National Team



Nikos' Opinions

Latest News


Nikos' latest interview

Towering cranes and dirty scaffolding appear to sit uncomfortably alongside the magnificent Acropolis and the famous Agora but the juxtaposition between Athens past and present is quite perfect.

A city committed to fusing ancient and modern is on the crest of a regenerative wave and the spirit of progress is embodied in a proud and passionate Greek public. Whether relaxing in the late October sun or redoubling efforts to reinforce their city's burgeoning reputation, Athenians basking in the warm afterglow of an incredible summer believe their time has finally come.

"Athens is a different city after the Olympic Games and the success Greece enjoyed in the European Football Championships," said former resident and frequent visitor Nikos Dabizas.

When the ex-Newcastle centre-half quit his home country for England seven years ago a city suffering from overcrowding, pollution and a lack of investment was in a state of seemingly terminal decline.

Even the decision to bid for the 2004 Olympic Games did not instil immediate confidence in a public tired of broken promises and false dawns.

Yet the world's most famous sporting spectacle ultimately served to unite a people who have sought, for centuries, to achieve perfection through supreme performance.

"Everyone suddenly has confidence in Greece again," added Dabizas. "The facilities are better than ever and the transport infrastructure is finally in place to get people from one place to another efficiently and easily.

"It's been a long time coming but it's been worth the wait. Athens is the model for the rest of the country to follow. It is a much better place in which to live, work and play.

"People who have visited the city in the past will be amazed at how things have changed. It's a different world."

Dabizas still recalls with some pride the Greek national football team's triumphant homecoming party in July as a city welcomed its Euro 2004 heroes in style.

And the Leicester City defender was back in a post-Olympics Athens as late as last month for his regular fix of the feel-good factor.

"I have visited my old home a couple of times since the Olympics and it's incredible how the mood has changed," he explained. "I think people were disappointed that there was so much criticism of the games before they had even begun.

"There will always be doubts in the build-up to such a big event but some of the negative publicity was over the top.

"I thought it was very harsh. Since when has it been fair to criticise something before it has even happened?

"Thankfully the people of Greece had the last laugh and as far as security is concerned - the biggest issue for the people of Athens - everything went without a hitch.

"That was the most important victory in the eyes of local people. The Olympics proved Greece could host a major event and make a success of it without compromising safety." More than 45,000 security staff guaranteed the safety of 16,000 athletes and many more spectators as the 2004 Olympics presented Athens in a purely positive light.

The city, as much as the games, was the winner and now the Greek authorities are determined to sell their addictive mix of old and new to an even wider world audience.

"Everybody knows about the ancient Greek sites such as the Acropolis but the new Athens is just as important as a source of real pride for us all," said Dabizas.

"There are new bars and restaurants springing up everywhere and the city has never been so vibrant.

"It's a very lively place and the warm weather helps. Even as late as November, you can sit out in the bars until the early hours and that's still the favourite pastime of most Athenians."

After a summer of sporting excellence, a week of European football competition has revived interest in Athens as a magnet for memorable contests.

And with three of the capital's leading clubs - Olympiakos, Panionios and Egaleo - hosting English opposition within 48 hours, the country's national sport has been thrown sharply into focus.

"Football in Athens has also improved beyond recognition since I played there," said Dabizas.

"My old club Olympiakos play in a brand new stadium, players of the quality of Rivaldo and Christian Karembeu have been lured to Greek football and there is more money at every level.

"Of course winning Euro 2004 helped. The Greek people are suddenly taking football seriously and the rest of Europe is taking Greek football seriously.

"For any professional footballer wanting to combine good competition and a good salary with an excellent quality of life, it is now impossible to ignore Athens."

Dabizas will watch Newcastle's Uefa Cup clash against Panionios with interest, but the experienced international foresees few problems for Newcastle.

The hosts' poor start to the league season has led to a crisis of confidence within the corridors of the newly reconstructed Nea Smymi Stadium.

And the Euro 2004 effect has barely been felt by coach Karol Pecze and his players.

"Panionios will never be one of the biggest clubs in the city and they haven't started this season too well," said Dabizas.

"They have been beaten in three of their four league games this season and are only four places off the bottom of the Greek League.

"They did really well to get past Udinese and qualify for the Uefa Cup group stage but I can't see Newcastle having too many problems. Graeme Souness has too much talent in his squad.

"Panionios would have to deliver the best performance in their history and United would need to take their eye off the ball if there was to be an upset. I can't see it happening.

"But the home support will be intense. Panionios draw on a passionate fans base centred around their compact stadium and in Athens the different communities take great pride in their football clubs."

By Simon Rushworth, The Journal


232 Appearances in England (175 for Newcastle United, 18 for Leicester in the Premier League and 39 for Leicester in the Championship). Total League-Cup-Europe appearances 550. National Team appearances 70. Goals total 40.