Purring Panos in Belgium is one to watch for Arnold ahead of Olympics

Panos Armenakas of Zulte Waregem celebrates after scoring. Source: Getty Images

As Graham Arnold crunches the numbers in pursuit of his final 23 for Tokyo Olympics in six months, he’ll be gratified to see the stop-start career of Belgium-based Panos Armenakas is finally igniting.

After spells of promise but ultimate frustration at Watford, Udinese and Panathinaikos - plus an aborted move to scandal-hit KSV Rosewlare - the attacking midfielder has made an immediate impact with Jupiler Pro League Zulte Waregem with two goals from six appearances for Francky Dury’s side.

Prior his November arrival at the mid-table club James Troisi once called home, the 22-year-old had played just nine club games in 39 months.

A member of the Olyroos squad which clinched qualification for Tokyo in Thailand 13 months ago, Armenakas is counting his blessings of a new beginning.

“I think I’m starting to repay the faith the club have shown in me, and I just have to keep going now,” Armenakas told The World Game ahead of Monday’s (AEDT) visit to Sporting Charleroi, one of Arnold’s former clubs.

“I’ve started a couple and come off the bench a few times, and it’s good to be getting minutes week-in, week-out.

“I’ve been playing as a false nine, a number 10 - really a free role. I’ve even been operating on the left or right.”

After scoring his maiden goal in the 5-1 thumping of Waasland Beveren in mid-January, Armenakas looked back on all the slings and arrows he’s endured - especially in Greece where off-field politics conspired against him.

He sat still in the middle of the pitch and immersed himself in reflection. 

“There was a bit of emotion - I just sat there for a couple of minutes and thought about everything that had happened to get to this moment,” he said.

“From Italy, to Panathinaikos and all the things I was put through there for non-football reasons, and it all just hit me.

“I thought about my parents, grandparents and girlfriend and it just felt really nice to have this fresh start at a club that has shown belief in me.

“I started the next game - and normally I’d have felt a lot of pressure but in this case all I felt was excitement.

“I’m just so happy to be playing football again and that’s the way I’ve felt for the last month and a half.

“I’ve missed doing what I’ve been paid to do, which is playing games.

“But maybe what I’ve been through has helped me mentally - I now go into matches, not over-thinking things.

“I know my performances have been good - the coaching staff have spoken to me about that - and I just want to help the team in any way I can.”

Armenakas isn’t dwelling too much on how his form and current run of games might influence his Olyroos prospects.

“Right now I’m just focused on my club football but if I continue to do well then I guess I put myself in the hat for Tokyo,” he explained.

“But, at the end of the day, that’s up to the manager Graham Arnold.

“I don’t want to sit here and say to myself ‘oh, what is he thinking, is he watching my game? Does he think I’m doing well’?

“If I think like that it just adds more pressure. I just need to focus on the next game at a very good level in a good league.

“I can’t influence the decision of the coach other than with my performances.

“Of course, if the staff of the national team are watching and taking notice that would be really nice.” 

Source SBS The World Game