With your club at the top of the table and a place in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League in the bag, how many players would opt to move to a side battling relegation and for whom survival represents the extent of their ambitions? Not many, undoubtedly, but Greece striker Konstantinos Mitroglou is not like most people.
Topping the goalscoring charts in the Greek Super League with 14 strikes, Mitroglou, whose Olympiacos side lead the way having gone unbeaten in 21 games, has just signed for Fulham. Languishing in 19th place in the English Premier League, his choice seems even more surprising when you consider that the frontman was targeted by Arsenal, Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan and Benfica.
However, turning up in unexpected places has become something of a trademark for Mitroglou. Born in Kavala, the 25-year-old began his career in Germany. “My family moved there when I was very young,” the former Neukirchen, Duisburg and Borussia Monchengladbach player told FIFA.com. “I grew up and started my career there. I have great memories of my time in Germany and my family and friends are still there. It’s a special country for me, particularly as it was there that I learned to play football.”
Picking up good habits
Mitroglou certainly learned quickly. With 24 goals in 16 matches for Neukirchen at the age of just 11, and then 14 in ten games a few years later in the U-19 Bundesliga with Gladbach, he sent statisticians into overdrive with more goals scored than games played.
More recently, he proved that old habits die hard with a prolific start to the 2013/14 campaign yielding 14 strikes in 12 matches. And perhaps this great run is due to that fact that, as during his childhood, he feels at home in Piraeus: “I feel very happy at Olympiacos and the club means a lot to me,” Mitroglou confirmed just weeks before the Greek side accepted an offer of a reported €15m from the Cottagers that was too good to turn down. “After so many years here I know the club, the people and the team. It’s like a family to me.”
Yet this family found it hard to regard him as the prodigal son upon his arrival in 2007. Having impressed during a run to the final of the UEFA European U-19 Championship with Greece, he had to settle for sporadic appearances and a goal return that was far too meagre to quench his enormous appetite.
“It was a very difficult situation to be in and it made me work even harder,” Mitroglou recalled. “It gave me the desire to push on and progress every day.” And his determination was tested during successive loan moves, with a half-season at Panionios in 2010/11 and a full year at Atromitos in 2011/12 allowing him to get his fill, scoring eight and 16 goals respectively.
It was a very difficult situation to be in and it made me work even harder. It gave me the desire to push on and progress every day.
From that point on the wheels were set into motion and the striker has made his presence felt by dismantling defences across Greece and Europe. Tattoo-laden and 1.88m tall, often sporting eccentric hairstyles, Mitroglou cuts an imposing, warrior-like figure that almost overshadows his impressive technical prowess. “He initially strikes you as unwieldy, a bit casual, but that’s a misleading impression,” said Algeria’s Carl Medjani, a former team-mate of his at Olympiacos. “He can breeze by you with a quick dribble or spin.”
A puzzle piece
For some time now Mitroglou’s considerable talents have impressed national team bosses. In 2009, German coach Otto Rehhagel drafted him into the Greece fold before leaving him out of the squad for South Africa. More recently, however, Portuguese boss Fernando Santos offered him a reprieve by making him the focal point of the Greece attack in qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
And the gamble certainly paid off as Mitroglou scored three of Greece’s four goals as they overcame Romania in the playoffs. But while many would consider that enough to justify hero status, Mitroglou would disagree. “We are all heroes,” said the striker when quizzed on his match-winning performances in qualification. “The entire team, the entire country, all Greeks! We’re a huge jigsaw and I’m just one piece.”
While his modesty is certainly admirable, one would at least expect Mitroglou to admit that a significant part of his side’s qualification was down to him and that his place in the squad for Brazil is practically guaranteed. However, ever the contrarian, he once again deflects the question: “There’s still plenty of time before the World Cup,” he insists. “I’ve got to keep working and maintain this run of form. If everything goes well then I’ll try my best to achieve the goals we’ve set for ourselves.”