Kouta com­bat zone

An­thony Koutoufides has a new field of dreams, writes Dar­ren Dev­lyn

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Front Page -

IN HIS 278-game ca­reer at Carl­ton, An­thony Koutoufides stamped him­self as a rare breed of player.

Koutoufides was ca­pa­ble of match-al­ter­ing im­pact — un­pre­dictable and ex­plo­sive at ground level, but also renowned for ap­pear­ing from nowhere to snatch a seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble pack mark.

Given 35-year-old Koutoufides’ sta­tus in foot­ball, find­ing ful­fil­ment in re­tire­ment was al­ways go­ing to pose a chal­lenge.

Since hang­ing up the boots, how­ever, he’s been im­mersed in a busi­ness ven­ture with for­mer team­mate Ang Chris­tou, has per­formed on stage in the mu­si­cal 42nd Street and has slipped into Ly­cra for his role in Gla­di­a­tors, the high-camp game show be­ing res­ur­rected by Chan­nel 7.

The for­mer cap­tain, premiership player and two-time best and fairest win­ner is more cer­tain than ever that his in­stincts were right when he de­cided the 2007 sea­son should be his last.

‘‘I’d be ly­ing if I said I didn’t miss the boys and the team thing and the peo­ple I used to see ev­ery day at the club . . . that hurts a bit,’’ Koutoufides says of re­tire­ment.

‘‘But I can tell you there are some things I don’t miss. I haven’t missed the in­juries. My body feels good, but when I was play­ing I would be fresh at the start of the sea­son, then the sea­son would grad­u­ally take its toll.

‘‘Maybe there are times when play­ers re­tire too early, but I know I made the right de­ci­sion. I couldn’t have done it all again.’’

Koutoufides, who in 2006 won Danc­ing With the Stars along­side Natalie Lowe, has clearly en­joyed his time in the show­biz spot­light.

Last Oc­to­ber, he was in­spired to slip on the dance shoes again, rev­el­ling in a small role in the Pro­duc­tion Com­pany’s 42nd Street.

And he showed lit­tle hes­i­ta­tion in sign­ing on for a role on Gla­di­a­tors, which re­cently com­pleted film­ing at the Dome at the Syd­ney Show­grounds.

‘‘Ini­tially, I thought I was be­ing asked to go and watch 42nd Street, not be in it,’’ Koutoufides says.

‘‘There wasn’t much time to pre­pare, so be­fore I knew it I was at re­hearsal, then on­stage. There was a crowd of 2000 out there so open­ing night was pretty scary, then you get more con­fi­dent. It was a small com­mit­ment, but I loved the role.’’

And was it Koutoufides’ idea that he should be known in Gla­di­a­tors as Kouta the Greek god?

‘‘Um, no, I had no say in it,’’ he says sheep­ishly. ‘‘But I re­mem­ber watch­ing Gla­di­a­tors as a kid and think­ing it was a great show, so I was keen to do it. I’m at that stage where I want to try things, see what op­por­tu­ni­ties are out there.’’

Since quit­ting foot­ball, Koutoufides ap­pears to have lost lit­tle of his trade­mark phys­i­cal con­di­tion­ing.

He runs reg­u­larly to stay in shape and trained specif­i­cally for the Gla­di­a­tors role, which is more a test of brute strength than en­durance.

Some will dis­miss the show as hav­ing the com­pet­i­tive cred­i­bil­ity of pro wrestling, but Koutoufides says he col­lected more than his share of bumps and bruises in bat­tle.

‘‘Make no mis­take, the chal­lengers are there to beat us (Gla­di­a­tors),’’ Koutoufides says. ‘‘Once show time came round, the com­pet­i­tive in­stincts came to the fore. Ev­ery­one was out there to win.’’

Koutoufides, mar­ried to Susie and the fa­ther of Jamie and Monique, has a busy year ahead. Apart from run­ning his Sou­vlaki Hut busi­ness with Chris­tou, he plans to take time out mid-year for a five-week fam­ily hol­i­day in Europe.

Koutoufides will be keep­ing tabs on the Blues, whose fans have their hopes pinned on a Chris Judd-led resur­gence.

Though Koutoufides has lost none of his pas­sion for the club, he cre­ated con­tro­versy at the end of last year by re­leas­ing a book in which he crit­i­cised the meth­ods of De­nis Pa­gan, who’d been sacked as coach in July.

Koutoufides was adamant he wanted no part of a book un­less it was bru­tally hon­est. He be­lieves Carl­ton fans de­served that.

‘‘I sim­ply wanted it to be done as truth­fully as I could do it — it’s my view on things and I have no re­grets. I didn’t do it to of­fend any­one,’’ Koutoufides says.

‘‘I didn’t ex­pect that part of the book (crit­i­cism of Pa­gan) to be blown up quite so much. I haven’t spo­ken to De­nis. I called him when he got the sack at Carl­ton and I never got a call back when I re­tired.’’

Those close to Koutoufides say the for­mer util­ity’s com­mit­ment to the Blues could never be called into ques­tion.

It’s why he was deeply hurt in 2006 when there was talk the Blues could no longer af­ford him and that he might be forced into re­tire­ment.

KOUTOUFIDES, who’d been at Carl­ton since his mid-teens, says he never placed money ahead of his love for the club.

‘‘It was very em­bar­rass­ing that peo­ple were quot­ing all th­ese fig­ures be­cause the fig­ures were wrong,’’ he said of his con­trac­tual terms.

‘‘I felt I’d given all to the club, had done ev­ery­thing asked of me in re­la­tion to pay cuts and so forth. I’ve put my heart and soul into it.’’

Sit­ting out­side a cafe within a de­cent drop punt or two from Op­tus Oval, Koutoufides adds: ‘‘Peo­ple have got to know that I still watch and am a keen sup­porter of Carl­ton and I just want to see the club progress and get bet­ter.’’

Pumped: An­thony Koutoufides has col­lected some bruises on Gla­di­a­tors.

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