". . . I have to keep working hard. I want to be a success in the Premier League. I came here because I want to play Premier League football and be a Premier League player. That’s what I am determined to do . . ."
Realistic yet optimistic words from Charalampos Mavrias back in August 2014. Sunderlands 20-year old Greek winger had just ended a positive pre-season. Lionised by his coaches, commended by supporters; it looked like young Charis had broken a glass ceiling at Sunderland.
But he hadn’t. And he won’t, not this season. Because, as of 2 February 2015, Mavrias again plays in the Greek Super League for Panathinaikos Athlitikos Omilos; back where it all began.
It was in 2007 when the unknown 13-year old prospect began training at Panathinaikos Athens’ athletic centre. His U21 coach, Juan Ramón Rocha, believed this wonder boy had the raw physical potential to mould an exemplary wide attacker of for ’Oi Prasinoi’ in the future.
Rocha was right. Mavrias was on the national scout radar by 16 years old. So Panathinaikos Athletic Club – then Greece’s economically ransacked, budget-busting league champions – bestowed the winger a senior contract before the 2010/11 campaign. Mavrias’ first pro season for the Shamrocks: 70 minutes, 6 appearances. He did nowt.
Yet, with more sporadic use in 2011/12, Mavrias provided 4 assists for Panathinaikos, and scored his first league (and senior career) goal at GS Ergotelis in February 2012. His contribution propelled the club to 2nd in the Greek Super League, guaranteeing European fixtures in 2012/13.
The 2012 fiscal club-collapse and mass player exodus suddenly (though inadvertently) promoted Mavrias to the first team in the 2012/13 season. Despite five managers in seven months, Mavrias became an untamed success. His potential was unleashed. 39 apps: 5 goals, 4 assists.
Scouts swarmed the winger after a breakthrough in December 2012. Over 10 days; Mavrias executed a one-man massacre on league-leaders Olympiacos C.F.P. at the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium with a meteoric long-range goal and equalising assist in a 2-2 derby showdown; then likewise demolished the rock-stubborn Proodeftiki Neolea F.C. in the Kypello Elladas 3rd Round.
Throughout his career, the attacker was regularly used in Panathinaikos’ European campaigns. His late sub role against F.C. Rubin Kazan in the 2010/11 UEFA Champions League was also his senior club debut. In the 2012/13 competition a far more matured Mavrias was instrumental. Playing centre forward; he scored in both 3rd Round Qualifier legs against Motherwell F.C.
He also featured in the club’s doomed 2012/13 UEFA Europa League group stage elimination, against N.K. Maribor, S.S. Lazio and Tottenham Hotspur. His continental showings currently list Marias as one of the youngest players to feature in the Champions League. His is still Panathinaikos’ youngest goal scorer in European Cup fixtures to date.
So after 69 appearances, 6 goals and 8 assists for Panathinaikos; Sunderland won the scout race for Charis Mavrias on 22 August 2013. The Shamrocks’ prized asset joined the Black Cats under the Roberto De Fanti multi-buy bonanza for £2.64 million. He epitomised the Director of Football’s investment model; possessing all the tools to be sold on for a greater fee in the future.
But then, by October 2013, Mavrias’ Premier League experience was over. He lasted 151 league minutes; 1 start, 4 from the bench, and 5 unused substitute apps. He appeared as a 75th minute substitute in the League Cup 2nd Round fixture against MK Dons, and started 4 home fixtures for the Sunderland U21 squad.
He’s mostly known for his goal in the FA Cup 4th Round in January 2014. Against non-league Kidderminster Harriers F.C., Mavrias capitalised with a fleet-footed, split-second shot amidst some defensive Harriers hubbub. The 1-0 win spared blushes, and the Greek was rewarded with squad banishment against Hull City in the Quarter Finals. No comment.
That goal ended his season. To summarise: a tenth-rate run (by his standards) under Paolo Di Canio, and 2 goals from 10 games as a left winger; against a Conference Division club and an U21 squad. His attack rate was so-so, he was defensively tolerable, and his possession – while decent during high-tempo attacks – was all-rickety in Poyet’s static-attack mindset, so not great.
Specifically; Mavrias never took a shot in the league, he created 2 unconverted chances, and was 50% successful for one-to-one take-ons. He won 4 of 6 tackles, made 2 interceptions, 1 clearance, 4 pass blocks and 1 cross block. He made no defensive errors but was dispossessed 3 times, and his pass accuracy dwindled to 78% since his debut. We’ve seen worse.
The Greek was next seen during summer preparations before the 2014/15 season; when Billy Jones fell to injury, and Mavrias became the pre-season makeshift right-back. At Bishop Auckland’s Heritage Park, he impressed against Real Betis Balompié S.A.D and Udinese Calcio. He got enough people talking to warrant a chance with the first team.
Head coach Gus Poyet was one of the people he got talking. His appreciative coach even hinted that Mavrias’ time was coming soon; that he needed to be, in Poyet’s words, "fit and ready for any chances or anything that happens." Regardless of the Uruguayans gratitude towards his players’ attitude, Mavrias was still linked with loan opportunities elsewhere.
That merciful loan has since happened, and it’s clear that Mavrias’ return to boyhood club Panathinaikos is a mutual necessity. The Greek has played only 323 minutes over 4 matches this season – all for the U21 squad. His senior squad involvement meanwhile is nonexistent: 8 unused substitutions in the Premier League, 1 in the Capital One Cup.
His development is in reverse and whatever momentum he had last season is gone. No Sunderland supporter can realistically look at this no-hoper as the player once dubbed Greece’s "future of football". Seriously. So now the club and player are approaching a thankless crossroads.
See, when Charis Mavrias returns on 30 June 2015, he’ll be only 21 years old. The best of him is in his future, but only if his talent is nurtured appropriately. After all, that was the point of his recruitment: buy his potential today and sell his quality tomorrow. He is to Sunderland what a young Alexis Sánchez was to Udinese in 2007, or at least that was the idea.
The Greek will also be in the final year of his contract come his loan expiry. If there are still long-term intentions to use Mavrias at Sunderland, the club must act soon to retain him. It is a positive sign that Mavrias has been loaned, rather than sold, despite his restricted game time. It’s also encouraging that Charis is one of the few players salvaged from that 2013 transfer influx.
He may have no input with Sunderland today, but it hasn’t always been this way. Mavrias was on the fringes of intense international scouting two years ago. His detractors can say he was a good talent in a country registered a lowly 13th in the UEFA League Rankings, yet Mavrias’ acclaim came at a highly prestigious club in Panathinaikos.
Any opinion on the player is understandable; whether he’s seen as a valueless lightweight or a sorry victim of Sunderland’s never-certain league status. Has there ever been a ‘right time’ to freely use this all-potential, swashbuckling twenteen-year old, and not worry about the consequences?
Maybe it’s too soon to judge Charis Mavrias just yet. In hindsight, some see that ‘revolutionary’ recruitment policy under Roberto De Fanti as some lasting omni-shambles on the club. Still, Mavrias shouldn’t be seen as a failure due his association with it. He’s no washed-up 30-something and has barely been used enough to be considered some youth prospect fiasco.
Mavrias is a skilful young footballer determined to play in the Premier League, and he has a club to do it. Sunderland is a club determined to achieve with talented players who have enough potential to make a profit on later. The player and club should be a perfect match. His country still sees Charalampos Mavrias as a star in the making. If all parties still want it come June, maybe he can be for Sunderland too.