In the words of Mats Hummels: "The defensive work that Sokratis puts in is just unbelievable". A statement of the highest appraisal indeed; after all, this is a man in direct competition with Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who has played for the Black and Yellows since 2013 and had everyone fully convinced from the outset.
Were he just a little taller, the defender, bristling with strength, could be likened to the Colossus of Rhodes. He never shirks a challenge, is strong in the air, and is, above all, utterly unrelenting. Two impressive tales completely confirm this. One, fittingly, is from the football pitch, the other one alongside it, perfectly fitting the "seven commandments" of BVB, written years ago, displayed in black on a yellow wall in the training centre.
The first entails Greece’s match against Argentina at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and his encounter with the best footballer in the world, and perhaps of all time. Sokratis, then just 22, had got a special order from his coach Otto Rehhagel to neutralise the threat of Messi. To cut a long story short, the day after the match ‚Süddeutsche Zeitung‘ described Sokratis as "Messi's second skin". A higher accolade doesn’t seem possible, considering that Messi is known as "La Pulga", or "the flea".
This story clearly shows that the Greek does not fear the big names, and listens to what the Manager says to him, as well. Thomas Schaaf learnt last season that it’s worth listening to Sokratis. This episode attests to the great tactical understanding Sokratis disposes of, so much so that it’s as if he graduated from a diplomatic school.
When the flood of goals against Bremen, of which Schaaf was Manager at the time, didn’t look like being halted, Sokratis suggested a different defensive tactic to Schaaf. Though he didn’t do this openly, as is so often the way in this business, but rather went to speak with the Manager. He obviously understood the value of taking on his player’s advice, reorganised his team, and Werden Bremen were buoyed. This particuarly saga says a lot about Thomas Schaaf, but even more so of Sokratis.
He has already assumed a great deal of responsibility at an early stage in his career. At 20 he was the youngest captain of AEK Athens in the club's history. When it didn’t work out at AC Milan, despite his best efforts, to dislodge the greats, like Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva, he had the foresight to look for another option. The family man, whom they all call just "Papa", who still likes to return to his birthplace Kalamata in the Peloponnese, moved to SV Werder Bremen.
The Greek had a good start in Dortmund with not only his sport, but also in his private life. He featured in the starting line-up 43 times in his first two seasons and hardly ever lost out to challenges (he won two out of three challenges). After the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, in which Greece reached the first knockout round, and where Sokratis was successful as a defender ("We were able to give our people a reason to forget the problems a bit and use the victories as an opportunity to celebrate a little"), he married his longtime girlfriend. Four months earlier, he had become the father of a daughter.