FORMER Blacktown City defender Yianni Fragogiannis’s decision to join rivals Sydney United 58 FC may have sent shockwaves around the premiership, but the 24-year-old has no regrets and can’t wait for the new season to get started.
After earning a swag of honours at Blacktown, Fragogiannis’s arrival at Edensor Park was a huge surprise given the success he’d achieved at his former club. With national and state championships, a minor premiership and Waratah Cup under his belt, the talented right back’s future seemed secure at a club where collecting silverware has become second nature.
So why did he leave?
“I wasn’t playing the position that I enjoy,” Fragogiannis tells Football NSW. “I was playing right fullback and did the job that the coach wanted me to do for the good of the team. I wanted to play centre back, so when Sydney United approached me and told me I was in their plans and would be playing in my favourite position, I accepted the new challenge.”
In three seasons at City, Fragogiannis not only won plenty of silverware, he also developed many close friendships, making his departure an emotional one.
“It was very hard,” he says of his decision to leave. “Very hard. I’ve got friends at Blacktown that I’ll have forever, both teammates and coaching staff. I can’t say enough good things about the club, everything about that place is close to my heart.”
Since arriving at United, Fragogiannis and his new teammates have been put through a brutal preseason by head coach Mark Rudan and his support team. A hard taskmaster with a sharp football brain, the man who doubles as a pundit on Foxsports is desperate for his side to improve on what he describes as an “inconsistent” 2015.
“It’s full steam ahead now,” Rudan told Football NSW. “We’re into game mode already and are working on our style of play as well as having a bit of fun along the way.”
As one of a few new signings at Edensor Park, Fragogiannis has worked hard to gain the respect of Rudan and his new teammates, a scenario the young defender has taken in his stride.
“For me as a newcomer, I need to prove myself so I guess I’m not in that comfort zone where I can just rock up to training and go through the motions. Mark Rudan is very intense and very tough. And he demands 100 per cent intensity at all times. Anything less isn’t good enough.”
Fragogiannis also hopes to pick up a few tips from his new boss, a former Socceroo centre back whose professional career included stops in Germany, Liechtenstein, Japan, China, Malaysia and Australia, where he enjoyed stints at Sydney FC and Adelaide United.
“As a player I think I need to work on my positioning and I know Mark Rudan can help me in that respect because he played in that position and has a good pedigree in the game. Learning off him was another reason I joined United, plus I know a few of the boys here.”
A skilful passer of the ball and a player who enjoys setting up play through the midfield, Fragogiannis brings a lot to his new side. But perhaps most importantly, he brings plenty of experience and the knowledge of what it takes to win.
“The league is developing more and more each year, the teams are becoming more and more technical and tactical,” he says. “I’m hoping to bring some of that to Sydney United. I also want to be consistent and perform well week-in, week-out, helping my teammates as much as possible. After the success I’ve had at Blacktown I want to try to bring that across to Sydney United. I’m still fairly young but I’ve got a lot of experience at this level so I can bring that to the club and hopefully achieve some big things this year.”
Given the club’s celebrated history, expectations are always high at Edensor Park. A glorious past in the old National Soccer League produced a who’s who of Australian football, a list that includes the likes of Mark Bosnich (Manchester United and Aston Villa), Zeljko Kalac (AC Milan), Robbie Slater (several clubs including Lens, Blackburn Rovers, West Ham United and Southampton), national team captain Mile Jedinak (Crystal Palace), Western Sydney Wanderers boss Tony Popovic (Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Crystal Palace), and even a young Tim Cahill, who was a part of the club’s youth system before heading to England and developing into arguably the greatest player in Australian football history.
The halcyon days may be long gone but with such a rich culture in the game, anyone affiliated with the Croatian-backed club demands nothing but the best of their team.
So where will the side finish this season?
“I think we’ll be fighting for top three,” Fragogiannis says. “Anything less isn’t good enough for such a big club. That’s our aim and as long as everyone stays fit, I think we’ll be up there come the end of the season.”
-By Derek Royal