Sixteen-year-old Sotiris Ninis has been conspicuous by his absence from school lately. The reason? He has been otherwise engaged with Greek giants Panathinaikos FC. Ninis has not missed a game since his debut last month and is poised to make his European bow in Thursday's trip to RC Lens.
Ninis has been a revelation. He was voted the player of the round on his first appearance, a 1-0 home win against Egaleo FC on 7 January. In his fourth game came his first goal, and it was anything but low-key. Dribbling past two defenders, he fired in a long-range shot that earned a 2-0 victory against Panionios FC and sent the home crowd into raptures. For all the acclaim, he is keeping calm. "My priority is the team and not my personal statistics," he said. "I am not affected by the media hype about my performances, because I don't care about it".
Born on 3 April 1990, Ninis is the youngest player to have scored for Panathinaikos in the history of the professional top flight in Greece. His potential has been evident for some time with his old-fashioned wing play on the right, based on excellent technique and great crossing ability, earning many admirers. Few were surprised in December when he was given a long-term contract or when Victor Muñoz called him into the first-team squad barely two months after taking over as coach.
Lens are up next for Panathinaikos in the UEFA Cup Round of 32 and given that Ninis has also played a key role in the club winning through to the semi-finals of the Greek Cup, he is likely to play some part in France. Well off the pace in the domestic league, Panathinaikos are determined to prolong their UEFA Cup adventure. Should they see off Lens, then a tie against either Bayer 04 Leverkusen or Blackburn Rovers FC awaits in the last 16.
Panathiniakos's finest hour to date was finishing runners-up in the 1971 European Champion Clubs’ Cup final, nearly two decades before Ninis was born. In fact, Greece are arguably the biggest nation never to have won a continental trophy at club level. While Ninis may claim not to be concerned with personal statistics, you can bet he is keen to change that particular fact. That is provided he can get more time off from his studies - although evening classes have been lined up to fill the gap. Whatever is in store at night school, though, it surely will not be as big a test as he will get this Thursday.
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