If you ask your average Premier League football fan to name a Greek player, past or present, there’s a good chance that Stelios Giannakopoulos is one of the first names that come to mind.
A member of the Greek team that won Euro 2004, he had five seasons with the English elite Bolton Wanderers when Sam Allardyce’s team was one of the toughest to beat and had two historic campaigns in Europa League.
One of the stars of that white team, the midfielder has scored spectacular goals and his performances at the Reebok Stadium have not gone unnoticed, with Rafa Benitez looking to bring Stelios to Liverpool on a 2million deal. pounds sterling in the summer of 2005.
“All I know is Liverpool have shown interest in me,” the wide player said when asked about the Reds’ interest in May 2005.
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“I don’t want to say anything more. Right now I have a contract with Bolton. It is an honor for me and for Bolton, the interest of Liverpool. We will see. “
What followed was an unsavory exchange between the clubs with chairman Phil Gartside issuing a warning without intervention and insisting that the Greek was not for sale before later claiming that Reds CEO Rick Parry , had told him that Liverpool were not interested.
“The president assured me that he had told Rick Parry about all the speculation and that there was no offer from Liverpool for Stelios,” Bolton manager Sam Allardyce said in early August 2005.
“You would hope that would put him to bed and finish him off and stop all the press speculation going around, because it upsets me and it certainly upsets Stelios.
“And it worries me that his spirit isn’t good for the start of the season with something like that going on.
“So I hope that will be the end and that he can focus on his preparation for us. “
However, later that month it was a rather different story as Gartside called Liverpool’s behavior “morally wrong” after Benitez confirmed that talks had taken place.
“Our CEO Rick Parry is discussing with their chairman (Phil Gartside) the possibility of a deal,” Benitez said. “I also spoke to Sam Allardyce about the player because we need to know if he would be available.
“Right now, Stelios is a possibility for us. We are working hard to strengthen the team before the deadline. “
“I’m disappointed that on the eve of a game another Premiership club has made public its interest – it’s morally wrong,” Gartside retorted.
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“Liverpool have not made an offer for Stelios. I am aware that they will probably make an offer soon, but if they don’t meet our valuation of over £ 2million we will not speak to them. “
Gartside would later exonerate Liverpool from any wrongdoing following further talks with Parry, with Stelios missing out on what would have been a dream transfer.
“We haven’t had an offer from Liverpool that’s the important thing to say so I can’t really speculate on what would have happened if that had been the case,” he said.
“Liverpool have acted very honorably overall, we have a good relationship.
“I told Rick Parry about it and he said it was a mistake. They made a comment they didn’t really want to make and it was posted on the website. But they said it was a mistake and I’ll trust them on that.
“But from the manager to the president to the board, we have a good relationship with Liverpool, and it goes back a few years, from Roger Hunt to El Hadji Diouf. “
So scratch beneath the surface of these public mixed messages and how close was Stelios to becoming a Liverpool player 16 years ago?
” You can not imagine. I was so close, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t signed for the club, ”admitted the Greek in an exclusive interview with ECHO.
“It would have been the moment when I would have fulfilled my biggest dream, to play for a club like this.
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t in my hands and it didn’t happen. I was talking twice a day for a week, once before training in the morning and once after training, with Rafa to see if I was okay and if I hadn’t injured myself in a training session yet. training so that the transfer can take place.
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“We had already agreed on my personal terms with the lawyers. Basically he was telling me to take care of myself and not hurt myself in training because at any time the proposal would be on Big Sam’s or Phil Gartside’s desk.
“But unfortunately I don’t know the reason, this proposal never came to the club, so it didn’t happen. It was not in my hands.
With Stelios still in the dark as to why he didn’t get the shot of his dreams, he’s unsure whether it was Bolton or Liverpool that he ultimately ended up staying at Reebok Stadium.
And when he speaks out about the public wickedness between the two parties at the time as they fought for his signature, the Greek insists that he does not regret that this decision did not materialize.
“Sometimes some simple things seem very complicated when they are made public,” he reflected. “It was very, very simple. Liverpool wanted to sign me. It was very, very obvious.
“I was talking to Rafa Benitez every day, but unfortunately it didn’t work. I don’t know the main reason it didn’t work out but I stayed at a club I really liked at Bolton Wanderers.
“I had another three fantastic years with the club and played twice in Europe which was a dream come true for the fans. Even though I haven’t joined Liverpool, I’ve had three other fantastic seasons with the Bolton Wanderers so I’m happy.
“There is no regret because it was not in my hands. I would be sorry if it was in my hands and I didn’t take it.
“But because it wasn’t in my hands, I can’t have any regrets. It didn’t happen because I didn’t want it to happen, it didn’t happen because other guys didn’t want it to happen.
“I can’t have any regrets for something I didn’t do. “
While Stelios may never have had the chance to play for Liverpool, one of his former teammates at Bolton certainly did and in fact made the permanent transfer the other way around the same summer as the failure of the Reds to pursue him.
El-Hadji Diouf is arguably one of the less popular ex-Liverpool players but managed to rebuild his career with the Whites after Reds boss Benitez ousted him from Anfield.
A favorite of Reebok fans alongside Stelios, the Greek insists the former Senegal international deserved a more successful career than he had when wondering why his former teammate failed at Liverpool.
“Sometimes it doesn’t work. It also happened with other players, ”he said. “Roberto Carlos played for Inter Milan and maybe people don’t know or remember he played for Inter Milan.
“After joining Real Madrid, everyone knew who Roberto Carlos was and what he was doing for his club and his country.
“Sometimes they don’t match, they don’t freeze, the player and the club and it just doesn’t work. I think it was the case with El-Hadji Diouf and Liverpool. They did not gel.
“He was a fantastic player, a great character and very, very talented. I think he should have had a bigger career than the one he had.
Although Stelios may never have had the opportunity to play for Liverpool, he has raced at Anfield on several occasions as an opposing player.
And the Reds audience has certainly marked it. While he might not have any regrets, he can’t help but wonder what could have been.
“It’s the best atmosphere a player can have,” he said. “By the time you’re in the tunnel, waiting to come out and hear ‘You’ll never walk alone,’ the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.
“Exactly that, it’s amazing. It is one of the moments that a player can never forget.
“It’s a dream to play, even as an opponent, at Anfield. Imagine if you are wearing the shirt!
“It’s like a gift from the football gods. “