INTRODUCING KOSTAS TSIMIKAS
So, what exactly should a football club do when it has one of the world’s best left-backs at its disposal but only a 34-year-old veteran as a backup in that position? Well this was a question which Liverpool’s backroom staff as well as the fans have pondered over the course of the 2019/20 season. After Alberto Moreno was sold in the summer of 2019, going into the new season, Liverpool only had Andy Robertson as a recognized left-back in the side. Despite this, the club managed to survive with James Milner serving as an unnatural understudy for the Scottish international who managed to keep himself fit and firing for the entirety of the campaign after what was yet another stellar season. However, it was evident that the club needed a specialized left-back to not only provide support, but to also challenge Robertson, the mark of every champion team.
After the end of the Liverpool’s 30-year wait for a league title, Jürgen Klopp turned his eye to Jamaal Lewis, who was one of the standout performers in a dreadful Norwich City side who were relegated to the Championship. However, the two clubs couldn’t agree on a fee as the Reds didn’t agree with the Canaries’ valuation of the player. The Premier League champions refused to rest on their laurels, however and reacted quickly, signing Kostas Tsimikas from Olympiacos for a reported £11.7 million.
But who exactly is the Greek international who has come out of seemingly nowhere to become Klopp’s most expensive signing at left-back over the course of his entire managerial career? Let’s dive right into this.
Joining Greece’s finest in Olympiacos in 2014 as an 18-year-old, things didn’t really go as well as Tsimikas would have thought. In his first three years, he mostly played in the U-18 and U-20 teams and made only a handful of appearances for the senior team. It wasn’t until 2017 that the youngster decided to go out and gain some much-needed experience. He first joined the Danish side, Esbjerg fB on loan in the winter transfer window of 2017 for a short duration. At the end of the season, after making 13 appearances and scoring 2 goals in the process, while Tsimikas has made much-needed progress, he still had to earn his stripes and Netherlands was just the place for that.
The Greek defender joined Eredivisie’s Willem II on loan for the entirety of the 2017/18 season. It was this move which helped the man from Olympiacos in his development as he went on to make 37 appearances and bagged a surprising 6 goals while he was at it. He also managed to clinch the Eredivisie’s Rookie of the Month award in March 2018, making Dutch fans sit up and take notice of his raw talent. Former Liverpool man Pedro Chirivella shed light on Tsimikas’ elite mentality during their time at Willem II, an aspect that’s key when you strive to swim with the sharks.
“The first week of training I could see he could get to the top. Very, very talented. He likes to go forward and also, he has a special mentality. He’s a real winner and he doesn’t care who the winger facing him is because he going to be at his best. When you have a mentality like that, it’s easier to perform.
“One of the features of his character is that he’s a winner, he’s got a good mentality and he’s a fighter. The harder the game was, the better he performed.”
Going by Chirivella’s assessment, he’ll fit right in.
His performances in the Dutch League convinced Olympiacos, in the summer of 2018 to bring him back from loan and put his ability to the test against the big boys; Tsimikas was ready to take over. His impressive showings didn’t go unnoticed by the Greece national team as well, who handed him his debut in the same year against Hungary in a UEFA Nations League game.
Post his debut for Olympiacos in 2018, Tsimikas has been a consistent figure at the club over the past two years, making 86 appearances in all competitions. The Greek international was also involved in this season’s Champions League, having played three preliminary round of qualification matches and then being placed in a one of the toughest groups possible alongside the likes of Bayern Munich, Tottenham Hotspur, and Red Star Belgrade.
However, the questions that begs to be answered is- what’s Kostas Tsimikas as a player?
There’s room for improvement but the ability is undeniable
Tsimikas was part of an Olympiacos side that conceded only 16 goals in 36 games and lost only once domestically in the 2019/20 season. One can question the competitiveness of the league but a solitary defeat over 36 games is a fact that simply cannot be overlooked. Rubbing shoulders with the elite in the Champions League, Tsimikas’ performances can be considered a mixed bag. In the two games against Bayern Munich in the group-stage, the Greek international had his hands full against the likes of Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry and struggled at the Allianz Arena. However, he fared quite well in the home game against the Bavarians and managed to keep the Bayern wingers at bay for most of the game.
Perspective is key, however as even a left-back of the quality of Kieran Tierney struggled against the likes of Dani Alves and Kylian Mbappé as a duo when PSG romped Celtic 7-1 in the competition back in 2017. The difference in quality between a side like Olympiakos or a Celtic is stark to the Bayern’s and the PSG’s of the world so it’s a harsh barometer to judge Tsimikas solely on the basis of such an arduous outing.
In the games against Spurs, the Greek international stepped up. He was extremely adept in the 1 v 1 situations against Lucas Moura in both the home and away games. The left-back only struggled in the away game when Spurs doubled on his flank with Serge Aurier bombarding down the flank alongside Moura and his case wasn’t helped when there wasn’t much support provided by his attacking players.
In the last 16 tie of the Europa League against Wolves, the left-back was faced with the challenge of holding off one of the Premier League’s most tricky wingers in Adama Traoré. But to his credit, Tsimikas held his ground against the absolute unit in both the legs, something even England’s finest defenders can’t claim to have done this campaign.
Physically, Tsimikas will have to bulk up to be up to speed in the Prem but in terms of his defensive awareness and pace, he’s right up to speed. A point that must also be deliberated upon is that while there is a risk of him struggling at a club of Liverpool’s stature in the most taxing league on the planet, an aspect that is synonymous with any player who is seemingly ‘unproven’ at the highest level, let’s not forget that there is enough of a sample size of games that do go to show that he belongs.
With Klopp’s penchant for turning potential into priceless, this could well be yet another scouting masterclass from none other than Michael Edwards.
It’s your time to shine, Kostas.
A beast going forward
Tsimikas is the epitome of the modern-day full back. He loves to maraud down the-left flank and provide support in the attacking areas. Sounds familiar? The left-back also does not shy away to dribble past opponents and take a shot at goal and has proven to be a real handful further up the pitch. This can be supported by the fact that Tsimikas has completed 14 take-ons in this season’s Champions League and ranked third in that category for a defender with Alphonso Davies (19) and Nelson Semedo (16) leading those stats. For someone who’s relatively unknown around Europe, the numbers are telling considering he’s making such strides in Europe’s elite competition and is only better by full-backs that play for the top dogs. Interestingly enough, he’s bettered Robertson in this aspect which once again is an encouraging sign, proving the Greek international offers something unique. However, the area where he cannot match up to the Scottish skipper is assists, providing a measly 3 in all competitions.
As has been documented throughout the season, the Trent-Robertson duo have been the assist kings at full-back and in comparison, Tsimikas’ stats don’t say much. But once again, perspective comes into the picture as comparing Tsimikas with the Liverpool full-backs would be highly unfair, considering the pair are potentially the best in their position in the world.
With enough time, the man from Olympiakos can only learn and get better.
Tsimikas ticks all the boxes, technique wise that are required for him to become a Jürgen Klopp player and make a mark on the first-team. However, the most important quality that would be required of the fans towards the player is patience. As we’ve seen with several of Liverpool’s signings such as Fabinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Andy Robertson himself, it took them around 3-4 months to get used to the high-octane style that the Reds’ identify with. In the case of Tsimikas, his work is particularly cut out as he walks into Melwood, already competing with arguably the best left-back in the world. If given the time, could he even potentially challenge Robertson for a place in the starting XI? Never say never.
Liverpool could be looking at a situation where barring any major injuries to the two left-backs, they might not have think about strengthening in the position for the next six to seven seasons. That is of course if things work out but if Edwards and Klopp’s track record are anything to go by, Kostas Tsimikas could go from unknown to unstoppable.