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Nikos' Opinions

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By Graham Wood, PA Sport

He may be a top Greek international plying his trade on foreign shores but bar Alan Shearer you will have to look hard to find another player at St James's Park more committed to the Newcastle cause than Nikos Dabizas.

The popular Greek defender made his long awaited return to Tyneside two weeks ago after a five month injury nightmare which has kept him out all season.

And although he is not yet ready to help shore up a Newcastle defence that has failed to keep a clean sheet for a staggering 24 matches, a return to first team action is not far away for Dabizas which is welcome news for manager Bobby Robson.

In a frank interview with PA Sport the Greek defender revealed how he put himself through the most punishing of training schedules to overcome the disappointment of that horrific knee injury which all but ended his season back in August.

He also outlined how he sees his and Newcastles's future shaping up, and analyses the chances of the Greek national team as they prepare to do England a big favour by beating the Germans in the upcomming World Cup Qualifier.

After enjoying arguably his best season at Newcastle last year, maturing into one of the club's most accomplished defenders and developing a knack of scoring vital goals, Dabizas was cruelly sidelined after injuring knee ligaments just two games into the 2000/2001 campaign.

The athletic defender chose to fly back to his native homeland for surgery and to undergo a rigourous rehabilitation programme.

``I wanted to have the rehabilitation back in Greece because I felt it would be much easier for me to get fit as I knew all the doctors very well from working with them in the past,'' said Dabizas.

``The surgery took place in October and for the last four months I have worked really hard to get to this point.''

``In the begining it was very difficult because I was just doing lots of weights, running and swimming, and I could not do any ballwork.''

It was this early period that was particularly difficult for Dabizas but the twenty-seven year old stated his positive mental attitued as a key factor to ensuring a quick recovery:

``It was always in the back of my mind that one day I would be fit again and I took a lot of strength from that. I believe that my mental stregth has been a major factor that has helped me come back so quickly.''

During his recovery period in Greece there were continued rumblings in the Greek media that he would be return to Olympiakos in the summer but Dabizas - although admitting he was giving the issue serious consideration - was quick to dispel the fears of fans and dismiss any suggestion of an imminent departure from St James's Park.

``When I was back in Greece because of my injury it was always in the back of my mind that one day I want to go back to Greek football. But during my time there I saw many things that disappointed me,'' Dabizas said.

``Now I am thinking completely different because the situation is so different to when it was when I left to join Newcastle.''

Dabizas has become increasingly concerned with the situation in Greece and pointed out that the atmoshpere there is anything but condusive to furthering his career.

``The worst thing for me is the suspicions that everything is fixed and referees are taking bribes,'' said Dabizas.

``You can not improve your footabll with this kind of thinking, the Greek league is not going forward, it's static, and at the moment I can't see how it will improve.''

``I have three more years left on my contract and for the time being I am very happy at Newcastle and I want to stick with that contract,'' added Dabizas.

On Newcastle's defensive plight this season Dabizas commented:

``I've always said that to have good results you must start from the defence, but to keep clean sheets consistently it's not just about the back four and the keeper, the whole team must contribute.''

``It's frustrating because when you don't keep a clean sheet it means you have to out-score the opposition every time and it's very difficult to do that every week, especially with the injuries we have had at Newcastle,'' added Dabizas.

Dabizas though is upbeat about the situation at Newcastle and is already looking forward to next season when he believes Newcastle can at last achieve tangible success.

When asked if Newcastle can ever reach the highs achieved when Kevin Keegan was at the helm Dabizas said:

``I think that it is more difficult now because the level of the Premier League is more higher than it was maybe four or five years ago due to the fact that many of the clubs are a lot stronger now.''

``Newcastle is a very big club and doesn't deserve to be where it is in the table now.''

``I think this season though has been more encouraging when you consider how unlucky we have been with injuries. If we get a little more luck next season then I think we win something.''

Although he is expected to be ready for first team duty again by the end of the month Dabizas has not yet pencilled in any comeback date and has all but given up hope of being fit enough to play for his country in the vital showdown with Germany three weeks tomorrow.

About the upcomming Germany match Dabizas said:

``I haven't spoken to the coach yet but when I first got injured I had my mind on that game.''

``It's a very big game for us and I think if we can take advantage of a bad performance by Germany we have the ability to win.''

``Obviously we are not the favourites to go through from the group but sometimes this suits our mentality more because in the qualifiers for Euro 2000 we were favourites against Slovenia but we did not qualify,'' added Dabizas.

Greece is often seen as an nation that has many talented individual's but can not perform as a team at the highest level.

Dabizas though revealed some of the more pressing issues which hinder the national team and go some way to explaining why the Greeks are perenial underachievers.

``One of the main problems of the Greek national team is our mentality, I think over the past few years we have lacked the willingness to win games.''

Dabizas, capped 43 times by his country, and immensely proud of his homeland has strong views on the mentality factor, and states boldly that it is what makes the majority of Greek players tick that holds them back.

``My opinion is that first you have to be a footballer and then a human being. Many of the Greek players are not 100% professional, they think first of all about themselves and then their careers.''

But according to Dabizas the players mentality is not the only problem that stands in the way of success for the national team.

The deeper issue is that surrounding the attitude of Greece's footballing powers that be, and the national team's supporters.

``Another big problem is that in Greece the national team is not a top priority, not only from the players point of view but from the Greek FA down to the fans,'' explains Dabizas.

Clearly disappointed at the lack of support given to the national team from both the governing bodies and the fans Dabizas concluded:

``I feel very bad when I see the way the national team in Greece is treated compared to here in England.''

``The supportes and the media always back the team in England and even if they criticise them it's because they love their country.''

``When you don't support or respect something then you don't deserve to critcise it.''

Looking ahead to the clash with England in June Dabizas said he was looking forward to the possibility of competing against Newcastle teammate Kieron Dyer but was a little disappointed that Alan Shearer decided to retire from England duty after Euro 2000.

``Yes I think Alan made that decision when he knew that he might have to play against me,'' joked Dabizas.

On Shearer Dabizas said: ``I have known Alan for just three years but I think he is the best professional footballer that I've seen, not just for his willingness to win games but his committment to every club he has played for and the way he treats everybody the same.''

Indeed the two are not dissimilar in character, as beneath the cool, laid-back exterior of both men lies a fiercely committed professional.

Dabizas has just recently launched his own web-site, www.dabizas.com, where fans can get an insight into his opinions about Newcastle and football in general. The Press Association

Graham Wood, PA Sport


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.