If you ever happen to stumble upon the lower leagues of Greek football, specifically the regional leagues of the city of Larisa, then undoubtedly you will come across Giorgos Diamantis. Diamantis is something of a legend in this area and One Game, One World was lucky enough to catch up with him on a recent trip to Greece.
We are proud that he represents the site’s first ever interview as this story helps encapsulate what our site is about and that is football coverage of all levels and stories from outside the daily headlines. At first glance, a career spent mostly in the 4th and 5th Divisions of Greek football might not seem all that remarkable, however upon closer inspection it is precisely that sort of experience that gives us a glimpse into the places where the heart of football beats strongest.
Diamantis has been playing at the amateur level for over 17 years and has been enjoyed titles, goals, assists, and many other club and individual successes. He has played against some top level professionals as well as had some as teammates. His career is all the more impressive because he has never really had a full preseason under his belt.
His real job, working his family’s cotton fields just outside Larisa in the town of Kambos have ensured that his summers are spent riding tractors and tending to the high quality cotton and wheat that they produce. Still, despite the difficulties that such difficult work and long hours may represent for large parts of the year, Diamantis has always found the time to engage in his true love, football.
Diamantis is a versatile player who specializes in playing as a defensive midfielder where his ability to time his tackles right and win the ball is complemented by his vision and skill that creates openings for his team when in attack. He has also played as a sweeper and even as a forward when needed. It’s no wonder then that he idolizes another midfielder extaordinaire, Liverpool and England star Steven Gerrard.
Please enjoy the below interview conducted with Diamantis. His insight into the lower league and football in general is refreshing and his love of the game is inspiring.
One Game, One World: When did you start playing football?
Giorgos Diamantis: In 1993, I began playing with a club called Atromitos Agion Anargyron.
How many and which clubs have you played for?
For 5 clubs, Atromitos Agion Anargyron, Diogenis Larisa, Apollon Larisa, Olympos Larisa, and Anagennisi Farsala
How many games have you played in? How many goals scored? Assists?
I have played in over 400 official matches and scored about 80 goals. I’m not sure about the exact number of assists, but they are more than the goals!
Which positions have you played on the pitch?
I have played in every position except goalkeeper. My favorite position however is defensive midfielder.
What are your greatest successes at a team and individual level?
My best times as part of a team and as individual was when we won the league for Apollon Larisa back in 2003-04 and we were able to be promoted to the Greek 3rd Division.
What was your biggest disappointment all these years?
My biggest disappointments have to do with injuries that haven’t allowed me to play here and there. Also, another disappointment was a couple years back when my current club, Anagennisi Farsala was relegated.
Did you ever have the opportunity to play in the A’ or B’ Ethniki, Greece’s top two professional divisions?
Not particularly. I never had any concrete offers though I heard of some interest from people. It is something I would have wanted greatly to do.
My best ever teammate was a player named Christos Tolias. He was my teammate at Apollon Larisa and was an extremely smart player. He was great with both feet and when you made a run you would always get the ball exactly where it should be. He was also a really good scorer.
The best opponent I ever faced was current national team striker Fanis Gekas. He was really fast and made exceptional runs without the ball.
There were many players that I rated highly playing in the amateur divisions who could have played at a higher level.
Have any of your teammates gone on to play at the highest level?
Yes, Giorgos Galitsios actually. I played with him at Apollon Larisa and he went on to play for Larisa and now Olympiakos in the Greek Super League.
Have you encountered any strange stories in your time as a player?
In the amateur divisions you encounter strange happenings basically every weekend! One time I remember we had so many problems, injury and otherwise, that we started a match with 9 players.
What was the best stadium you played in?
A few years back we played a Larisa regional amateur cup final at Alkazar Stadium, where Greek Super League side AEL, aka Larisa, plays.
How long have you been at your current team? How are things going this season?
I have played with Anagennisi Farsala for 5 years now. This season things have not gone well at all. We are near the bottom of the table as we have had many injuries to deal with. Still, I believe that we will finish strong and will survive relegation.
Which clubs do you support in Greece, Europe, and at the National Team level?
AEK in Greece, Liverpool in Europe, and Brazil for international teams.
Which players were and are your idols? Greek and Foreign.
My first idols were Basilis Hatzipanagis and Thomas Mauros. Then from then on my favorite players were basically all AEK footballers such as Toni Savevski, Vasilis Tsiartas, Mihalis Kasapis, Daniel Batista, Refik Sambanadzovic, and Stelios Manolas. My favorite foreign players are Zinedine Zidane and Steven Gerrard.
What are your views on the 2010 World Cup? Who will win? How will Greece perform?
I hope it is a good World Cup with lots of goals. I worry about the players coming in as tired because of the many matches they play with their clubs. I want Brazil to win. Spain has a very good team and already is a cohesive side.
Greece, I believe, will do well if we can win our first match. If we lose on the other hand, I think we will lose all three matches. Greece are a team that is really based on strong defense, sometimes I would like them to play a little more offensively.
How has the football changed at the level you play compared to when you began? Is it better or worse? More organized or less?
I believe that at the level I play, the quality of football is worse than many years back because of the fact that fewer kids are getting involved to play. In the past, you could distinguish 2 or 3 really good players on each team, but now you only see some here and there that are good.
As far as organization, I believe things have improved greatly, especially in facilities and quality of the pitches. The amateur leagues in Larisa all have good fields. They are almost all grass now, where as in the past some were basically dirt or even concrete!
What needs to happen for Greek football to improve in the future?
I’m not really sure of the answer, but I believe that we need to start seeing football as more of a spectacle rather than a game only played for a result. Those involved with the game, the presidents, managers, and other officials, need to look at the entertainment side of the sport, because without attractive football the stadiums will not fill.
I also believe that the number of foreign players must be reduced. It’s not possible to have 9 foreign players in the starting eleven of a club, especially when many don’t offer anything special.
What does football mean to you?
Everything! I couldn’t imagine my life without football! There is not a weekend that passes where I don’t play or watch 2 or 3 matches. All of my friends have come from playing football together and all our discussions seem to stem from playing or watching football.
Why do you believe football is the most popular sport in the world?
First and foremost it is the most popular because it is the most exciting and attractive. There are two other reasons why I believe it is the most popular. The first is that in football, the best team doesn’t always win, unlike 99% of other sports where the best team usually wins. This makes football more interesting.
And the second is that everything in football can be questioned and debated. You can ask 50 people for their opinion on a match and receive 50 different answers. For example, some people will say that Zidane was the best player in the world, while others don’t like him at all. But with Sergei Bubka, what can you say? You can’t debate it!