In ten years, Asteras Tripolis FC have risen from the Greek fourth tier to the UEFA Europa League group stage. UEFA.com meets the one-time 'Team of Trains'.
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It took Asteras Tripolis FC three seasons to win their first European game, but three home victories by two-goal margins this summer paved the way to them becoming the ninth Greek side to reach the UEFA Europa League group stage.
There was a time when Asteras were known as the 'Team of Trains' since their original home, following their foundation in 1930, was not too far from Tripolis' railway station. Their early existence was fairly marginal – they were dissolved, refounded and merged with other clubs on various occasions – before rising again in the local leagues of the Arcadia province in 1978.
Promoted to the national fourth division in 2003, they had a two years in the third tier before back-to-back promotions lifted them among the elite. Asteras (literally, Star) were losing Greek Cup finalists in 2013 – to Olympiacos FC – and in the last three seasons finished sixth, third and then fifth in the league.
The second youngest coach in the Greek top division – after OFI Crete FC's Gennaro Gattuso – 38-year-old Staikos Vergetis never played professionally following a serious knee injury. He decided to pursue a coaching career, graduating in physical education at the University of Athens in 2000. Having overseen the youth squads at another Arcadian side, Pangortiniakos FC, Vergetis took up a similar role at Asteras in 2006.
He was drafted into the senior set-up after just six months. He worked as a fitness coach, assistant coach, multilingual interpreter and game analyst for the club under 11 different coaches before taking on the main job himself in October 2013. His wish? "I would love to see all 11 of those coaches in the stands one day, watching me. All these years, I learned so much from them, and emulated them them but also made a point of not doing some of the things I saw them do."
With seven Argentinians in the Blue-and-Yellows' squad, Asteras's game has a notable South American accent – and you only need to eavesdrop on the 'cumbia' singing in the dressing room after an Asteras victory to hear that in practice.
There were once eight Argentinians, with star man Pablo De Blasis leaving for 1. FSV Mainz 05 a few weeks back, but the hope is that collective endeavour can make up for a lack of stand-out individuals. Towering Romanian Dorin Goian marshals the defence, while Spanish captain and creative fulcrum Fernando Usero is a set-piece specialist. Argentinians Pablo Mazza and Martín Rolle carry the threat up front.
Vergetis prefers a 4-2-3-1 formation, with flying full-backs encouraged to feed stand-alone target man Jerónimo Barrales. Mazza and Rolle are there to pick up any knock-downs and loose balls. Tottenham Hotspur FC, Beşiktaş JK and FK Partizan should also expect their opponents to have done their homework; Vergetis is a great believer in letting every player in his squad know in some detail exactly what – and who – they will be up against for every game.