelkas looks a more complete player. His defensive play and increased work load off the ball, suggest that he is becoming more of a team player and leader on the pitch.
Pelkas has always had to deal with the weight of expectation of PAOK, even from a younger age. However, the last few years seem to have filled him with the confidence and belief necessary to carry that burden.
For a PAOK team aiming for that elusive league title, many believe that Pelkas’ form will dictate just how far Razvan Lucescu’s side can go this season. Should Pelkas continue on in this form, then Toumba could be celebrating come May. Not only that, but the national side could also benefit from the player’s growth. With the ability to play behind the forwards or on the flanks, it seems to be time that Pelkas is finally given a run in the Ethniki ahead of the new Nations League and EURO 2020 qualifying.
Certainly, there appears to be more to come from Dimitris Pelkas. The next few years could see him play a real protagonist role for both club and country.