If you’d said in the summer that by the time the October international break comes around, Kostas Tsimikas will have been one of Liverpool’s players of the season so far, you’d have struggled to find a Reds fan that would have believed.
Having been limited to just two Premier League substitute appearances last year, and with repeated reports linking the Greek with a move away from Anfield, many would not have been surprised if the left-back had left for pastures new.
They will have been pleasantly surprised by his start to the season, however, with the 25-year-old proving he is far more than just Andy Robertson’s reserve on Merseyside.
Having enjoyed just one full season as first-choice for Olympiacos prior to his move to Liverpool, Tsimikas’ rise has been rapid.
But one man not surprised to see him making the mark in the Premier League is Euro 2004 winner Stelios Giannakopoulos.
“I’m not surprised by Kostas’ start to the season,” the former Bolton Wanderers winger admitted in an exclusive interview with the ECHO. “I knew from the beginning that Kostas was going to make it because he has a big heart and he has determination.
“He works very, very hard and that is very, very obvious. You can see it during the games.
“The games are a mirror of the work you are doing in training week in, week out. Nothing comes along without trying and he tries a lot.
“His progress has been phenomenal. This is the main reason why Liverpool came to sign him.
“Obviously they have been watching him for a long time. The scouting system of these big clubs is very, very important and they don’t rely on luck.
“They sign players based on evidence and all the evidence was there for Kostas.
“He deserves what he deserves, it’s as simple as that.”
Stelios served as Greece assistant manager for six months in 2019 but, despite Tsimikas making his international debut the year before, the two haven’t actually crossed paths in person with the 47-year-old leaving the role prior to the left-back’s international recall.
But the defender was very much a player on the Greek coaching staff’s radar, even if the speed of his progress in recent years might have caught them by surprise.
“During my time with the national team, he was not the player that he is now,” Stelios explained. “My spell with the national team was a little bit short so the moment Kostas became very, very hot in the market was after I’d left the national team.
“He was on our radar. He was one of the players that was in contention for our next call-ups.
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“We could see that Kostas was knocking on the door of the national team. He has had very, very rapid progress. I don’t think many could see him making such rapid progress. He made very quick progress in a very short time which is very impressive and a big bonus for him.
“For him to play for Liverpool is massive for Greek football and it’s massive for the national team.
“It is the best advertisement of the Greek market, having players like Kostas playing for a club like Liverpool. You couldn’t imagine a better advertisement for Greek football in general.”
Stelios joined Bolton directly from Olympiacos in the summer of 2003, so knows just how tough it would have been for Tsimikas to adjust to English football when making a similar move.
But now the defender has settled at Liverpool, his compatriot is confident he has plenty more to offer and that the best is still to come.
“It’s a completely different world. It’s the toughest league in the world,” Stelios said. “It’s very, very physical and very, very fast.
“Both physically and technically and you need to combine these two elements at the same time and this is the most difficult thing for a foreign player, especially a player who is coming from Greece.
“It takes a little bit of time to adjust to the pace and the physicality of the game in England.
“Kostas took his time, he had a couple of injuries that knocked him back a little bit, but now he is fully fit and he can demonstrate his potential.
“He has got potential and this is what I like about him. He is willing to work hard in order to get better and better every day and in every game.”
He continued: “Liverpool made a fantastic choice offering him the contract because they saw, in a very small period of time, that they could rely on the talent of Kostas. They could obviously spot his qualities.
“I think this year is going to be Kostas’ year. Don’t forget he has to compete with Robertson. He is a fantastic player too and it is healthy competition between two very good players. It only has benefits for the club.
“Both players are pushing each other for the first team spot and that is a big benefit for Jurgen Klopp and the club as well because they give their everything in the training and in the games to show they deserve to play. That is very healthy and very good for the club.
“He has more potential to give as well. I think that the things Kostas is doing with Liverpool now is only the beginning. He has a lot more to offer to the club.”
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