Vasilis Chatzipanagis

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Vasilis Chatzipanagis
Vasilis Chatzipanagis with Giorgos Koudas in the 1976 NT game against Poland.
Showcasing the award of Best Greek Footballer with Deputy Minister of Sports, Costas Orfanos (March 20, 2005)

Vasilis Chatzipanagis (alt. Vassilis Hadjipanagis or Hadjipanayis, in Greek: Βασίλης Χατζηπαναγής), was an attacking midfielder with Iraklis FC, who packed in the crowds at Thessaloniki's Kaftantzoglio Stadium, where his performances earned him the moniker of 'the footballing Nureyev'. However, the reason he gave for his fancy footwork was simple enough. "When I see defenders in front of me, I want to dribble around every one of them," he once said.

Born to Greek immigrants to the USSR in October 26, 1954 Vasilis Chatzipanagis, a.k.a. "Vasia" played for Pakhtakor, a club in Tashkent (now Uzbekistan). They wanted to invest in this raw yet refined player, but the law was strict: he had to apply for Soviet citizenship to be eligible for the Soviet top flight. After much pressure from Pakhtakor officials, Hatzipanagis's parents finally acceded to the request.

He made his professional debut at the age of 17, and was soon called into the USSR's Under-19 squad. He graduated to the senior squad, without playing a game, and represented the Soviet Union in the 1976 Olympic qualifying tournament. However, despite being told by national coach Konstantin Beskov that his ability was "way above Greece's level", he turned his back on the Soviet league - where as a left-sided attacker he was considered second only to the great Oleg Blokhin - to move to the land of his fathers.

Chatzipanagis signed for the Thessaloniki club Iraklis, and such was his reputation that he filled the stadium for his first match in December 1975. The Iraklis fans would be the reason this exceptional talent never joined another team. Despite interest from S.S. Lazio, Arsenal FC, FC Porto and VfB Stuttgart, the club's board feared the consequences of selling the crowd favourite. So Chatzipanagis stayed at Iraklis until 1990 and made a farewell appearance in a friendly against Valencia CF in October 1991 - his 37th birthday.

He is widely considered the best Greek player ever. He led Iraklis to a cup victory (against Olympiakos in 1976) and added the extra edge making the team competitive for the league title every year. Panathinaikos tried to buy him but Iraklis did not sell.

Vasia is so revered he has received the title of "The Greek Maradona" as he played the same position and was an absolute magician with the ball. In the end Iraklis never had any success in European Championships and he never received any exposure outside of Greece. He was also never allowed to play for the nt as he had played a few games for the USSR U-21 and UEFA forbid him from playing for the Greek National Football team. Lack of exposure outside the boundaries of Greece - who at the time was considered a poor footballing nation - hurt Vasia's chances to gain the fame that he so deserved.

He played in 281 games of the Greek championship and scored 61 times. He started with Pahtakor before he came to Greece. He played only once with the Greek National Football Team in 1976 against Poland (1-0) in Athens and again, this because he had played with the Olympic team of the USSR.

Further recognition did come in June 1984, when he was invited to join a World XI featuring Franz Beckenbauer, Mario Kempes, Kevin Keegan and Dominque Rocheteau, for a match against New York Cosmos. Chatzipanagis said of that honor: "It is very touching to see that you are not forgotten, that your contribution is appreciated even after so many years." He added: "I regret not having been able to wear the Greek national jersey more than once. And I regret not having made a career abroad. I would have liked to play in a better league, to have enjoyed football at that level. If I could turn back the clock, I would do some things differently."

In 2004, to help mark UEFA's Jubilee, each national association was asked to nominate its most outstanding player of the past 50 years. Greece chose Vasilis Chatzipanagis as their Golden Player.

Player Milestones

  • November 22, 1975: Vasilis arrives in Thessaloniki. Fans greet him at 2:00 A.M. at the Thessaloniki train station chanting Vasili Kalosorises! (Welcome Vasilis!).
  • December 7, 1975: He plays his first game for Iraklis against Atromitos Athens (1-1). The game was held at the National Stadium of Veria.
  • March 28, 1976: He scores for the first time wearing the Iraklis shirt (69' shot) The first goalkeeper that had to gather the ball from deep inside his nets was Panagiotis Pantelis.
  • May 6, 1976: The only time Chatzipanagis plays wearing the Greek National Football Team shirt in a friendly game against Poland - Greece wins 1-0.
  • June 9, 1976: Vasilis Chatzipanagis leads Iraklis to a win over Olympiakos in the Greek Cup final. Vasilis scored two goals for Iraklis (25', 111') The game ended 4-4 in overtime and Iraklis won 6-5 in a penalty shootout.
  • September 26, 1982: Vasilis scores from a direct corner kick - 8th minute against Olympiakos (Nikos Sarganis was goalie). Iraklis wins game 3-1. Vasilis went on to score a record breaking 6 goals from direct corner kicks that season.
  • Summer 1984, New York:Vasilis Chatzipanagis joins the World XI in a friendly against New York Cosmos, and represents Greece with Thomas Mavros.
  • March 2, 1986: Vasilis' scores Iraklis' 1000th goal in the A' Division (the shot went in after the ball hit the crossbar. Iraklis - Olympiakos 3-1)
  • December 11, 1988: Diagoras Rhodes - Iraklis 2-1. Vasilis scores his last (62nd) goal for Iraklis in a championship game.
  • December 31, 1988: Iraklis - AEK 0-0. Vasilis plays his last championship game for Iraklis (281 game appearances). After the game even God cried!
  • September 12, 1990: Iraklis - Niki Volos 4-0. Chatzipanagis scores (penalty 53').
  • September 19, 1990 - Kaftatzoglio Stadium: Iraklis - Valencia 0-0 for UEFA Cup. This was the first and last appearance for the magician in a European tournament.
  • December 14, 1999: Greece - Ghana 1-1. A friendly game in honor of Vasilis Chatzipanagis who had his 2nd international cap in 23 years, 7 months and 8 days! Vasilis played for 22 minutes and was replaced by Costas Frantzeskos. The coach for Greece was Vasilis Daniil.

See also