When Ioakim Havos took over as caretaker PAOK FC coach on 17 October following Pavlos Dermitzakis's departure from last season's Greek runners-up, the 41-year-old former player was seen as a stop-gap appointment.
Havos, though, has quickly settled into the role and an initial burst of domestic success was matched by a 1-0 win against Villarreal CF on 4 November that took PAOK to the top of UEFA Europa League Group D. Knowing victory at home to bottom side Club Brugge KV on Thursday would now take PAOK through, Havos spoke to UEFA.com about stepping up from his assistant's role and his thoughts on their group opponents.
UEFA.com: How are you enjoying being coach?
I am very happy in this post. It's a big deal for a young person like me to be head coach of an important team like PAOK. I am glad that we are doing well so far and I am optimistic that we will do better in the future.
UEFA.com: How did the players respond to your promotion?
Havos: Judging from the results so far, their response has been very positive. It was an advantage that we knew each other and worked together well while I was assistant. Furthermore, things were easier for me because I knew the squad and their potential.
UEFA.com: How would you describe your coaching style?
Havos: I like giving my players freedom to improvise; I believe in them and their potential. I love attacking football, provided that we never let our guard down defensively. I like seeing my team play attractive football and I am satisfied that so far, under my guidance, PAOK have played well.
UEFA.com: How enjoyable is it to have a real football man in club president Theodoros Zagorakis involved?
Havos: It's a real pleasure to work with and for a president who played top-flight football for many years, enjoyed a great career and was the captain of Greece's triumphant run in EURO 2004. Plus, we've been friends for many years and it's a privilege for me to coach a club where Mr Zagorakis is president.
UEFA.com: What are your thoughts on the games against Villarreal?
Havos: I was very pleased by the team's overall performance. At Villarreal, despite our defeat, the team performed well. At home, we managed to combine a solid game with a victory. On that night, I was very impressed by the unity: the team and the fans were as one, they worked together and managed to produce a deserved victory.
UEFA.com: You welcome Club Brugge then visit NK Dinamo Zagreb; what do you think of the remaining group games?
Havos: Every team competing in the Europa League is of high calibre. There are no easy matches in European competition.When we played against Brugge in Belgium [1-1], they were not at their best, but I believe they will plan a defensive approach to the match in Salonika. When we played against Dinamo Zagreb at the Toumbas on Matchday 2 [a 1-0 PAOK win], I was impressed, especially by their counterattacking game. We need to be very careful in both games to qualify.
UEFA.com: How important is it for Greece to have three teams in the Europa League?
Havos: It's a huge deal. The UEFA Champions League is a very tough competition, but I am happy to see that UEFA has made it a point to improve the Europa League and make it more and more competitive.
When one sees teams that might be eliminated from the group stage despite having ten points, it speaks volumes about how hard this competition is. For Greece to have three teams in the group stage is very positive – it's the way to keep up the standard of Greek football.
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