DIMI’S DE­LIGHT

Greek keeper Dimi Kon­stan­topou­los is thrilled to be back in the North East

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By Chris Bai­ley

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.

Lucky

“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.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

POS­I­TIVE: Sam Bal­dock OLD TIMES: Dim­itrios Kon­stan­topou­los, play­ing for Hartle­pool, saves a shot from Brent­ford’s Calum Wil­lock in 2006

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