Alexandros Tziolis plots Hearts success after his Greek tragedy
His performances during the group stages were good enough to impress Hearts and Northern Ireland assistant manager Austin MacPhee, who make a mental note to keep tabs on him.
While the Celts headed to the finals, the Greeks, who had been among the top seeds, languished at the bottom of the standings, winning just one of their ten games.
“Austin knew me from the Greece national team when we played against Northern Ireland,” said Tziolis. “We were in the same group as Northern Ireland for Euro 2016 qualifying.
“It wasn’t a good period for the Greece national team and we lost 2-0 at home and 3-1 in Belfast to Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland actually qualified for the tournament when they beat us, so they had a party.
“It was a bad time for us, but at least some good came out of it with Austin seeing something in me. It’s hard to see what he would have spotted – we lost 3-1! But seriously, we spoke on the telephone and he said he knew me well and he talked about the club.”
That may have been enough to sell the player on the move to the capital club but he was in absolutely no doubt after he canvassed opinion.
“I also took a call from my very good friend Christos Karipidis who played at Hearts,” Tziolis added. “He is a great guy and I’m very close to him and he told me all about the club, the city and fans. I wasn’t enjoying my time at PAOK in the last few months so I needed somewhere to go and play and this was a very good opportunity for me.
“I didn’t speak with Takis Fyssas but I know he also had a good time at Hearts. I am closer to Christos, we played together for a year with APOEL in Cyprus and speak all the time.
“I was already thinking positive things about Hearts but if you are going to a new club then it’s normal to talk to someone who was there and that made the decision easier. Christos enjoyed his time at Hearts and he was actually a bit jealous when I told him I was coming here!”
A short-term deal until the end of the season, the experienced 31-year-old, who has 62 caps and has played in Greece, Italy, Spain, France and Cyprus, helping Werder Bremen to the 2009 Uefa Cup final, where they lost to Shaktar Donetsk, is looking forward to testing himself in a new environment and was delighted with his first taste of the Scottish game, giving a promising performance when he came on as a substitute as Hearts battered Rangers on Wednesday. The aim is to gain even more game time against Motherwell today, as the Tynecastle side seek to build on that display and force themselves back into the hunt for second place.
“I want to learn about this football, the British style is a bit different,” he said. “I’ve only played one game but I liked the atmosphere in the stadium, it was really nice.
“I will learn over the next few weeks. It’s one more experience that I can enjoy for sure.”
Already made to feel welcome and gelling, he says first impressions of the standard of play, and of his new team-mates and coaches, have been positive and, while he is unwilling to look too far ahead from a personal point of view or discuss the idea of extending his deal beyond the summer just yet, he is targeting a Europa League qualifying slot for the Gorgie club next term.
“I want to play football to help the team. I would like to help the team play in Europe. It’s an opportunity,” he said.
“It was a really nice start to my Hearts career. The team played really well and it was easier to come into a situation like that. I feel really good and I hope it continues.”
He admits he was surprised by the scoreline and the performance as he took in his first match under the floodlights at Tynecastle and is relishing the chance to feature in a derby at the ground, if he can do enough in training and against Motherwell to force his way into the side for next week’s Scottish Cup tie against Hibernian.
A veteran of several derbies throughout Europe, many with intense atmospheres, he has an inkling that the Edinburgh one will be another to remember.
“Everybody has been talking about this derby for the last two days. It’s so important for the people here. I’ve played in important derby games in the past so I really want to try and enjoy it and see how it is. In Greece the big derbies are Panathinaikos against Olympiacos. There was a big one in PAOK as well.
“The supporters make them big games but that’s normal.”