IN the latest series of getting to know our Under-23 players we take a look at Themis Kefalas, who moved from Athens to London and is working hard to fulfill his dream.
Favourite position: CB
Best qualities: Heading, passing, long-range passing
Idol: Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Arsenal)
Sum yourself up: Hard-working, strong
“It’s difficult, trust me,” Themis Kefalas says. Not about football, but learning English.
The son of a former-professional footballer in the Greek Super League, Kefalas came to England at the age of 16 without speaking the language, but is now fluent, settled and assertive.
Themis was born in Athens, the capital, and spent his early years watching his dad play football.
“I would be in the stadium, watching, seeing how the life is. I liked it.”
His dad never wanted him to follow in his footsteps. But, with the genes passed on, particularly the height, it was inevitable. At the age of 10 or 11, he got “bigger, stronger, improved.”
“After that, he helped me get better. Now he takes videos and clips of games and we go through them after.”
Kefalas played semi-professional youth football in Greece and when he moved to London, a year after his father had moved over for work, he “carried on at that level.”
“I used to play number 10,” he reveals. That helps with his ability to play out from the back now. His 6ft 2in frame combined with the nature of non-league football in England made it an inevitability that he would become a centre-back when he moved to London.
“My Dad was a centre-back. He was tall, and I was getting taller and taller. When I came to England, they put me at centre-back.”
He attended Barnet & Southgate College in North London, a college with links to both Tottenham Hotspur and Haringey Borough. Emmanuel Osadebe is one of the most recent products of the development centre, currently playing for Cambridge United’s first team.
Kefalas was put in the Under-23s squad at ‘Boro, one of the best-run teams at their level.
“Spurs worked together with the college as well. We had some good coaches who helped us develop and a few opportunities. We trained with the Under-23s at Tottenham and played a game for them against a German team.”
Even that experience at Spurs couldn’t prepare Themis for the step-up from non-league football to Queens Park Rangers.
He started pre-season for the 2018/19 campaign with Haringey Borough. “I played some games and first came here [to QPR, on trial] in August. Haringey’s a good club, but it’s a massive, massive difference.”
“The speed is the biggest difference. And the fitness. The food, the style of play, everything.”
The style of play is a big factor for Themis, and part of the reason why he may be able to settle better at QPR.
“You know, all the semi-pro teams go long, long, long. Here, they like to play from the back, like in Greece. It’s more technical in Greece. It’s not like England where you get the ball and everyone is all over you. It’s not about strength and power, and so that’s my style.”
Kefalas idolised Sokratis growing up, and is still watching him play for Arsenal. “I want to be like Sokratis,” he admits.
The 18-year-old has begun studying the way Premier League centre-backs like Sokratis play, analysing their decisions, since joining QPR.
“I look at their defending style, their passes forward, how they defend, how close or far they are from their centre-back partner and from the attackers. I definitely watch differently now.”
It’s been quite a few years for Kefalas: moving to London from Athens, developing at Haringey Borough and then joining QPR. In January 2019, he received his first call-up for the Greek youth teams.
“It’s good. It’s my first call-up. I was there at a training camp and we’ve got the Euros in England,” he remarks.
There have been so many achievements over the last year for Kefalas, but complacency can’t set in. And after his journey into the professional game, he won’t let that happen.
Now, he’s aiming for a new contract – his current deal expires in the summer of 2019 – and “to train with the first team more next year.”
A loan move? “Why not? To play with men would be good. I want to be ready for the first team in two years’ time.”