Defender | Bayer Leverkusen | Greece
South African-born Greek international Panagiotis Retsos has made a stirling start to life as a professional footballer. Brought through the Olympiakos youth systems as a teenager, the commanding central defender was appointed the Athens giants’ youngest ever captain at the age of 18 during a cup game with Atromitos and his breakthrough season in Greece, speaking to his natural leadership already.
Later that summer, Bundesliga outfit Bayer Leverkusen parted with roughly £16m to bring him to the Bay Arena, where he continued his development across a variety of positions. Used in both central midfield and defensive positions, he even operated as a full-back during a season in which his performances saw him linked with the likes of Barcelona and Arsenal.
A cool, calm and commanding player, his quick leap into adapting to life in one of Europe’s traditional top five leagues was really rather impressive and the future seemed so bright for the Greek giant.
2018 has been …
A bit of a nightmare, to be honest.
Through little fault of his own, Retsos was limited to just 14 appearances in all competitions as a result of a thigh injury picked up during a first round DFB-Pokal meeting with fifth division minnows 1. FC Pforzheim just days before the Bundesliga campaign kicked off for Die Werkself.
Prior to that ailment, the youngster had been a fairly regular fixture in the club’s starting XI, featuring in 11 games - largely as a starter - since the turn of the year up until that point.
While versalitly can often be a trait detrimental to young players - not allowing them to nail down a regular position - Retsos’ ability to move across both defence and midfield was showing no signs of slowing him down.
Perhaps the game most indicative of his time in Germany came back in April, during his side’s 4-1 win at home to Eintracht Frankfurt, who were enjoying a wonderful campaign themselves under the stewardship of current Bayern Munich coach Niko Kovac.
Originally operating on the left of a defensive three, a mistake on his behalf did allow the visitors back into the game, before a second-half switch to a more central role saw him help his side to a comfortable victory, reading the game well from that berth and helping launch a devastating assault to halt Frankfurt in their tracks.
While, clearly, he’ll need to rid of the kinds of mistakes in evidence from time to time, his headstrong ability to come back out after the break, move positions and put that behind him on the way to a win largely summed up his first few months on German soil.
Registering a goal, an assist and helping with a couple of clean sheets during the first half of 2018, it’s clear to see why the big guns were reportedly tracking him so soon after moving to Leverkusen.
Which is why his injury back in August was such a shame. Stopped in his tracks just as he was getting going, it was a sour end to what should have been a great year for the Greek international.
Such has been the impressive displays of his temperament so far, he’s shown no indication that he can’t return from an injury such as this one in strong fashion. However, a young player will need time to get back into the swing of things and it’s important he feels his way back into Heiko Herrlich’s plans in 2019, rather than rush.