When Theofanis Gekas began his professional career a decade ago for local Greek second division side Larissa, few could have predicted he would go on to be crowned German Bundesliga top scorer and a member of the Greece squad out to defend their European title at UEFA EURO 2008.
The showpiece event in Austria and Switzerland will be the 27-year-old's first major international competition since the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup, the Bayer Leverkusen striker only breaking into Otto Rehhagel's national set-up after the Greeks' success at EURO 2004 in Portugal.
His rise to prominence in Greek domestic football came on the back of a January 2005 switch to Athens outfit Panathinaikos, where he promptly stormed to the top of the league scoring charts. The following season, the gifted right-footer netted another 15 times, a tally that earned Fanis a loan move to German side Bochum for the 2006/07 campaign.
Gekas showed his keen eye for goal right from the off as he scored 20 times to finish up as Bundesliga top scorer and ensure Bochum staved off relegation. After Bochum failed to take up their option to sign him permanently the road was clear for UEFA Cup qualifiers Bayer Leverkusen to secure his services, Gekas subsequently bagging 13 goals in 38 appearances in his first season at his new club.
And after the Leverkusen No10 recently got the call from national coach Rehhagel to join the squad for the UEFA European Championship, FIFA.com was quick to land an exclusive interview with the goal-hungry Greek.
FIFA.com: Theofanis, UEFA EURO 2008 is almost upon us. Are
Greece going into the tournament with the same expectations as four
years ago, or have you now set other goals?
Theofanis Gekas: I think we have similar goals to the ones we had four years ago. We want to play good football, will take each game as it comes and will always give our best. The goal then is to reach the quarter-finals.
Four years ago Otto Rehhagel caused a sensation by guiding
Greece to the European title in Portugal. Can you imagine pulling
off such a success once again?
We can't say if that will happen again or not. We will give our all in every match and look to go as far as we can. To be participating in a second straight European Championship is already a success in itself.
"King" Otto is the longest-serving coach in the
history of the Greek Football Association. To what extent is this
most recent success and third qualification for the finals down to
He's had a major part in it! The success came about through him. Before he took over, nobody had reckoned with Greece. Otto Rehhagel changed all that inside two years. He has helped us hugely, particularly on a psychological level, and shown us that in football some things can be done differently.
After Greece missed out on qualification for the 2006 FIFA
World Cup™, it seems the team is back on the right track. What did
the team do differently in qualifying for UEFA EURO 2008?
Actually, nothing changed, except perhaps the players' psyche. In the FIFA World Cup qualifiers before that we also endured a little bit of bad luck in a few matches or else dropped points against teams when we hadn't banked on doing so.
Greece dominated the qualifiers, taking 31 points (more
than any other qualifier) and finishing ahead of the likes of
Turkey and Norway. How do you currently see your country compared
with other European sides?
We are one of Europe's top four sides.
In Group D you will face, among others, Sweden. The last
competitive match against the Scandinavians ended in a 9-0 defeat,
though that was at the 1920 Olympic Games. How do you see
yourselves faring against a side which made it to the last 16 of
the last FIFA World Cup?
The opening game of a tournament is tough for both sides. Going into it we can't say much beforehand about our rivals and their current form. We are concentrating on ourselves and our game and certainly won't make the mistake of underestimating our opponents. We will take every match seriously and concentrate hard.
How do you rate your other rivals Spain and Russia? Who
will make it through to the quarter-finals?
That's hard to say. All four teams have an equal chance, it's a hard group. Getting off to a winning start would be an advantage for any team.
There is very strong competition in the Greek attack with
Angelos Charisteas and Ioannis Amanatidis. How do you see your role
in the team?
We have many good players and only the coach can decide who is going to play. Form can then be a decisive factor.
Are you hoping for a rather more attacking system than that
deployed four years ago in Portugal, which might then bring you a
regular place for UEFA EURO 2008?
The system has not actually changed. I think it's also down to the players on the pitch and how offensively we line up. We showed that during the qualifiers and won some of our games by notching several goals.
You've spent several years playing in Germany's
Bundesliga. Many experts have tipped Germany to pull off a win on
neighbouring soil. What do you think?
Every country expects or at least hopes for success from the national team, depending on their respective capabilities. You have to perform out there on the pitch and speculation beforehand is pointless. Words don't get you into the final.
Who are your biggest favourites for the tournament in
Austria and Switzerland?
For me there are no clear favourites. Everyone has a chance to win it. Nobody banked on us doing so four years ago. People thought we would be the first team to crash out but it all turned out completely differently.