Greek keeper Dimi Konstantopoulos is thrilled to be back in the North East
HE may have been born and bred in Greece but Hartlepool is certainly where home is for revitalised Middlesbrough keeper Dimi Konstantopoulos. That’s where he met wife Lisa while playing for Pools between 2003 and 2007 and the North East town changed his life again last summer when he returned from a stint back in Greece.
AEK Athens had let him go after running into financial troubles – and it was an old friend from the past who offered a way into the Football League once word had got round that Konstantopoulos was back in England.
The then-Boro goalkeeping coach Stephen Pears knew all about the towering Greek having trained him at Coventry – and Konstantopoulos was offered a trial at the Riverside Stadium just a half-hour drive away from his Hartlepool home.
It was one thing to be offered a short-term contract but Konstantopoulos then had to fend off Jason Steele, Jayson Leutwiler, on-loan Real Madrid stopper Tomás Mejías and veteran Shay Given before being given his chance under new boss Aitor Karanka.
He seized it and the 35-yearold had kept five clean sheets in nine consecutive appearances before the Easter weekend.
“It’s been fantastic,” he said. “The season started off differently and I came here as cover under different management. But I worked hard and always believed that I could break into the team.
“I didn’t know how it was going to be with the change of manager so from that perspective I was quite lucky and it has worked in my favour. I always made sure I was ready to take my chance.”
Konstantopoulos says of his career in Greece: “It was very good to start with, I was named goalkeeper of the year in the Greek league in 2010 and moved to AEK Athens.
“But in my last season everything deteriorated, the club got into financial problems and had to release me.
“So I decided to come back to England. I wanted some stability – not just in football – and in Greece at the moment things are anything but stable.
“It was natural to come back to Hartlepool, it was very familiar for me as my wife is from there and I had a lot of years playing for the club and, of course, it has turned out to be a very good decision for me.
“Middlesbrough is a big club with Premier League standard facilities and great support.
“(Stephen) Pearsy knew me from when I was at Coventry with him. They had a problem with Jason Steele at the time after an injury so they were looking for cover.
“I signed a short-term contract but when the new manager (Aitor Karanka) came in, he brought his own ideas. He didn’t care about contracts or names, just performances in training.
“The thing is he is a fair manager and I don’t think I can get complacent, I can’t be relaxed because I know how he works.”
It may not be just in England that he makes a name for himself this year as whispers of a Greece recall in time for the World Cup grow ever louder.
Konstantopoulos’ one and only cap came in 2010 and though he is approaching the twilight of his career, he insists he will be at the peak of his powers should the national side come calling.
“I feel really good physically, I’ve been lucky not to have many injuries and I feel the same as I was ten years ago, better even,” he added.
“I’ve heard nothing official, it won’t be decided until next month and there will be a couple of friendlies before the World Cup.
“But I know they are looking at me and I will be in the mix and that only makes it a good thing, hopefully my continued performances will be enough for them to make that decision.”
POSITIVE: Sam Baldock OLD TIMES: Dimitrios Konstantopoulos, playing for Hartlepool, saves a shot from Brentford’s Calum Willock in 2006