After agreeing a £16m move for Borussia Dortmund and Greek international Sokratis Papastathopoulos last week, we take a further look into one of the Bundesliga’s most consistent defenders and how the Gunners were able to pull the move off.
Born Alongside Greek Gods
Having been born in the southern Greek city of Kalamata, Sokratis came through the footballing ranks at Apollon Petalidiou before moving to AEK Athens, after being scouted by Super League legend Toni Savevski.
The young defender made an instant impression on his debut for the Greek giants after scoring in a Greek Cup match against PAS Giannina, scoring in just the seventh minute of the game to help guide AEK to a 3–0 win.
Despite this stand-out performance from Sokratis, the 18 year-old at the time was loaned out to second-tier side Niki Volou in a bid to gain more first-team experience.
This move was a clear learning curve for the centre-back as he produced credible performances the following season on his return to AEK Athens, most notably highlighted for man-marking Filippo Inzaghi during AEK’s famous 1-0 win over AC Milan in the Champions League.
During just his third season in professional football, Sokratis was given the honour of becoming Athens’ youngest-ever captain at just 19 years-old just before a fiery encounter against local rivals Panathinaikos.
He would go on to make 58 appearances for the Greek giants, with the goal on his debut for the club being the only goal he would ever score for AEK.
Impressing the Italians
Following strong showings against several Italian opponents for AEK Athens, Sokratis earnt a move to the Serie A with a move to Genoa in August 2008 for an undisclosed fee after already playing against the Italian side on the same day as his move.
The defender made his debut for Genoa on 27 September 2008 against Fiorentina and earnt a start against Ravenna in the Coppa Italia just a few days later.
His first goal for the Italian club came on 5 October 2008 at home against Napoli, with Genoa going on to win the game 3–2. But it was a game of mixed emotions for the centre-back as Papastathopoulos was sent off in the 89th minute of this game.
In the following 2009/10 season is when he would become a more prominent figure for Genoa as he would start many more games for the Serie A side and his performances would see the Greek defender become a fan favourite to many of the Rossoblu.
He would go on to make 51 appearances for Genoa, scoring 2 times for the Italian before moving on to arguably bigger and better things.
Move to Milan
After impressing in the Italian top-flight, Sokratis attracted interest from AC Milan and on 20 July 2010, it was confirmed on Milan’s website that Papastathopoulos had joined the Italian giants for €14m. But this transfer schedule was a little bit different as the payment schedule was as follows:
- Gianmarco Zigoni (half of his registration rights, valued at €3.75 million)
- Nnamdi Oduamadi (half of his rights, valued at €3.5 million)
- Rodney Strasser (half of his rights, valued at €2.25 million) in a co-ownership deal
- €4.5 million in funds
Sokratis’ move to Milan was also the first transfer made by new manager at the time Massimiliano Allegri, who as we all know has gone on to have a very illustrious career.
Unfortunately for Sokratis however, the move to Milan didn’t work out as he and the club had hoped as he only went on to make 5 appearances for the Serie A side before moving out on loan.
Settling in Germany
After a disappointing spell with Milan, on 21 July 2011 Papastathopoulos moved to German club Werder Bremen on a loan deal until the end of the 2011–12 season, with the option to purchase permanently if they wanted.
Following strong showings from the Greek defender, on 16 April 2012 it was announced that Papastathopoulos would join Bremen on a permanent basis for a €5 million transfer fee.
However, the following season (2012/13) would be one of Sokratis’ most disappointing as in the middle of a relegation battle with the four-time Bundesliga champions, Papastathopoulos was part of an infamous training ground bust-up with former teammate and now West Ham man Marko Arnautovic.
The pair squared up to each other after Arnautovic went down holding his head following a challenge from the Greek. The Austria international however, did not take kindly to his team-mate’s attempt to help him up, claiming he had been elbowed and tempers flared as Sokratis then grabbed him by the throat before they were separated.
Thankfully, this scrap didn’t look to affect the club too heavily on the pitch, as the club would ultimately finish the 2012/13 season in 14th place, barely staving-off relegation.
Papastathopoulos would again attract bigger clubs in the league with his performances and would move on at the end of this season having made 59 appearances for Die Werderaner in total, scoring twice.
Dortmund’s Door was Open
On the eve of Borussia Dortmund’s second-ever Champions League final in the club’s history against arch-enemies Bayern Munich in May 2013, the club announced they had signed Sokratis for €9.5m on a five-year deal with the Greek himself saying: “Money did not play a role in my decision to join Dortmund. My own future was all that mattered and I am convinced that I made the right decision.”
Dortmund were in the hunt for a new central defender after Felipe Santana left the club to join rivals Schalke 04, with Papastathopoulos starting out his Dortmund career as effectively third-choice centre-back behind starters Neven Subotić and Mats Hummels.
The Greek defender had been linked with a move to the Premier League following the departure of manager Jurgen Klopp in 2015 in the hope to play regular football.
But instead, the centre-back decided to extend his contract with Dortmund under new boss Thomas Tuchel until 2019.
This decision would prove vital for Sokratis as Tuchel decided the Greek international would be one of his first-choice central defenders and looked to be very beneficial for both the player and the club as both went on to be very successful.
Dortmund would go onto win the DFB-Pokal in the 2016-17 following this switch with Sokratis playing a vital role in their path to glory.
In January 2017, German magazine Kicker named Sokratis as one of the best players in the Bundesliga and he has developed into a mainstay of the Dortmund defence showing what a great decision it was by Tuchel to promote the Greek international.
Sokratis ended his Dortmund career with an impressive record as well, with 130 appearances for the German side and 7 goals from central-defence.
For Club & Country
The Greek native has also been a main-stay in his national side as well since making his first call-up to the senior side in February 2008 having worked his way up from u/17 level.
Having made his debut on 5 February 2008 in the 1–0 friendly victory against the Czech Republic, the Greece squad for UEFA Euro 2008 was announced shortly after by manager Otto Rehhagel. Unfortunately, Papastathopoulos was the player chosen to be cut from the provisional squad of 24 to the final 23-man selection.
He would be called up to the Euro 2012 squad however, but had arguably the worst possible start after he became the first player to be sent off at UEFA Euro 2012 during the opening game of the tournament against co-hosts Poland, receiving two yellow cards.
But he hasn’t let this get to him however, as he has become an integral member of the Greece side at the 2014 World Cup, playing in every game and scoring in the last 16 defeat by Costa Rica.
Along with 79 caps to his name, it’s clear that he has become a well-respected Greek international and as well as this, the central-defender has also become vice-captain to another Greek legend Vasilis Torosidis.
What can we expect from Sokratis?
After Svet Mislintat joined Arsenal as head of recruitment last November, he has already succeeded in bringing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to the club – two players he worked with at Dortmund. He now has a third Dortmund recruit in Sokratis.
This shows just how signifiticant Mislintat’s influence and guidance has become since joining the Gunners and perhaps the signing of Sokratis means good things for players already at the club.
An interesting element to Sokratis’ potential arrival is the presence of fellow Greek centre-back Konstantinos Mavropanos already at Arsenal where Sokratis would be able to teach the youngster a trick or two to help the defender in his young career.
Arsenal have also been in desperate need for a leader in their starting XI and new manager Unai Emery is keen to find a new leader to initially cover for current captain Laurent Koscielny, while also acting as a role model for the likes of Mavropanos, Calum Chambers and Rob Holding.
Sokratis’ will be hoping to push for a starting place in his first game for the Gunners looks to be in their pre-season friendly in the International Champions Cup against Spanish giants Atletico Madrid on the 26th July in Kallang, Singapore.