On his way from Green Gully, ‘with heavy heart’

Green Gully coach Arthur Papas celebrates a victory last season with former player Evan Christodoulou. Picture Luke Hemer

It took an offer too good to refuse for Arthur Papas to leave Green Gully.

The coach of the Cavaliers for the past 18 months has accepted an offer from Saudi Arabia Pro League club Al-Ettifaq to be its assistant coach.

Papas, touted as a future A-League coach, couldn’t let this opportunity slip, no matter how hard it was to leave the Cavaliers with unfinished business.

“It was going to take something special for me to want to leave Gully,” Papas said.

“I know it’s a cliche, but I’ve been extremely happy there and I think we were doing some really good things.

“When you get approached to coach in a league that’s regarded in the top three or four in Asia, I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t take that and still say I’m ambitious.”

Green Gully did not step in Papas’s way. In fact, the Cavaliers were proud to promote Papas’s new role through its social media channels, even if it meant their coach would be walking out of the club just two rounds into the season.

Papas has felt nothing but supported ever since he walked in and out of Green Gully Reserve.

Asked about highlights in his time at Green Gully, Papas, of course, brought up that famous night last season when the Cavs bundled A-League club Central Coast Mariners out of the FFA Cup. But his lasting memory will be away from the pitch.

“The highlight when you’re talking about a match is clearly going to be the Central Coast game,” Papas said.

“What a special group of people and a club did on that night; it was one of the biggest stories in Australian sport last year.

“For me, the most important part of my period at Green Gully was building a relationship and having someone like the general manager Raymond [Mamo] support me the way he did and now [president] Denis [Venes] and the way they’ve handled a situation like this.

“It just shows this club has so many quality people and there’s a reason it’s had such a successful history. It’s not like you leave this club and all you can think about is getting on a plane. I leave with a heavy heart because I’ve got such high regard for how that club has allowed me to work.”

At just 37, Papas has already had an exciting coaching adventure. An injury-ravaged playing career saw him turn to coaching at an early age. He went the right way about it, obtaining the relevant coaching licences that would allow him to coach at home and abroad.

Locally, he was coach of the Oakleigh Cannons in the old Victorian Premier League then an assistant coach of Australia’s under-17s and Newcastle Jets in the A-League. He made the bold move to coach in India, leading the Indian under-23 team before coaching club sides Pailan Arrows and Dempo; he then assisted at Indian Premier League team FC Goa.

Papas is clearly not afraid to blaze an unconventional route. “I don’t believe you can develop if you want to stay in your comfort zone. I think in the same way you tell players about pushing themselves and breaking boundaries, it’s the same as a coach.”

Papas joins an Al-Ettifaq team that has some work to do to avoid relegation. It was just six points clear of the relegation zone when it parted company with big name coach Juan Carlos Garrido.

Papas will work under new Al-Ettifaq coach Eelco Schattorie. “It’s probably in the top five or six clubs in Saudi Arabia over the course of time, but it’s had a difficult season,” Papas said.

“They’ve just replaced the coach Juan Garrido, who used to coach Villarreal, and coached them to top place in La Liga, so you’re talking very high level players, very high level coaching in Saudia Arabia at the moment.”

Papas flew out of Melbourne on Saturday, but not before telling his Green Gully players face to face of his reasons for the sudden departure.

He will be replaced by Brian Vanega, promoted from the under-20s post.