Aris Georgiou

Controversial Katidis seeks new start in Italy

Created on Jun. 20, 2013 12:25 PM EST

Giorgos Katidis, the Greek midfielder who created an international controversy last March with his Nazi-style salute celebration after scoring a goal, is leaving Greece for the Italian Serie B side Novara Calcio.

The 20-year old U21 Greek international made headlines globally on March 16, when he celebrated his goal for AEK Athens against Veria in a Greek Super League match by extending his right arm and giving a Nazi salute to the fans.

His action caused uproar in Greece , especially amongst AEK’ s fans who called for his immediate banishment. The club duly obliged, banning him from training and matches. The Greek Football Federation (EPO) soon followed by excluding  Katidis from the national teams for life.

Katidis was reportedly reduced to tears in the dressing room after the match, when club officials and his teammates confronted him about his gesture.

The player, speaking to the federation disciplinary committee some days later, apologized and claimed he did not know of the gesture’s significance. He said that he watched videos of the salute on YouTube, but was not aware of its connotations and was not a Neo-Nazi.

But these days, there are not many people in Greece ready to give him the benefit of a doubt.

The country is suffering from the worst financial crisis in the decades after World War II, with over 1.5 million unemployed in a nation of 11 million citizens. In the last year or so, the far-right Golden Dawn party has gained popularity and seats in the Greek Parliament, spreading an ideology that reminds the Nazis to many Greeks.

So, when a young footballer makes such a gesture, is hard to believe that he doesn't know what he is doing.

The ones that do, point out that the Greek educational system did not a good job of teaching Katidis and other young people about the tragedies caused by the Nazis on the whole planet and Greece in particular.

Others noted that Katidis is a testament to the stereotype of the modern footballer as an uneducated young man, who cares only for his hairstyle and his tattoos. Indeed, he has the rapper’s 50 Cent slogan ‘’Get Rich or Die Tryin’ ’’ tattooed on his abdomens, as one can see in the images of his controversial celebration.

In the months following the incident, Katidis kept a low profile, communicating mainly via his Twitter account.

Last may, he tweeted that he was watching ‘’American History X’’, the 1998 film starring Edward Norton and Edward Furlong. ‘’It teached me a lot and helped me to understand how bad a thing ignorance is’’,  he commented.

A few days ago, in an interview to a local magazine, he repeated that he didn’t know what he was doing that fateful day in March and voiced his regret.

‘’I did it just to get the fans to stand on their feet. But I didn’t know what it meant. I have seen it in funny videos on YouTube, like every kid in my age. I wish a thousand times that I’d never scored that goal.  I didn’ t have anything to do with politics before, but after the incident I tried to follow the political situation. What Golden Dawn is doing is wrong’’.

Katidis claimed that he didn’t even know who Adolf Hitler was! ‘’It may sound as an excuse, but absolutely honestly I didn’ t. Until the incident, I thought that October 28th (the Greek national holiday commemorating WWII) was just a day that I didn’ t have to get up in the morning and go to school. But I learnt the hard way’’, he claimed.

Greek media reported that he vowed never to forget the incident by having a tattoo on his leg with the message ‘’My mistake, 16.3.2013’’.

Repentant or not, he admitted that it would be hard to continue playing in Greece after this controversy.

What he needed was a new start, and Serie B side Novara seem like they are willing to give him a lifeline.

According to news outlets both in Greece and Italy, the 20-year old is closing on a deal to play for the team next season. The club’s owner Massimo De Salvo confirmed it: ‘’We don’t have the intention to play down his gesture. It was disrespectful for the millions of people that suffered and paid with their lives for thos who believed in false ideals and myths.

But we saw a kid that had complete ignorance before and now is completely conscious of what his gesture meant. We want to give him another chance, because we believe that making such a mistake is serious, but acknowledging it is worthy’’.

The Italian media were quick to follow the news with headlines such as ‘’Greek Di Canio is coming to Italy’’, referring to the Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio, who had caused controversy as a Lazio player in the past, celebrating a goal by giving a Nazi salute, or ‘’saluto romano’’, as the Italians call it.

Now Katidis will try to clear his name playing in Di Canio’s home country.

Ironically, the goal that caused his controversial celebration was the last one for AEK in the top flight, as the club was relegated to Division 3 soon after. It seems that it will be Katidis’ last Greek goal altogether, at least in the foreseeable future.

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