Martin C. Barry
Two coaches at the Chomedey Soccer Club say they are working towards a deal with one of Greece’s top professional soccer associations that hopefully will lead to the establishment of a first-rate soccer academy in Chomedey as early as next summer in conjunction with the Thessaloniki-based soccer team.
According to Bill Zagakos, who coaches U-13 and U-10 boys as well as U-7 to U-15 girls’ soccer with the Chomedey Soccer Club, the club is considering an offer made by Greece’s PAOK F.C. (Panthessalonikios Athlitikos Omilos Konstantinoupoliton), which is based in the country’s second-largest city.
‘They’re open to it’
The matter first came up about three years ago when it was raised with some veteran PAOK players who run soccer academies in Greece and who were visiting Chomedey. “They loved the idea,” said Zagakos, adding that PAOK people were back on July 4 for a promotional soccer match at Parc Berthiaume-du Tremblay that drew more than 1,000 enthusiasts.
“They’re open to it. Our club is also open to the idea. It would be good for our players that professional level coaches would be seeing them every year. These are the first steps.” He said additional steps could be worked out this week when Zagakos is scheduled to be in Greece to meet PAOK officials for further discussions.
PAOK owner close to Putin
PAOK F.C. is owned by Ivan Savvidis, a Russian Greek businessman and political official. Ranked by Forbes as being among the top-30 wealthiest Russians, Savvidis has two principal residences, one of which is in Thessaloniki. It’s also common knowledge that Savvidis is part of a relatively small circle of insiders who are close to Russian president Vladimir Putin. “He’s one of Vladimir Putin’s main men,” Zagakos noted with a laugh.
Should the pieces fall into place, a crew of three top PAOK F.C. coaches would come to Chomedey once or twice a year to conduct training sessions for as long as a week each time. Zagakos maintains that PAOK F.C. is without equal in Greece for the quality of its soccer academies for U-15 to U-20. “Kids, especially from the areas of Laval, Chomedey and even Montreal, could come to these seminars,” he said.
A win/win deal, says Zagakos
While the deal probably won’t cost Chomedey Soccer Club anything since PAOK F.C. will be footing the bill, PAOK (which has already established soccer academies in Sweden, Germany and other countries) hopes to expand its talent-farming capabilities in North America, according to Zagakos. “If they are able to find a few talented players, it will be good for the players, good for the parents, good for our club,” he said.
Nick Babalis, who oversees boys’ coaching in the Chomedey Soccer Club, is confident an agreement with the Greek soccer club can be worked out and that any obstacles here can be surmounted.
“We’re not just diving into this,” he said, pointing out that the Chomedey club is proceeding carefully. “It might take a little bit longer than usual, but at the end of the day it’s the proper way. There are rules and steps to follow and that’s what we want to be sure of.”