Vindication time for Tavlaridis

Central defender Efstathios Tavlaridis is determined to impress as he returns home to Greece for LOSC Lille Métropole's Group H game against AEK Athens FC.

Efstathios Tavlaridis is determined to impress as he returns home to his native Greece for LOSC Lille Métropole's game against AEK Athens FC.

Missed trip
Lille paid AEK a visit two years ago but Tavlaridis, a rock at the heart of their defence, missed the 2-1 UEFA Cup group stage win. Now, having played his part in a 3-1 win against AEK in France on Matchday 3, he is eager to play his first game in Greece since taking his career abroad five years ago. "I'm happy to have played the first leg and will be happier to feature in the second," he told Greek journalists after the first leg in Lens.

Point to prove
Tavlaridis left Iraklis FC in the summer of 2001 to spend a two-and-a-half-year spell at Arsenal FC where he played just one league game and four more on loan at Portsmouth FC. Having eventually settled at Lille after a successful loan spell, he feels he has much to prove to supporters in his home country on Wednesday. "I want to show everyone how I have developed," he said. "I'll give everything to win this game."

'End of story'
Tavlaridis's desire to impress may have something to do with the fact that he feels he has never been given a fair chance in the national team, although he insists that is not the case. "Being famous in my home country is not important to me," he said. "We know that [national coach Otto] Rehhagel has his favourite players. I'm not one of them. End of story."

Fiery temperament
Such pronouncements are typical of the fiery Tavlaridis who has been as uncompromising in his treatment of club directors and coaches as he has with opposition players over the years. He is also unflinching in his assessment of the state of Greek football, saying: "Greek football could have improved a lot after [winning UEFA EURO 2004™]. Unfortunately, two years on, things have not evolved, except for Panathinaikos [FC], Olympiacos [CFP] and AEK."

Greek weaknesses
However, he still feels that even the big Greek clubs do not have the muscle to compete in the UEFA Champions League - something that he believes was clear in his side's 3-1 win against AEK on Matchday 3. "In the first game, AEK had not played for 18 days," he said. "That's a long time. It's the reason why they lacked the aggression to prevail. Now, it will be tough for them to step up the pace because their league is not strong enough. The games against smaller sides are too easy. There is a big gap in class when they switch to the UEFA Champions League."

'The right time'
The 26-year-old was used sparingly by Lille coach Claude Puel at the start of the current campaign, but he believes he is returning to Greece in peak condition. "I'm coming into good form at the right time," said Tavlaridis, who has scored twice in 78 league games for Lille. "I expect to deliver my best game this season in Athens."