Apostolos Stamatelopoulos’ journey from a promising young talent to leading A-Leagues marksman has been a wild one. From club presidents and their bodyguards to not getting paid, the Newcastle Jets forward details it all in this interview with aleagues.com.au’s James Dodd.
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Life as a footballer is often about making the right moves, whether that’s a run to the near post or the decision to move to Greece in order to further your career – sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Just ask Apostolos Stamatelopoulos.
The 24-year-old has proven himself to be one of the Isuzu UTE A-League’s deadliest strikers this season scoring six goals in six matches, but Stamatelopoulos is very clear as to why he’s in the midst of a purple patch.
“I’m just relishing the chance to play centre forward,” said Stamatelopoulos. “I’ve always known I could score goals, it was just about getting the opportunity to play games at centre forward.”
Born and raised in South Australia and a product of the Adelaide Comets, Stamatelopoulos would eventually get his chance at Adelaide United but would depart the club after just two seasons due to a combination of injuries and lack of game time in his preferred position.
“I went to Western United and then obviously had a certain Besart Berisha in front of me,” recalled the now 24-year-old of the first big move in his career.
“It was very difficult to play and get game time there.
“The boss at the time Marko Rudan was playing me as more of like a number 10 and that’s not really my position.”
After just 12 matches, of which only two were starts, Stamatelopoulos swapped Melbourne for Newcastle in pursuit of regular football in his desired position but, once again, the striker’s move proved to be the wrong one.
“I came to the Jets after that because it didn’t work out,” continued Stamatelopoulos. “Again I didn’t get to play centre forward, I was playing as a winger, which again isn’t really suiting my skillset.
But it would be Stamatelopoulos’ next move – signing for Greek second tier side Rodos – which really opened his eyes to the world of football.
“You go from being very comfortable in Australia, where everyone in your squad are best mates, you never really fight, to going somewhere where you’re fighting for your life, you’re fighting to get paid,” the striker explained.
“If you don’t win games, you don’t get paid. But to be honest, I loved it. I loved that side of going in and fighting for your life every single day.”
Unfortunately for Stamatelopoulos, fighting for his life, or rather his ability to put food on the table, became a reality as his Greek odyssey almost turned into a tragedy.
“Honestly with Greece I could write a book on my two years there, it’s just crazy,” laughed the 24-year-old as he recalled some of his dealings with club officials.
“I’d scored six goals in four games whilst I was playing centre forward (at Rodos), and then Greece stuff happens where we’re conceding some very suspect goals.
“I’d already secured a move to go to the first division team (PAS Giannina) from January and I tried to leave because the team hadn’t paid me in four months. So I refused to play because my president didn’t pay me and he wasn’t letting me leave.
“The day I was meant to terminate my contract and move on to the other team my president pays me my full money to keep me at the club. Then the next two or three months he didn’t pay me again.”
And it wasn’t just financial issues Stamatelopoulos and his teammates had with their club president, who had now become a regular, and unwanted, presence in the dressing room at half-time during matches.
“He did it every game,” said Stamatelopoulos. “He’d come in and abuse people and nobody could do anything because he had his bodyguards around him.
“If you do anything, you’re screwed. That’s just the reality of a second division team then.”
Stamatelopoulos would eventually secure safe passage to PAS Giannina but his one season in the Greek Super League would prove to be unsuccessful, prompting his return to Newcastle Jets on a two-year deal – but now he couldn’t be happier.
“The last four years has been a bit of a battle,” said Stamatelopoulos. “Greece is known for a lot of things going on in the background and I certainly copped a lot of that.
“I’m playing my position, the position that I feel most comfortable in. I was lucky enough to finally get that shot through my current boss in Rob Stanton. I’m just relishing actually getting to play centre forward.
“For me and my wife it’s definitely the happiest we’ve been in a very long time.”
With six goals in his last six games Stamatelopoulos is certainly thriving under Stanton, so much so that his name has now been thrown into the mix as a possible striking option for Graham Arnold to consider for January’s Asian Cup, but he’s not getting ahead of himself.
“I’m not unrealistic,” responded Stamatelopoulos to that suggestion. “I’m not gonna say ‘I’ve scored six in six, I deserve to be there blah blah blah’ because I don’t.
“The last four years I’ve been missing so I’m not expecting it at all. Hopefully in the future, if I keep scoring goals I’d love to. It’s obviously a goal of mine.”
Stamatelopoulos will be hoping to add to his tally when Newcastle Jets face Perth Glory this weekend, having already scored against them in Round One.