Vasilis Barkas was in dreamland after his idol Manuel Neuer praised his brilliant performances against Bayern Munich.
Barkas checked in at Celtic Park yesterday for a four-year contract, less than two years after leaving the stadium with AEK Athens after completing half the job of knocking Brendan Rodgers’ side out of the first competition European.
The Greeks completed their mission in the return leg to book their ticket for the big moment, where the Hoops’ new boy faced off against his hero.
AEK lost both group stage matches against Bayern but Barkas shone so brightly in ties that he then drew personal praise from Neuer on the pitch as he grabbed his shirt.
The new Celtic ace would love to come up against him, although he’s not sure if Neil Lennon would be so thrilled if he tried any of Neuer’s unorthodox methods during his Parkhead career.
Barkas said: “It was special to play against Neuer.
“It was a dream. I got to pick up his T-shirt.
“That’s football, when you see your idol up close and play against him.
“These are two of my best games, I had two good games against Bayern and he told me I did well and told me to keep going. When your idol talks to you and tells you that you have done well, you feel fantastic.
“Maybe I’ll see him again in the Champions League with Celtic.
“Neuer is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, both with his feet and his hands.
“For any goalkeeper, trust is essential. It’s his job to give his teammates confidence and the character he shows is crucial.
“I don’t know yet if the coach will be happy that I run to the halfway line like Neuer.
“If I can save a goal by doing it, then why not?” While Barkas has made a name for himself between the sticks of AEK, having spent the first part of his career with Atromitos, he is taking the chance to collect the ball and play in training sessions.
The goalkeeper relishes his job but is not opposed to other roles.
He said: “I have always played as a goalkeeper, but over the years I have enjoyed playing on the pitch because in modern football goalkeepers have to be able to play.
“During training sessions, if I sometimes play in the field, it’s better for me when I need to play with my feet like
goalkeeper. That’s why I like to play off camera.
“I said I like to play other positions. I love to be a goalkeeper but I would have no problem playing left-back or midfield or something like that!
While he smirked at the idea, Barkas is extremely serious about what to do.
Filling the void left by Fraser Forster’s refusal to return to the club on another loan is a huge task.
The giant Southampton goalkeeper leaves big gloves to fill but Barkas believes he can build his own relationship with the fans by doing what he does best.
Barkas knows the connection Geordie had with the fans but said: “If I play well I think the fans will like me.
“If we win, I will have a good relationship with the fans.”
If he plays like he did against Neuer’s Bayern and Rodgers’ Celtic in 2018, Barkas will have no trouble earning a place in the hearts of Hoops loyalists. He was a major contributor as AEK defied a red card to win a 1-1 draw at Parkhead, which gave them the platform to take out the Scottish champions in the Olympic Stadium.
The goalkeeper has fond memories of that night two years ago and can’t wait to return to the same pitch.
Unfortunately, there won’t be the 60,000 avid gamblers inside the venue to start like there were that night. But fans will come back at some point and he aims to deliver great performances and trophies when they do. Barkas said: “I remember the atmosphere here at the stadium, it was something very special.
“Right now it’s impossible to relive this, but I think in one, two or three months people will come and I want to relive this.
“It’s football, a lot of fans support the team, that’s what I love and that’s what I expect.
“Winning medals and trophies is the reason I came here.
“I want to win 10 in a row and help us get into the Champions League. That’s what I want.
“The manager told me about the club, the pressure here and the fact that he wants us to be champions again.
“This is one of the reasons I came here and I think we have a very good relationship so far.”