“It’s just fantastic what Sokratis is doing defensively.“ This expression of appreciation comes from no other than Mats Hummels, one of Sokratis Papastathopoulos’s direct competitors in BVB’s starting XI. The Werder Bremen signing – under contract through 2018 – appears to be different from the brilliant Mkhitaryan or the graceful Aubameyang, the other new faces at BVB.
Bursting with strength, the defender could be mistaken as the Colossus of Rhodes if he were just a bit taller. Sokratis doesn’t shirk tackles, is good in the air and, most importantly, uncompromising. There are two stories underlining this features nicely. One happened on the pitch, the other off the pitch – fitting perfectly to the “Seven Commandments” written in black on yellow on a wall at BVB’s training centre.
The first story took place at the 2010 World Cup South Africa in Greece’s game against Argentina and involved the best player of the current generation, if not ever. Sokratis, who was only 22 at the time, was told by Greece coach Otto Rehagel to give Lionel Messi special treatment. To cut a long story short: the next day the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper called Sokratis “Messi’s second skin”. There’s probably no higher accolade as Messi is also known as “la pulga” – the flea.
This episode shows that the Greek is not afraid of big names and does what coaches tell him to do. But it also pays off to listen to Sokratis’s advice as Thomas Schaaf found out last season. When Werder Bremen couldn’t stop conceding goals, Sokratis suggested to the then Werder coach to try different defensive tactics. And different to many players these days, Sokratis didn’t voice his opinion through the media but communicated with the coach the old-fashioned way. Schaaf listened, made tactical changes – and Werder Bremen stayed in the top flight. This story speaks volumes about Thomas Schaaf, but also of course about Sokratis. It shows that he knows a thing or two about tactics – and that he must hold a master’s degree in diplomacy.
Sokratis took on responsibility early in his career. At the age of 20, he became the youngest ever captain of AEK Athens. And later, at AC Milan, when he couldn’t establish himself against the likes of Alessandro Nesta or Thiago Silva despite giving his all, he had the foresight to give his career a different direction. The family man, who everyone calls “Papas” and who still returns to his hometown Kalamata in the Peloponnese on a regular basis, decided to join Bundesliga side SV Werder Bremen.
Especially his versatility could prove valuable for Borussia Dortmund. Sokratis’s favourite position is in the centre of defence where he challenges Mats Hummels or Neven Subotic for a starting place, but he can also play right back. And on the right of defence, Borussia Dortmund have a spot up for grabs in the first half of the season due to the absence of Lukasz Piszczek. “I want a place in the starting eleven,” said Sokratis, adding a sentence every coach likes to hear: “I play where the coach wants me to.”