When he’s not busy training the Socceroos, the coach makes a beeline for his homeland, Greece. But that’s not the only place that has won him over.
1985 The FIFA World Youth Championship was held in the Soviet Union and I was a member of the Australian under-20s national team. Though I’d been back to my homeland, Greece, this was the first international trip of my football career. The Soviet Union was a communist state back then. There were no shopfronts and you saw people queuing for basic household items like toilet paper. Everything was grey and drab. You didn’t see people enjoying the day; it was like everyone was on a mission to buy some hard-to-get commodity. For a 19-year-old, it was quite an eye-opener. I went back last year to check out training bases because the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup is in Russia, as is the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The difference was amazing. There were shopping malls and five-star hotels and people out and about. It was like I’d gone to a different country.
Rio de Janeiro
2000 I was coach of South Melbourne [in the old National Soccer League] and we qualified for the FIFA Club World Championship in Brazil. We played Manchester United at the Maracanã, the most famous football stadium in the world. We stayed at a hotel across from Copacabana Beach. I’d wake at 2.30 in the morning and see people playing football on the sand. It’s 24/7 there – they have permanent soccer goals at 50-metre intervals along the beach. The colour of the place and the people wanting to enjoy life really struck me. Their love for the game I love… they took it to another level. It’s a religion for them.
Every year I was born in Greece; my wife, Georgia, is Greek and we have family there. Every June, July or August, we go as a family for four or five weeks. I’ve travelled the world and it’s still my number-one destination. I feel really comfortable there; I know the language, I love the food, the weather, the beaches – and I love the people and the way they live. It re-energises us. We always start off in Athens and stay at the Divani hotel in Vouliagmeni. It’s right on the water and has a massive pool. My wife gets into the shopping and I get into the Greek lifestyle. From there, we either go to Mykonos – the beaches, the weather and the hotels and restaurants are just magnificent – or to another island, Kefalonia, which is where Georgia is from.
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