PROFILE: Raw determination and loan education helped City's incoming left-back emerge at PAOK
- Credit: Intime.gr/metrosport.gr
Incoming left-back Dimitris Giannoulis will be achieving a lifelong dream when his move to Norwich City goes through.
The 25-year-old Greece international has been linked with moves away from PAOK consistently for the last season, but despite interest from Porto, Atalanta, Newcastle and Rennes, it is the Canaries have convinced Giannoulis to leave his native country.
Giannoulis has admitted that he is a Chelsea fan due to his admiration of Frank Lampard during his playing days. In a few weeks time, the defender could be facing his idol in the fifth round of the FA Cup providing the Canaries can get past Barnsley on Saturday.
His journey has contained set-backs, rejections and extensive loans. Now, he is preparing to take the next step in his career. Speaking about a move away from Greece in April 2020, Giannouis revealed the key was in the timing, rather than the club.
"I like all the leagues abroad. I will not lie and say that I do not like the prospect of going abroad, I just want it done at the right time.
"When we get an offer. we will put them down, discuss them and when the right time comes we will decide. Atalanta had very strong interest, it is a great team that played in the Champions League this year and it is a very good prospect.
"If a proposal comes that will only please the team, I do not know how the transfer will be done, but all three sides should be happy."
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However, despite the allure of clubs playing within European competitions, Giannoulis admitted he would rather join a club in the second-tier if it meant progressing his career, even if it wasn't as financially rewarding: "At this age I would rather go to a second-tier with less money than go to a non-competitive league."
His route to success at PAOK and claiming the captaincy has been turbulent. Despite he is rated higher than Liverpool's Kostas Tsimiskas by some, Giannoulis' career could have taken a different trajectory altogether.
Giannoulis was spotted by PAOK's scout Giorgos Kostikos aged 18 whilst playing for Vataniakos FC in the fourth tier of Greek football. He completed his move to the Super League side for a fee of €20k on a salary of €850 euros a week.
Despite his talent never being questioned, his performances were lacking. Giannoulis struggled to make his opportunities count and was sent out on loan to fourth-tier side Pierikos in 2014.
Giannoulis was deployed a left-winger and discovered some form, making 28 appearances and catching the eye with exceptional performances. That earned him a loan move to the Super League, the top-flight in Greece, with Veria.
Under former Newcastle United winger Giorgos Georgiadis, he played regularly in the top-flight, helping the club survive in the league. His performances saw him crowned 'Young Player of the Year' and didn't go unnoticed by his parent club.
PAOK brought him back into the first-team group with the intention of Giannoulis having his breakthrough season. Instead, the coaching staff and sporting director didn't trust his talent, and a loan move to Cyprus followed. It proved to be short-lived, and his dream of making the first-team for the three-time Greek champions seemed elusive.
Giannoulis' dream since he was an eight-year-old was to feature to PAOK's first team. His father recalls the day he turned his son into a fanatic of the Greek side simply through attending a derby encounter.
"In 2003, I took Dimitris to the Toumba (PAOK's ground) for the first time in a PAOK - Olympiacos derby. He was eight years old then. I told him at one point during the match 'imagine playing here, with such an atmosphere' and he replied, 'I will play for PAOK'.
"It seemed like a dream. We returned home and he was hoarse because he was shouting the slogan 'PAOK' all the time. We were at Gate 5, he became a PAOK fan from the atmosphere of Toumba," his father told Greek radio.
Dimitris' brother, Kostas, is also a professional footballer. He plays for OFI in the Greek Super League. It was his brother that helped him secure his next loan move to Atromitos, a place where he spent two years and learned a great deal.
Speaking about his loan moves in April last year, Giannoulis told PAOK TV: "After Veria I returned to PAOK where I stayed for six months, the choice to go to Cyprus did not work out for me.
"When I went to Atromitos, I was affected (by the failed loans) and everything seemed like a mountain to me. I had fallen because of the loans, because of my poor performance. When I went to Atromitos, I said that here I will build my career, here I will show what I am worth. It was the period when I was thinking only of myself."
There was a stubbornness to Giannoulis. A raw determination that underpinned his efforts to get into PAOK's senior team. After two seasons, 56 games and 14 assists, his opportunity arrived.
A training camp in Holland really pushed Giannoulis on. PAOK were in the market for a new left-back, but his performances during that pre-season camp persuaded the club to give him a chance.
Since being handed his first appearance for the club, Giannoulis has improved drastically. Giannoulis is now a regular for his country, ahead of Liverpool's Kostas Tsimiskas, someone he has been compared to relentlessly since his emergence at PAOK.
Under previous coach Abel Ferreira, he has handed the armband to graphically illustrate his importance to the team. Transfer speculation soon followed, but a proposal was never agreed until Norwich swooped in.
Newcastle United were linked with a move for the 25-year-old in the summer but instead opted for Jamal Lewis. Now, Giannoulis will be swapping Greece for Norfolk hoping to reach the Premier League.