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Athanasiadis grooming PAOK for success

PAOK FC's all-time European top scorer Stefanos Athanasiadis told UEFA.com a hunger for titles "is in the club's DNA" as he eyes a Group K showdown with EA Guingamp.

Stefanos Athanasiadis celebrates another goal in UEFA competition for PAOK
Stefanos Athanasiadis celebrates another goal in UEFA competition for PAOK ©Getty Images

Playing for PAOK FC is a serious business for Stefanos Athanasiadis. "For those like me, who started our careers in the youth ranks and have been lucky enough to reach the senior side, the responsibility is huge," he told UEFA.com. "We have to prove ourselves worthy of the fans' trust, all those people who dreamed of being in our shoes."

The Greek international forward, who turns 26 on Christmas Eve, is living up to supporters' expectations this season. Not only is he the Greek Super League's seven-goal top scorer, his latest strike paved the way for Wednesday's 2-1 win at reigning champions Olympiacos FC which extended PAOK's lead in the table to five points. Athanasiadis has also notched five in UEFA Europa League Group K, with his pair on matchday five at FC Dinamo Minsk making him PAOK's all-time leading marksman in UEFA competition with 16 goals in 39 games.

"I never focus too much on stats," said Athanasiadis, who has been on the Salonika club's books since he was ten. "There are some great players on that list of PAOK scorers in Europe and I am proud to feature, but it is a dream come true just to play for the club I have supported since I was a kid."

Athanasiadis's favourite European strike was his effort in a 2-1 victory at Tottenham Hotspur FC in 2011 which sent his side into the round of 32, and he will hope to have another one or two to choose from after PAOK welcome EA Guingamp on matchday six, needing a win to reach the knockout phase once more. "That game is definitely a final, although that has been our attitude all season: to treat every match like a final," he explained.

That big-game mentality has helped Angelos Anastasiadis's side to thrive in the Greek league, and while Athanasiadis and his team-mates are enjoying being "top of the standings and masters of our destiny" he noted: "It is still December so big talk is useless at this point. We must do our job in every match. If we do that consistently, the title will be ours."

That success is long overdue: PAOK won their last championship in 1985, with their 30-year wait for a third crown way too long for Athanasiadis. "PAOK should always be title contenders – it is in the club's DNA," the striker insisted. "Titles feed clubs. Only those who live in Salonika, who have felt what the atmosphere is like when PAOK win things, can grasp the importance of success for the club, the fans and the city."

If things go well, neutrals will get a taste of things to come after the Guingamp game on Thursday.