Kyriakos Papadopoulos 20 Defender Schalke
Let me take you way back in time to the heady, fun-filled days of 2010, and to a little series of games you may have heard of called ‘Football Manager’.
Having guided Brighton into the Championship (I’ll let you guess which IBWM editor is writing this report, the only other clue I’ll give you is that it isn’t Danny Last) on FM2010 I found myself with a small transfer budget and a desperate need for a towering defender. Now I had torn through League One thanks to a few rather classy loan signings (Fulham’s Chris Smalling who needed first team football, Manchester United’s Febian Brandy who scored over 30 goals, and Newcastle United’s Andy Carroll – wonder what happened to him?), my assault on the Championship was going to be built on similar foundations but I wanted a central defender who would stay at the club for years. This was to be my future captain, my stalwart, I would praise him in press conferences and tickle his contract up year on year to keep him happy, he would adapt to Premier League life if we got there in a heartbeat, in short he would be my wonder-kid.
Now this was important so I turned to the Internet. I had a modest budget and another £1.5m on top of that thanks to the sales of Glenn Murray and Liam Dickenson and the search began. Finally I had my man – Mark Beevers of Sheffield Wednesday – but he wanted too much money and would wipe my wage budget out so I went with the second name on the list, the Terminator himself, £2.3m worth of Kyriakos Papadopoulos.
Needless to say the rest is history, Brighton went on to win the Premier League six years later and were defeated in the Champions League final the season after (by Real Madrid seeing as you asked). Papadopoulos eventually retired a club legend.
And so it came to be that as always with players who become your own personal FM legends, I began to follow the real life career of the central defender with some interest.
And I’m far from being the only one.
Papadopoulos was marked as different from an early age by scouts across Europe. At the age of 15 he was being offered trails by various clubs, a situation that sparked Olympiakos to move and sign the central-defender immediately where he then made his way straight into the reserves and then incredibly at the age of 16, all the way to the first team. He became the youngest ever player to feature in the Greek Superleague in a position on the pitch where maturity and experience is vital. Despite his chances being limited he had already made his mark, Papadopoulos was every inch the wonder-kid in real life.
As ever scouting networks fizzed with excitement at the thought of a 16-year-old playing first team football and Manchester United maintained an interest, but he remained sensible and signed a new contract with Olympiakos where he continued developing just fine. At the same time he was excelling at international youth levels for Greece’s U17, U19 and eventually the U21 squad.
Taking all this into consideration it was perhaps a surprise that when a move came it was to Germany with Schalke, but by the same token it could be argued that if he had gone to Chelsea or Juventus (both of whom were heavily linked at different times) it could have been too soon. Schalke offered first team football and a much smaller spotlight, and it’s fair to say he has taken the chance with both hands, feet and anything else he can give on a football pitch.
He has grown into a first team regular for both club and country, the very model of a modern central defender. Strong, comfortable on the ball, deceptively quick, and also with a happy knack of scoring (4 goals in 15 international appearances a particularly good looking return), he is loved by all at Schalke where he’s recently signed a new contract to take him to 2016. In press conferences he has spoken repeatedly of his happiness at the club and while this is football and these sort of statements usually mean very little, there is a genuine sense that this is a player at the right club for this moment in time.
He still attracts huge interest, this summer AC Milan (who have a decent pedigree in the position) made some public statements of their admiration for the player but were told in no uncertain terms he wasn’t for sale and certainly not for the figures their dwindling finances could afford. Zenit, who I think we can all agree didn’t hold back the purse strings this summer in quite the same fashion, made firm offers but all were ignored.
Besides the gathering cloud of transfer rumours, this summer was also a big one as he found himself highlighted as Greece’s best player by UEFA at their 2012 European Championships. Thrust into the tournament as a first-half substitute for his injured namesake Avraam in the opening game against Poland, he played every minute from that moment on and even in the meltdown of the defeats to the Czech Republic and Germany, emerged with reputation intact and enhanced.
Now all this eulogizing needs to be tempered with a little non-FM2010-hero-inspired analysis and if there was a fault in his game to pick up, it has to be his disciplinary record. At Schalke he’s picked up one red and several yellow cards, partly as a consequence of his utter dedication to the cause (think Nemanja Vidic doing his throw-something-at-it-at-all-costs thing), but also partly due to a lack of maturity. He can be prone to the odd lunge following the odd heavy touch and he’s usually so assured it looks…well…odd, but again these are things experience will iron out in time.
It’s far too easy to see Papadopoulos as someone who has been around forever already, after all due to his debut at 16 it feels like he has, but this is a 20-year old player with a style that comes from beyond his relatively tender years. As I said before the position of central defender is one that benefits from experience and that is the one string he doesn’t have on his bow, but that will come and if he keeps the same level of progression going, it’s no exaggeration to say Greece could be blessed with one of the best defenders in world football for many years to come.
That may seem like high praise but we’ll say it again – 20 years old, wanted by AC Milan amongst others to drop straight into the first team, consistently good at his first European Championships, one of the first names on the team sheet for club and country – genuinely this is one player who just needs to keep on keeping on.
"The Terminator" is probably as appropriate a nickname as Papadopoulos could have received. So convincing have been his club performances been that it garnered the attention of AC Milan in the summer and Schalke captain and first choice center back Benedikt Höwedes rarely gets to play in his preferred position anymore.”– Cristian Nyari (Bundesliga Fanatic)
"Papadopoulos maybe unspectacular but he has cemented a place in the heart of one of the biggest clubs in the Bundesliga where expectations are high. He has a German Cup winners medal and look set to become a seasoned Champions League campaigner. Not bad for a 20 year old. At a push he can even stand in as a defensive midfielder."– Terry Duffelen (bundesligalounge)
C+ Not quite that talismanic player who drags teams to trophies on his own yet, but that may well be coming