Commanding goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas played a minor role in AEK Athens’ historic run to the 2017/2018 Super League title, but having fully recovered from injury and earning the trust of new boss Marinos Ouzounidis, he’s turned into the country’s leading shot stopper.
Ahead of last season, Barkas was expected to be AEK’s number one for the year, however a broken thumb suffered in training in July 2017 completely threw him off course. Instead of standing between the sticks, he found himself agonisingly sitting on the sidelines as the Enosis took the continent by storm in the UEFA Europa League, and when he eventually returned in November, he was third choice behind Giannis Anestis and Panagiotis Tsintotas. Nevertheless, after Anestis was frozen out of the team, Barkas gradually began to impress manager Manolo Jimenez and participated in the Europa League Last 32 duel against Dynamo Kyiv. Barkas also made five appearances in the triumphant Super League campaign and took AEK to the Greek Cup final, where the Kitrinomavri lost 0:2 to arch-rivals PAOK with Barkas pulling off a number of excellent saves.
After the completion of the campaign, Jimenez surprisingly departed AEK, but incoming coach Marinos Ouzounidis immediately made it clear that Barkas would be the team’s starting goalkeeper. In the UEFA Champions League, the 24-year old performed excellently against Celtic and Vidi, helping the Athenians qualify for the group stages with solid showings in net. Yes, Barkas has now conceded five goals in the two consecutive losses to Ajax and PAOK, but he certainly isn’t the main reason for the club’s sudden dip in form. This summer, he could have even moved to Serie A outfit Udinese, but AEK rejected a reported bid of six million euros for their prized possession.
Where did Barkas’ journey to stardom begin? Barkas joined the Atromitos system when starting out, progressing through the Peristeri club’s system to sign his maiden professional contract in 2013. It took a while for Barkas to make an impression, but after becoming a regular for Atromitos in the 2015/2016 season, AEK bagged him for a mere 600,000 and he’s rapidly taken the step to the next level.
Standing at 195 cm tall, Barkas boasts fantastic reflexes, able to use his height to good effect and rarely commits glaring, crucial errors. Initially, he had to share the duties with Anestis and Tsintotas at the Enosis, but he’s played in every 2018/2019 Super League and Champions League match so far and doesn’t seem willing to give Ouzounidis an excuse to drop him.
On the international front, the AEK goaltender was gifted his debut for the Ethniki Omada this year, playing in the second half of the 1:0 friendly win against Egypt on March 27 before starting the two UEFA Nations League matches in September (1:0 victory over Estonia, 2:1 loss to Hungary). Barkas will have to be at his best if AEK are somehow going to cope with the hugely demanding schedule, but assuming he keeps his confidence and doesn’t lose focus, he could be the key for the reigning Greek champions rising above the challenge.