As we celebrate the Socceroo’s qualification for Brazil, spare a thought for the hundreds of elite players who week in week out display their wares to the football public but rarely receive the accolades they deserve.
One such performer is Sutherland’s defensive midfielder and captain Nick Stavroulakis, who has given valiant service to the mighty Sharks since 2007 and for the last two years was selected in the NSW Premier League team of the season.
While Australia narrowly defeated Iraq, with most of the players turning in fairly ordinary performances, the question has to be asked why Nick Stavroulakis never even received an A- League contract.
His career in football started positively when Kelly Cross, the current FFA Assistant Technical Director, selected him at the tender age of fifteen for NSWIS. At the time Stavroulakis was playing for Sydney Olympic u/15’s and at NSWIS he locked horns with well-known figures Adam Federici, Jess Van Stratten and Anthony Doumanis who were two years his senior.
“The time at NSWIS was invaluable in my football development but two years later when Steve O’Connor recruited me for the AIS, I could now see a definite pathway in the game”, says Stavroulakis.
“O’Connor and Ray Junna at the AIS had a big influence on my playing style, particularly O’Connor who was the master defender”.
In 2003, Stavroulakis was signed by Parramatta Power but was subsequently selected in an AIS squad which competed in a tournament in Italy where he was spotted and signed by Serie A outfit, Empoli. He remained for eighteen months, playing mainly in the youth team with the occasional appearance in the reserves.
He also received his first international honours when he played for the Australian u/20 team in qualifying matches for the 2003 WYC under Ange Postecoglou but unfortunately wasn’t selected for the final series.
His romance at Empoli ended when the club was relegated and there was a clean out of players but in the interim he had returned to Australia to play for Wollongong Wolves under the expert tutelage of mercurial, former Socceroo, Adrian Alston.
“Nick was totally committed with an amazing professional attitude and strong self-belief in his ability”, says Alston.
“He also exhibited a tempered aggression usually associated with players well beyond his years”.
After finishing at Empoli, Stavroulakis spent eighteen months with Peterborough United in English League 2.
“It was very physical football and demanding on the body as we often played two or three times a week but certainly kept me in good stead for the future”, relates Stavroulakis.
Meanwhile, Stavroulakis trialled with Sydney FC in the first year of the A-League but he failed to gain a contract under Pierre Littbarski.
In 2009 he was offered a two week trial by Frank Farina at Brisbane Roar, However, when Farina’s services were terminated in controversial circumstances shortly after, the Stavroulakis dream to play A- League football was once again denied.
Similarly, there are many players in the NSW Premier League who just don’t seem to make the grade and one suspects the players aren’t being looked at by local or interstate A- League coaches.
“They’re a number of players in the Premier League who could step up to the plate if they were given the chance to train fulltime and play in the A- League”, says Stavroulakis.
“Look at Panny Nikas from the Sharks who was A- League Youth Player of the year in 2009/10 and since playing for North Queensland”.
“This year he’s scored fifteen goals from midfield in thirteen matches, I don’t know what else he has to do but he has been in great form”.
“Also there’s Glen Trifiro from Sydney United 58, Matthew Sim from Manly, Ricky Zucco from Wollongong and Richie Cardozo from Rockdale who are all having good seasons”.
“From Sutherland we have seventeen year olds Nick Olsen and Chris Naumoff who I feel sure will make the grade if given the opportunity”.
“These players should at least be given trials by A-League clubs and who knows they might be as successful as Mark Bridge, Nikolai Topor- Stanley, Adam D’Appuzo and Shannon Cole whose careers were resurrected by Western Sydney Wanderers”.
At the moment, Stavroulakis is enjoying his football with the Sharks and is playing as well as ever in a team which is undefeated in its last ten matches and currently the league leaders of the competition.
His performance in the recent match against Sydney Olympic was outstanding as he dominated possession in front of his back four and played several defence splitting passes behind the Olympic midfield.
“Coach, Robbie Stanton has developed us into a ball playing side from the back and this style is also promoted in the youth teams”.
“I have great attacking players in front of me so I ‘m happy to protect the back four and try to win the ball to ensure a quick transition into attack”.
It seems like Stavroulakis has been playing since eternity and at the tender age of twenty eight he believes if he looks after his body, he can play professionally till at least thirty five.
“This League is developing all the time and with the A- League youth league players also participating the standard is rising because it allows them to play all the year and get even better”.
Robbie Stanton has this to say about his captain.
“Nick is playing the perfect skipper’s role, revealing great leadership qualities”.
“He is one of the most consistent performers in the League and in his number 6 role he is getting better and better, showing extreme durability as he looks after himself with perfect preparation on and off the park”.
“The supply of good ball he’s provided to Jamie McMaster and Panny Nikas has been vital to our success this season.”
If Nick Stavroulakis continues his present vein of form, there is every chance he will add many more premiership, grand final and Waratah Cup trophies to his cabinet in years to come.
Originally posted nswpl.com.au 25th June 2013