Title joy and Champions League taster has left City new boy desperate for promotion
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Fireworks, flares and delirious celebrations – Dimitris Giannoulis is no stranger to success and the Greek left-back is hungry to party again after moving to Norwich City.
Giannoulis spent 18 months away from boyhood club PAOK Salonica to complete his development, playing elsewhere in the Greece Super League for Atromitos Athens, but was recalled midway through the 2018-19 campaign.
He returned to his home city and made 12 appearances to help PAOK win their first ever league and cup double, winning the Greek title for the first time in 34 years.
When the big moment arrived in Greece’s second biggest city in April 2019, with a population of over a million people, Giannoulis played all of a 5-0 thrashing of APO Levadiakos which sparked wild celebrations in and around the Toumba Stadium.
“They were really great times,” the 25-year-old recalls, speaking to us via a video call from the Lotus Training Centre. “I am a PAOK fan from my childhood and that was a dream also.
“I had a great time in PAOK for two years and I enjoyed it a lot, but now it’s trying to make the next step.”
- Giannoulis can be seen in the thick of the title celebrations in the video above, before the fireworks begin to fly
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The tall full-back's emergence as an attacking force saw a host of clubs linked with interest in his services, including Newcastle, Portuguese giants Porto and Italian sides Torino and Napoli.
Last summer an exciting move to Serie A was discussed.
“I was close to signing for Atlanta last September but it did not happen,” Giannoulis explains. “So many teams were interested but it is one thing to be interested and another to make an offer for you.
“At the end I’m playing for City and I am very happy for this, I think it is the best choice for me.”
The Canaries have offered the Greece international a pathway to the Premier League, with an initial loan from PAOK due to be made permanent for a reported £6million if promotion is secured, ahead of his contract at his parent club expiring in 2022.
As well as 11 full international caps, Giannoulis has had a taste of the Champions League.
PAOK’s title win took them into qualification for Europe’s elite competition in 2019 but a 5-4 aggregate defeat to the previous season’s semi-finalists Ajax denied them qualification, with Giannoulis playing all of both legs and claiming an assist.
A disappointing loss to Slovan Bratislava in the final Europa League qualification stage, on away goals, brought further disappointment but finishing as runners-up in Greece brought another shot at Champions League qualification at the start of this season.
Giannoulis created one goal as Besiktas were beaten 3-1 and that brought another home tie, when he scored and assisted as Benfica were shocked 2-1 in Greece. That set up a final qualifier against Russia side Krasnodar, where PAOK slipped to a disappointing 4-2 defeat over two legs.
“It’s always great to play in the Champions League,” City’s January arrival reflects. “Although we didn’t make the group stage, it’s always nice to play against the top players and top teams.
“I hope next season to play in the Premier League so that I can play more of those games.
“We were really close but we went out to Krasnodar and that was not good for us!”
- You can watch highlights of PAOK's win over Benfica in the video above
Giannoulis spoke to Greece team-mate Kostas Tsimikas, who joined Liverpool last summer, and Middlesbrough striker Chuba Akpom, who was a PAOK team-mate, before deciding that the Canaries offered him a good next stage for his career.
And while the Covid-19 pandemic has made the last year a difficult time for new players to explore Norfolk and settle fully into their new home, he has been impressed with the quality in Daniel Farke’s squad as he has settled in during his first five Championship appearances.
“To be honest I didn’t expect so much quality in the squad,” said Giannoulis. “It is not only the guys playing right now, it’s all the squad, the young guys also have a lot of quality.
“I’m happy to be here to play with those guys.”
He was familiar with a few of City’s players as well.
“I knew Teemu Pukki because we played in the Nations League as opponents,” he continued, before smiling with his next comment. “I knew Todd Cantwell, because I used to pick him in my Premier League fantasy team last year!
“Also Emi (Buendia) and (Oliver) Skipp from Tottenham I knew, and Tim Krul of course.”
Giannoulis is desperate to play in the world’s most watched football division as well and has made no secret of his laser focus on the Premier League.
“That’s why I am here,” he said simply. “I want to help the team to get promoted and hopefully play in the Premier League next season.
“This is my dream, to play in the Premier League, so I think we will hopefully get promoted.”
He also has the small matter of World Cup qualification to fight for, with Greece reaching the last 6 in Brazil in 2014 but not qualifying for the finals in Russia in 2018 and also missing out on Euro 2021 qualification.
That begins with games in Spain and at home to Georgia next month.
“We are really hungry because in the previous years we haven’t qualified for a big tournament,” Giannoulis concludes.
“We have a big away game in Spain, it will be difficult, but we are optimistic.”
- Giannoulis was speaking ahead of Saturday's 1-0 home win over Rotherham, in which he played the full 90 minutes. Click here to read the first part of our interview with the left-back ahead of the game and you can watch his interview in the video at the top of this article.