While Arsenal’s January transfer window will be remembered by the wider football world for the signings of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the arrival of a 20-year-old Greek defender in north London sent shockwaves through his homeland.
Konstantinos Mavropanos had only made two appearances for Greek Super League side PAS Giannina going into the 2017-18 season but his impressive performances saw the likes of Olympiakos and Udinese scramble over his signature, before Arsenal’s new head of recruitment, Sven Mislintat, rang the player’s agent to seal a deal in late December.
Mislintat may have made the final, decisive move but the man who first identified Mavropanos as a potential star was Vasilis Stachtiaris.
Stachtiaris serves as both a scout and an agent for many Greek players. He has been highly involved in the Argentine football market over the past decade, travelling to South America in the hope of finding the next big thing. He even recommended Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez to PAS Giannina only for the Greek side to ignore his advice.
Previously a close ally of PAS owner Giorgos Christovasilis, the scout had an agreement in place with Olympiakos to sign Mavropanos before the centre-half decided he wanted to move abroad, paving the way for his transfer to Arsenal.
Speaking exclusively to Goal, Stachtiaris heaped praise on the Greek Under-21 international, who also impressed Arsene Wenger so much that the Gunners boss decided to keep him at Emirates Stadium instead of sending him out on loan for the remainder of the campaign.
“I grew up in the same neighbourhood with his father, so I’ve technically known Dinos since he was two years old," Stachtiaris reveals.
“He was at Apollon Symrni for eight-and-a-half years and, when they dropped to the second division, he managed to play in the last two games for the Under-20 side - despite still being a member of the under-17 squad.
“He signed for PAS Giannina in 2016 after I recommended him to Giorgos Christovasilis [PAS owner] and, coincidentally, they come from the same village [Agnanta, Epirus].
“In pre-season (summer 2015), he played with PAS Gianninia and he scored in a friendly game but he wasn't registered to the club, so Apollon threatened to appeal claiming that it was illegal for him to join PAS.
"He returned to Apollon and stayed there until January. Their former coach Alekos Vosniadis recognised his talent but didn’t offer a professional contract to him.
“FIFA rules state that if a player is 18 years old and he is not considered a professional, then he can leave. We made a complaint to the Greek Football Federation (EPO) and, after two days, Mavropanos was a free agent and allowed to join PAS [in January 2016].”
Mavropanos’ qualities were unknown to many Arsenal fans when he joined the club in January but he has impressed in several performances for the Gunners Under-23 squad since his arrival.
Several teams across Europe were interested in the defender but it was Arsenal’s new head of recruitment who managed to seal the deal after personally calling the player’s agent, Kostas Farras, whom he knew well from his time at Borussia Dortmund.
“Mavropanos had an agreement with Olympiakos before the Arsenal offer came in," Stachtiaris explains. "But there were also advanced talks with Udinese. Two other teams from Spain, Eibar and Rayo Vallecano, were interested as well.
“We had talks with AEK Athens but the offer was low. So, Olympiakos were in pole position but he wanted mainly to play in a league abroad.
“It's not in his favour that he played just 17 games with PAS Giannina in Greek Super League but he is an asset for Arsenal and the club must protect him and invest in his talent.
For example, [Greek defender Stathis] Tavlaridis didn't develop in Arsenal, so, anything can happen in football. It's only around 35 per cent [of players] that achieve success.
“Mavropanos’ story so far is similar to [Bayer Leverkusen midfielder] Retsos. They both played about 15 games in Greece and then moved to major leagues.
"But, if you ask me which player [Mavropanos] reminds me of, I would answer Traianos Dellas. He has the style of Dellas 14 years after the unforgettable matches of Dellas during Euro 2004 in Portugal. I must say he can use his left foot better than Dellas.
“Greek football is not at the highest level of European football but this guy has the right elements [to succeed]. He is very strong, has agility, he is not lacking of technique.
“He’s great in the air, good with the ball at his feet and uses his height to his advantage. He can play with both feet, is very strong and works really hard."
While Mavropanos is staying at the Emirates for the remainder of the season, it’s likely that he will spend next season out on loan to aid his development. Stachtiaris believes that he possesses all the required qualities to succeed and from what he’s seen so far, there is no doubt that he has the potential to become a regular in the Arsenal XI.
“He's intelligent on the pitch as well as off it," he enthuses. "Nothing is concrete in football. His future depends on how he improves while at the club but I’m sure he will progress well.
"Mavropanos is a hard-working player and has his feet on the ground. He listens to what the coach says to him.
“You cannot predict [whether he will go on to play in the Premier League] but he’s already reached a significant level in his career by moving to Arsenal and he has the potential to develop as a player."
Perhaps the little-known Mavropanos could yet end up making just as big an impact in north London as his Arsenal move made back home.
Translations by Johnny Georgopoulos