Sunday, September 5, 2010

Top 10 things you need to know about SOTIRIS NINIS

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Here's what United fans could be in store for next season:

1) Sotiris Ninis was born on April 3, 1990 in Himara, Albania. He is of Greek decent, however, and plays national football for the Galanolefki.

2) An attacking midfielder who's also comfortable on the right wing, Ninis learned his trade at the academy of Athens-based fourth-tier side Apollon Smyrni, from where he joined Panathinaikos as a 14 year-old.

3) A prodigious talent, he was offered a five-year contract in December 2006, and made his first time debut, against Egaleo, the following month while still just a 16-year old. Clearly unfazed by the occasion, Ninis walked away with the man of the match accolade. He quickly became a firm fan favourite after scoring this goal in a 4-1 victory over fierce local rivals AEK Athens.

4) On February 15, 2007, he became the youngest ever member of a Greek side to play in the Champions League, taking the field for Panathaniakos against Lens. Ninis rounded off his remarkable breakthrough season by landing the Greek equivalent of the PFA Young Player of the Year award in December 2007 - the youngest ever player to do so.

5) Potential new team-mate Michael Owen will surely sympathise with what happened next: Ninis was ruled out for three months at the start of the 2007-08 season with a succession of injuries - including, of course, twanging hamstrings - blamed on the amount of games he'd played at such a young age. He was rested/dropped for the remainder of the campaign.

6) The arrival of former Chelsea assistant manager Henk ten Cate for the 2008-09 season saw Ninis not just reinstated in the first team, but also nominated as one of the team's three captains (alongside Dimitris Salpigidis and former Arsenal star Gilberto Silva) - the youngest ever in Panathaniakos history. He's since gone on to make over 60 league appearances for the club, scoring six goals (including the absolute belter below), and helped them land the league and cup double in the 2009-10 season.

7) After rejecting a chance to turn out for the Albanian U-21s, Ninis inspired Greece to a runners-up spot in the 2007 European Under-19 Football Championship, bagging UEFA's player of the tournament award in the process.

8) He carried that impressive form over the senior side. Ninis became Greece's youngest ever scorer when he netted this goal within five minutes of his debut against Cyprus in May 2008.

9) Otto Rehhagel took Ninis to the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa although, being an attacking player by nature, he didn't stand much chance of making the German's disappointingly negative side. Two substitute appearances against Nigeria and Argentina, however, thrust the youngster firmly into the global spotlight - and took his total cap tally to seven.

10) He's been linked with a string of top European clubs over the past two years - including Manchester United in the summer - but now it seems Fergie is stepping up his interest.

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