Australian-owned Greek club Xanthi FC looking to become Socceroos ‘nursery’

The Sydney businessman behind the takeover of Xanthi FC wants the Tony Popovic-led Greek club to become a production line for Aussie players aspiring to scale the heights of European football. Entrepreneur Bill Papas, who is also the chairman of NPL NSW side Sydney Olympic, took over Xanthi in August and has wasted little time in flooding the club’s ranks with top-line coaches and players from the A-League.

Former Socceroos Josh Brillante and Matt Jurman, ex-Adelaide United goalkeeper Paul Izzo and Wellington Phoenix utility Callan Elliot have all moved to Greece to join Popovic in what shapes as a novel experiment for Australian football.

Flanked by former Western Sydney Wanderers youth guru Arthur Diles and goalkeeping great Zeljko Kalac, Popovic has been given a clean slate and significant budget by Papas, who intends for Xanthi to become a “nursery” for Aussie exports seeking to crack the big time.

The premise is simple: Papas believes Australians are underrated and undervalued by foreign clubs and often judged by their passport rather than their true ability. By installing an Australian coaching panel with in-depth knowledge of their capabilities, those players know they will be backed in a way they might not be elsewhere in Europe.

And with an Australian owner in Papas calling the shots from the boardroom, the coaches know they will be given the time and resources necessary to see the project through to completion.

Xanthi has only been relegated to the Greek second division due to a points deduction penalty for ownership irregularities, and is traditionally a first-division club which, at its peak, competed regularly in the UEFA Europa League.

Papas believes this influx of Aussie talent and expertise can springboard them straight back into the Greek Super League, contending for titles and European spots, and bring in extra revenue through transfer fees if those players can attract interest elsewhere.

Papas intends to create a formal link between Xanthi and Sydney Olympic, the former National Soccer League heavyweights, which would mean a direct pipeline of young Australian players into Europe.