Greek footballer Sotirios Kyrgiakos made his name as an old-fashioned central defender, a player whose job it was to disrupt, rather than create. However, his positional sense and powerful physique saw him increasingly called upon to make his presence felt at the other end of the pitch, first at Panathinaikos, then with some of Europe’s biggest clubs, including Rangers, Liverpool and Wolfsburg. Footballers, more than any other athletes, are firmly embedded in celebrity culture, for good or ill. It can’t be easy keeping a level head when you’re being treated like a rock star, with your every word reported by a hungry media. Kyrgiakos, however, keeps his feet firmly on the ground.
‘I always maintain that pure athletic spirit lives in all athletes, professional or amateur,’ says the 33-yearold international, with 61 caps for his country. ‘For me, true sporting spirit is about self-respect, the way you play, having a sense of justice, the way you treat people, whatever their creed or colour. Having the freedom to give the best of yourself is a privilege. It’s an important value, one that defines that spirit. These beliefs helped me establish my career and made me the man I am today.’ More than that, Kyrgiakos believes that the sport still allows him to enjoy a close relationship with supporters, to feed off their attention, rather than shy away from it. ‘Contact with people gives me the ultimate satisfaction,’ he says. ‘Football is one of few sports where spectators can participate so passionately. That’s the magic of football.’
Not that Kyrgiakos doesn’t enjoy the fruits of his hard work and success. His 458 Italia is a point of huge personal pride. ‘You’re part of a special group that represents status, safety and reliability. You feel lucky because these are the things that people spend their whole life trying to achieve.’
From issue n° 22 September 2013