Jeggo's Greek gamble paying off at high-flying Aris

James Jeggo in action for Aris Thessaloniki Source: Getty Images

When James Jeggo left the stability of Austria’s Bundesliga for the turbulence of the Greek Super League it looked like a risky roll of the dice by the Socceroos midfielder.

Trigger-happy club presidents and tales of financially-exploited players abound in one of football’s enduring controversy hot-spots.

There were suggestions it was more a sideways move than a progression for the 28-year-old former Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United man.

But four months on from leaving Austria Wien for high-riding Aris Thessaloniki, Jeggo is feeling vindicated for what he says was a carefully considered decision.

He was named the competition’s player of the month for November, and third-placed Aris are mixing it with the likes of Olympiakos, PAOK, AEK Athens and Panathinaikos at the top after 10 rounds.

“It was an interesting move - the approach caught me by surprise a bit,” Jeggo told The World Game.

“It’s not one of those places that straight away jumps out at you. It is volatile, and I knew that coming in. 

“I did a lot of research on Aris and stuff. It’s important with any move you do your homework and I spoke to as many people as possible, some of the Austria-based boys who played here before and Australians with experience here.

“There’s always that unknown when you come to a new country, it’s not just Greece.

“In Europe there are a lot of countries where things go on that people back home might not be aware of, especially when you add the extra pressure put on by the COVID-19 situation.”

But Jeggo didn’t dwell too long as the fear of growing stale in Austria gnawed at him.

“I just weighed it all up and it made sense from a football point of view,” he added.

“The squads are so deep here and it’s a real challenge to play, which is something that maybe I wasn’t getting in Austria.

“There’s that added pressure of the passion of the fans and that can take you out of your comfort zone as a player, which I like.

“Having been in Austria for nearly five years (initially at Sturm Graz), I just felt I needed a new challenge.

“As a team we hadn’t done that well over the last couple of seasons and that can affect your performances.

“I felt I needed a fresh start but when the team hasn’t been doing well it can limit the places you can go to.

“But Greece ticked a lot of boxes - there are massive clubs and huge games here.

“In Austria it’s a well-run league and as a player you’re really very sheltered.

“Here, I wouldn’t say you’re exposed by any stretch of the imagination but you have to produce and play well.”

At a time when Australians are becoming an endangered species in Europe’s leading leagues, Jeggo is an exception.

His breakthrough a year ago into Graham Arnold’s starting line-up showed what the Socceroos boss thinks of him.

And he’s continued to strengthen his case since.

He believes the style of football in Greece will finesse aspects of his own game and make him even more effective when Australia resume 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying action in March.

“I’ve played a very specific way in Austria... here it’s very different and the quality of the individual players you’re up against is a great challenge to have,” he added.

“I’m at a traditional club that hasn’t had the success of the other major teams and they’ve put together a squad which we all hope brings a trophy.

“The aim is to qualify for Europe next year (at the very least).

“All that can only help me with the national team. 

“It’s been tough not having any international football for so long, especially when you’re here in Europe watching teams play in the Nations League.

“Personally, I’d just started picking up a bit of momentum (with Australia) and had got a couple of starts under my belt.

“The national team was part of my decision in coming here and I spoke to Arnie about it.

“The challenge of coming to Greece was to keep growing.

“In our changing room alone you’ve got boys who’ve played 100-odd games in La Liga, the Premier League and in France.”