Tohouroglou giving back to the game

Kyriakos Tohouroglou has returned home from a career that saw him excel in the UEFA Champions League and now he's giving back to the game.

In the eight years since we've had our own fully professional league, I've lost count of the number of Australian players who've announced they're returning home from Europe to 'put something back into the game'.

For many 'putting back' should read 'taking out', such has been the lucrative nature of their contracts. And these are millionaires, virtually to a man.

Kyriakos Tohouroglou is different. True, goalkeepers are generally different. But he's definitely one out. It's why I've always admired him. If Australian football had a cult hero, Tohouroglou would be my choice, hands down. Maybe it's the appearance. The trademark long, curly, hair - tied into a ponytail on match day. The earrings. The tattoos. Professional football is notoriously conformist. But he's his own man, without a doubt.

Tohouroglou, now 40, has achieved as much as any player of the modern era - in most cases a lot more. Yet he remains essentially anonymous despite his impressive pedigree. Sometimes, that gets to him. Mostly he just gets on with things. Which, to me, is the measure of the man.

I only interviewed Tohouroglou once in my former role at 'The Sydney Morning Herald'. Partly, that was because he was hard to track down. Partly, that was because it took a while for his career to bubble to the surface. Eventually I got him on the phone in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, where he was playing for PAOK. ''Remember what I told you, that I always wanted to come home,'' he reminded me the other day. ''I was born an Aussie, and I always felt like as Aussie. I never wanted to play for Greece.''

Tohorouglou was born at Balmain Hospital, grew up in the inner-western Sydney suburb of Leichhardt, but left for Greece when he was just 13 to follow his family. His entire professional career - all 17 years of it - was spent in Greece. First with his local side, Doxa Drama, and also with PAOK and Paniliakos. At PAOK, for a season, his roomate was current Western Sydney Wanderers custodian Ante Covic.

But, most notable, were the two separate spells with Olympiakos, where he played six times in the UEFA Champions League. During his stints with the 40-times Greek champions he played at Old Trafford, the Bernabeu, the San Siro, the Stadio del'Alpi, the Stadio Olimpico and the Estadio do Dragao.

That he deserved more attention goes without saying. That he deserved a Socceroos call-up at some stage is irrefutable. Tohouroglou had the misfortune of being in the same generation as Mark Bosnich, Zeljko Kalac, John Filan, Jason Kearton and Mark Schwarzer, but even so it's a travesty he never played for his country.

One phone call during the early years of Frank Farina's reign is as close as he got, but club committments prevented him from joining that particular camp. The phone never rang again.

In one sense, Tohouroglou is not alone. Right from the era of the early expatriates - among them Peter Katholos, Lou Hristodoulou, Jim Patikas, George Christopoulos and Chris Kalantzis - playing in Greece has been a death knell for any Socceroos aspirations. Why the Greek league has become a no-go zone for a succession of national coaches remains a mystery to this day.

But if his country ignored him, Tohouroglou chose not to ignore his country. He almost returned in 2006, when Nick Theodorakopoulos tried to lure him to Newcastle Jets, but the deal fell through when PAOK suddenly offered him an extension of his contract.

Finally, just over two years ago, he did come home - for the first time since he was a 17-year-old. He's planning on sticking around. ''Greece, for me, is just for holidays from now on,'' he says.

It's the way he returned home - unannounced - and what he's done since which makes Tohouroglou such an inspiring example. Unlike most others, he really is putting something back into the game.

Before he left, he had promised himself that if he ever returned he would go back to where he came from. He has. In those days, his club was called Gladesville United.

These days they're called Gladesville-Ryde Magic, playing in the third-tier of NSW football. Childhood friend George Ganiatstas has become club president. ''As soon as he came back we spoke, and I didn't have to twist his arm to come,'' he says. ''We're so lucky to have him.''

Originally, the plan was for Tohouroglou to run the Magic's junior program in conjunction with the Olympiakos Academy, and in a partnership with Kalantzis, who played with him at the red and whites for five seasons. But he's gone one better.

Two years after retiring at PAOK, Tohouroglou decided to put the gloves back on, and he's now into his third season as 'roaming' goalkeeper for the Magic. His free kicks from as far as 40 metres have become legendary.

So here's a bloke who's played UEFA Champions League happy, and content, to be winding down his career at Magdala Park - an open field behind the RSL club at North Ryde. Not quite the Karaiskakis Stadium. ''It's alright,'' says Tohouroglou.

So no lack of motivation despite the humble surrounds? ''No way, I still want to win every game,'' he says. ''For me, it's doing what I love, without the pressure, without the stress. I had that for 20 years. Now I just enjoy myself. It's great.''

But that's not where it ends. Tohouroglou has a UEFA Pro License, and before he returned home he was assistant coach at Xanthi. For now he's putting that knowledge into the Magic's junior program, but you'd hope that one day he'll find a bigger role. The respect he found so elusive as a player may hopefully come to him as a coach. ''I just want to give the kids the dream they see on TV,'' he says.

The dream he's still living, to this day.