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Mavrias targets Sunderland success after backing from Magpies old boy
Dabizas was the sporting director at Panathinaikos involved in intense negotiations over the summer aimed at delivering a £2.5m deal with Sunderland for the young Greece winger.
And when an agreement was finally reached, it was the former Newcastle defender who helped convince Mavrias the North-East was the right place for his next move.
Dabizas famously scored the goal which earned the Magpies a first win at the Stadium of Light under Sir Bobby Robson in February 2002.
But the former centre-back, still adored north of the Tyne more than a decade later, had no problem in recommending a switch to Sunderland to one of his country’s top prospects.
“I spoke with Nikos and he said that this is a very big opportunity for me, to come and play football,” said Mavrias. “He told me they're very nice cities, both Newcastle and Sunderland, and not too far apart.
“I know he's loved at Newcastle. I don't remember too much about that, but I know he played there for five or six years. They loved the goals he scored – especially one at Sunderland! I hope I can do the same for Sunderland against Newcastle. If I do, I will ring him – I will make sure of that!”
Mavrias has already had a decent impact at Sunderland, even if results have not gone to plan. When he emerged from the bench in the 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace for his Premier League debut he was involved in Steven Fletcher’s equaliser.
His introduction against MK Dons also sparked a turnaround, helping Sunderland come back from two goals down to win 4-2 and seal a place in the third round.
Now Mavrias, ahead of this Saturday’s visit of Arsenal, is hoping to help Sunderland to win in the league for the first time this season, believing the signs on the training ground under Paolo Di Canio have been good since his arrival in late August.
“I feel good about what I've done so far,” said the 19-year-old. “All the players have helped me, and the gaffer's the same. It's a very kind environment here, I like it. The gaffer likes to work a lot, and to play football. He knows a lot about the game, and for me, I'm young, and he helps me a lot to improve my movements, my football brain. I know I can get even better.
“Panathinaikos are very big in Athens but here you have a big stadium, the training centre is superb. I think Sunderland are a very good team. This year, finally, I think it will be one of the top ten or 12 teams in the Premier League. We have not started the season as well as we would have liked, but I'm still confident we can climb the table.”
When Mavrias was aware of Sunderland’s interest in the summer, he was forced to wait for weeks before something concrete materialised. He had spoken at length to director of football Roberto De Fanti, who outlined the drive to completely change the team’s approach to the Premier League.
He said: “I met Roberto in July and he told me the philosophy of the team, that they would try to play football, European football, with the ball on the ground. I liked the sound of that, so I wanted to come. It took some time to happen but I was calm, I waited.
“I wanted to come and finally it happened. That's what I wanted so I was patient. I think it was the right time for me to take my next step. I have played a lot of games in the Greek championship and in Europe, so this is the right time for me to come here. I have always followed the Premier League, so I know Sunderland have had a lot of changes.”
Despite his tender age, Mavrias has plenty of experience. By the age of 15 he was in Panathinaikos’ reserve team, had played for the first team a year later and on October 20, 2010 he made his Champions League debut against Rubin Kazan.
He remains the second youngest player, behind former Chelsea and Newcastle full-back Celestine Babayaro, to play in European football’s premier competition – and he has every intention to hold down his place on the wing for Sunderland.
“Right and left wing are the two positions I can play, and like to play,” said Mavrias. “Can I play full-back? In some games I think that I could play there but my position is right and left wing. I don't know what Paolo Di Canio has in mind, but I follow instructions. If he wants me to play centre forward, or anywhere, I will play.”
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