‘It’s all about coming first’ - Jurman spearheading Xanthi’s Aussie-led resurrection

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Only promotion will suffice this season for Xanthi FC, the Greek club based in a town built by tobacco merchants and fuelled by a burning ambition to boomerang back to the top flight.

If the Akrites (Frontiersmen) are successful it will be in no small part due to a nine-strong ensemble of Australian pioneers.

Make that ten if you count - and you surely must - Sydney-based owner Bill Papas, a football-crazy entrepreneur who aims to mould the club into a permanent pipeline for Australian talent.

Foremost among coach Tony Popovic’s cast is Socceroos defender Matthew Jurman, the 31-year-old stopper whose maiden foray into the bear-pit of European club football will be deemed more miss than hit if Xanthi doesn’t dominate Super League 2.

Relegated from the top division after points were stripped as a consequence of ownership irregularities, a multi-cultural collective of players are working to right perceived wrongs with performances on the field.

Signed from Western Sydney Wanderers, Jurman knows what’s expected by fans and management alike, with Xanthi sitting top with four points from their opening two games after a delayed start to the season.

“There is no talk about coming second or third, it’s all about coming first and making sure our standards are high every day,” Jurman told SBS The World Game.

“That begins with every training session - it’s all set up to give ourselves the best possible opportunity to win every game and make sure that at the end of it all we go straight back up.

“This is a big club with a proud history and relegation isn’t something they’re used to, so the expectations right throughout the club are high this season.”

Nestled in the north-east of Greece on the banks of the Nestos River, Xanthi’s tranquillity is deceiving, with an under-flow of football fanaticism rising like a torrent on match days, even allowing for COVID-19 attendance restrictions.

The atmospherics have been embraced by an Antipodean contingent which also includes assistant coaches Zeljko Kalac and Arthur Diles, plus on the playing side, Josh Brillante, goalkeeper Paul Izzo, Kristian & Gabriel Popovic and Kiwi Callan Elliot.

Then there’s fitness and conditioning guru Scott Smith and video analyst Michael Mantikos.

“It’s good to have familiar faces around - it helps to settle in,” added Jurman, who is hoping to force his way into Graham Arnold’s FIFA World Cup plans after falling from favour in recent times.

“I really wanted to come here, get a flavour for the culture and test myself in a European league,” he added.

“This chance came up and I thought it was perfect for me ... the opportunity to play at a good, competitive level and hopefully put myself back in the Socceroos frame as well.

“I’ll be over the moon to get back in the fold but if not I’ll just keep my head down and play as well as I can for my club.”

Jurman came off the bench in the opener against Larissa, a 1-1 draw, and played the full 98 minutes of the midweek 1-0 win over Ionikis.

“For some of our players the opening game was their first for nearly a year (amidst the pandemic interruptions),” Jurman explained.

“But Popa & Scotty has got us fit and ready and I’m feeling the best I have for a couple of years.

“The games will come thick and fast now and there’s pressure to go up, and I like that.

“I feel I need that sort of pressure at this stage of my career.

“I think the games are going to be tight ... the teams in this division make it hard for you to break them down.

‘But we know we can cause teams damage because we have the quality.

“Every point matters, you’ve got promotion and relegation here and you feel the intensity.”

Xanthi are next in action against third-placed Levadiakos next Wednesday.

Source SBS The World Game