As the 18-year-old prepares for a breakthrough season at PAOK, a lengthy list of clubs, including Barcelona and Chelsea, are keeping an eye on him.
It has been a long time since a player with Lionel Messi-like traits has emerged in Greek football.
However, when local journalist Stavros Kolkas went to see PAOK’s Under-19s play Larissa in their season opening in September, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
He told radio station Alpha 98.9 that PAOK has a Messi clone in its academy. “He came on at halftime against Larissa the other day, when the score was 0-0. PAOK triumphed 5-0 thanks to his two goals and two assists.”
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Giannis Konstantelias, the playmaker, really impressed Kolkas.
Kolkas, who was only 17 at the time, saw what anybody who has watched Konstantelias play over the last five years has seen: he is a very, very rare talent.
Konstantelias spent time on trial at Barcelona’s La Masia academy back in 2018, and if things had gone differently, he could have been learning alongside Messi at the club.
Barca were thrilled with what they saw and were reportedly willing to spend roughly €1 million to get the teenager, yet a deal with PAOK could not be reached in the end.
That may have aided Konstantelias, who, despite just turning 18 in May, has already made three first-team appearances for PAOK and has spent much of the 2020-21 season with the senior squad, and is poised to make a huge breakthrough next season.
The adolescent has come a long way since learning his craft on the streets of Volos, almost 200 kilometers from where he now lives in Thessaloniki.
“I didn’t watch much football growing up; I just played with my buddies in the parks and on the streets,” Konstantelias says in an exclusive interview with Goal. “That’s how I first became interested in the game.
“For children, playing in an urban context encourages them to be creative. My game is innovative, technical, and I’m always looking for a method to add something additional in the last third.
“Eventually, I realized that I might be able to make a living or spend the rest of my professional life doing this.”
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Konstantelias had something special even before grabbing PAOK’s attention at the age of 11, with his first steps in formal football taken at local team Agia Paraskevi.
“It’s not every day that a player like this emerges. It doesn’t happen every 50 years “Sportdog spoke with Alexandros Malakasiotis, the head of Agia Pareskevi’s academy. “He possesses certain one-of-a-kind abilities.
“We had the privilege of watching Konstantelias grow up in this environment. He left early, yet like a fly in milk, he stood out.
“He is a phenomenon for me.” You’ll get a sense of what he’s about by watching how he moves across space.
“It’s like seeing Neymar when he goes one-on-one.”
Konstantelias himself makes the Neymar analogy, adding, “He is my biggest inspiration in the modern game.” His playing style appeals to me more than anyone else’s.”
Konstantelias joined PAOK in 2013 and progressed through the club’s various age-group levels, gaining the attention of a number of prominent European clubs along the way as he developed his skills in his preferred No.10 position.
Ajax and Rangers are said to have scouted Konstantelias extensively, while Chelsea thought they had secured his signature when he signed a new contract with PAOK in December, tying him to the Greek club until 2024.
The Blues were so confident in their ability to sign him that they were already putting in place a loan pathway for Konstantelias to spend time in either Belgium or the Netherlands before joining Stamford Bridge permanently, despite reports that Atletico Madrid had entered the race for one of Greek football’s golden boys.
For what it’s worth, PAOK has demonstrated to their youth players that there is a road to the senior ranks after Christos Tzolis’ breakout season in 2020-21.
Last season, the 19-year-old forward scored 16 goals and provided 10 assists for the PAOK first team, earning him admiring glances from Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund, as well as a debut for the Greece national team.
“Seeing Christos come through for me shows the way forward for next season,” Konstantelias says. “It’s great that we’re getting a chance to play and be a part of the first-team setup to demonstrate that we have what it takes to take this step and the next.”
“We’d all like to take that risk. We all grew up in the same environment, and getting to this point has required a lot of effort. The academy has done an excellent job throughout the years, and it will show in the first team.”
What about Konstantelias’ future prospects?
He says, “I compartmentalize things and worry about short-term goals.” “It’s not about where I’ll be in five years, but about taking small moves.
“In my next game or training session, I want to be the best. I want to appreciate what I’m doing and continue to like what I’m doing and performing.
“In Greece, we watch a lot of the Champions League and the top five leagues in general. I’m more drawn to La Liga because it has a lot more imagination and is more technical and open on the pitch.”
If Barcelona were to rekindle their interest in the teenager who plays like Messi and Neymar, this may be fantastic news.
Regardless of his next move, the future for probably the most skilled player to emerge from Greece in years appears to be bright.