Antonis returns to training for PAOK

Terry Antonis’s early injury setback in Greece appears to be only a short term problem after the Australian returned to full training this week. 

The skilful midfielder was ruled out of PAOK’s Super League season opener last week.

But a fit-again Antonis will still have his work cut out to make his first team debut, according to Johnny Georgopoulos from Greek sports website

Georgopoulos says Antonis faces a big task impressing his new coach, former Croatian National team manager and Juventus star Igor Tudor.

“I think Antonis is a quality player who might gradually be promoted to the first 11,” Georgopoulos revealed to FourFourTwo.

“He has to compete with players like the Greek talent Dimitris Pelkas who has returned to PAOK after his loan to Portuguese side Setubal, Slovakians Robert Mak and Erik Sabo as well as another promising player Garry Rodriguez, a Cape Verde international who came from Spanish side Elche.”

Before leaving to join the Greek Super League, Antonis spoke exclusively to FourFourTwo about last season with Sydney FC, his Asian Cup experience and rehab from injuries.

Reflecting on the title decider against Melbourne Victory, the 21-year-old said that coming up short at the final hurdle hurt the Sky Blues players.

 “We reached the Grand Final and everyone wanted to win it,” he said.

“Everyone was motivated. Everyone was upset when we lost, you could see it in the change room. We made it all the way and couldn’t make the final leg.”

The three-capped Socceroo made 19 appearances for the Sky Blues last season, earning a spot in the Australian Asian Cup squad.

Antonis says he wants to build on that experience to be part of the Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

“That was a massive thing to be a part of the Socceroos,” Antonis said.

“It is every players dream to represent you country. It was really good to be able to come back and to make it my goal again. Being a part of the Asian Cup and then to come back and play in the A-League after that was good. I was playing some good football and I just have to take it to another level this season again.

“It is one of my goals to be in a World Cup with the Socceroos and I have to keep working towards it. Definitely the qualifiers are coming up and you just have to perform and if I get in, I get in. And if not, then not.”

After a lengthy layoff Antonis said one of the biggest factors last season was proving to himself that he could trust his body again.

“For me it was a big learning experience,” he said.

“When you’re young you think you can do anything but you have to learn to mature and come through. You have to learn things to do on and off the field.

“It was tough to be out. I was out for nine months before. To come back and be able to play and be with the boys, for me that means I have to keep going and going and keep improving.”

Joining Antonis at PAOK will be former Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov.  The Bulgarian international is the club’s biggest transfer in its history and was  unveiled in front of 10,000  PAOK fans at their home ground, giving a small indication into what Antonis can expect from the club’s supporters,

 “PAOK has a great reputation for its fans,” said Georgopoulos.

“The fans of PAOK are very loyal and fanatics – crazy for their team. They are well known all over Europe. They create an amazing atmosphere at their home ground called the Toumba. It is one of most hostile stadiums in the world due to the atmosphere of the fans.”

Con Stamocostas is an Australian football writer. Click here to see more of his work and check out the latest episode of his A-League Snobcast with co-host Rob Toddler.