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Ninis's rapid rise from ballboy to main man

Published: Saturday 5 March 2011, 13.40CET
From ballboy to Panathinaikos FC favourite in the blink of an eye, Sotiris Ninis has never looked back, with coach Jesualdo Ferreira convinced the midfielder can "play at the highest level".
by Vassiliki Papantonopoulou
from Athens

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Published: Saturday 5 March 2011, 13.40CET

Ninis's rapid rise from ballboy to main man

From ballboy to Panathinaikos FC favourite in the blink of an eye, Sotiris Ninis has never looked back, with coach Jesualdo Ferreira convinced the midfielder can "play at the highest level".

Name: Sotiris Ninis
Club: Panathinaikos FC
Debut: 7 January 2007 v Egaleo FC
Position: Midfielder
Nationality: Greek
Date of birth: 03/04/1990

Born to Greek parents in Himara, Albania, Ninis joined the Panathinaikos youth ranks as a 14-year-old and was tied to professional terms just before Christmas 2006 having impressed coach Víctor Muñoz. Still nearly three months shy of turning 17, Ninis soon made his senior bow and duly became the club's youngest scorer when he registered in a 2-0 Greek Super League win against Panionios GSS in late January 2007.

Records continued to tumble the following month for a prodigious talent as comfortable on the right wing as he is as an attacking midfielder. Ninis was introduced as a substitute in the UEFA Cup round of 32 first leg against RC Lens and in doing so became the youngest player from a Greek club to feature in major European competition.

This continued rise did not go unnoticed by Nikos Nioplias, who called him into a squad which finished as runners-up in the 2007 UEFA European Under-19 Championship. Ninis was named the golden player and was selected by senior coach Otto Rehhagel the following season, becoming his country's youngest scorer when he found the net aged 18 years and 46 days in a 2-0 friendly defeat of Cyprus.

Ninis featured in 26 league games as Panathinaikos claimed their first domestic double in six years in 2009/10. He was a key member of the squad which narrowly missed out on the 2011 UEFA European U21 Championship finals as well as representing the seniors at the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals and for the start of UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying.

Breakthrough game
AS Roma 2-3 Panathinaikos FC
25/02/2010, UEFA Europa League round of 32, second leg

Leading 3-2 after the home leg, Panathinaikos were pegged back by an early John Arne Riise strike in Rome. Ninis almost single-handedly turned the tie on its head, winning a penalty which Djibril Cissé converted before adding a goal of his own soon after. He completed the job with another assist for Cissé, who subsequently described him as "the future of Greek football".

He says:
I'm a team player. I enjoy providing the assist for a goal as much as scoring myself. As for my weaknesses, I won't reveal them, but I'm working non-stop to improve myself.
On his strengths and weaknesses

It was all very sudden. For the first half of the season, I was a ballboy. For the second part, I was in the Panathinaikos first team and I got to play in the UEFA Cup, the Greek Cup final and league games. With the Greece U19 squad, I reached the final of the European Championship.
On his debut season

I have my priorities in order now. I know people are aware of me and they are watching my progress. I am a firm believer that you're only as good as your last performance. I have lived with the transfer speculation for several seasons, I don't let it bother me, nor do I allow my mind to wander.
On transfer speculation

They say:
He plays behind the attacker and can also play down the wing because he has a lot of energy. I know he prefers to play as a No10, as a second striker, but he's very technical and has a good shot with both feet. So he's quite a complete attacking player.
Panathinaikos striker Sidney Govou

Sotiris Ninis has great potential and fantastic skill. He can play at the highest level in the future provided he continues to work hard in training and improves himself. As for his position on the pitch? Only time will tell if he can achieve more as a winger or as an attacking midfielder behind the striker.
Panathinaikos coach Jesualdo Ferreira

Last updated: 07/12/13 5.57CET

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