Vasilis "Vasia" Hatzipanagis (Greek: Βασίλης Χατζηπαναγής, Greek pronunciation: [va'silis xad͡zipana'ʝis], born 26 October 1954) is a retired Greek footballer. He played for Iraklis in the Greek Alpha Ethniki and Pakhtakor in the Soviet Supreme League. He also played for Greece and the USSR Olympic side. He is often regarded as the Greek Maradona.
|Date of birth||26 October 1954|
|Place of birth||Tashkent, Uzbek SSR, Soviet Union|
|* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only|
Born to Greek political refugees to the USSR in October 1954, he was scouted by Pakhtakor, a club in Tashkent (a city of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic). They wanted to invest in this raw, yet refined player, but the law was strict: he had to apply for Soviet citizenship to be eligible for the Soviet top flight. Hatzipanagis made his professional debut at the age of 17. During his time there, he made ninety six appearances and scored twenty two goals, and gained promotion from the Soviet First League to the Soviet Supreme League in 1972.
With the Reign of the Colonels finally over a year ago, Hatzipanagis signed for the Thessaloniki club Iraklis, and such was his reputation that he filled the stadium for his first match in December 1975. The Iraklis fans would be one of the reasons this exceptional talent never joined another team, the other being his contract with Iraklis was heavily favoured towards the club making it almost impossible for him to leave in spite of his desire to test himself in a better league. Despite interest from Lazio, Arsenal, Porto and Stuttgart, the club's board feared the consequences of selling the crowd favourite, and Hatzipanagis stayed at Iraklis until 1990. His farewell appearance for the club came in a UEFA Cup first round match against Valencia on 19 September, in a 0-0 draw. In the second leg on 3 October, the team lost 2-0 at the Mestalla Stadium, with Hatzipanagis an unused substitute.
He was called up to the Soviet Union under-19 squad. He was promoted to the senior squad and represented the Soviet Union in the 1976 Olympic qualifying tournament (at the time USSR fielded a full national team for the Olympics, as the Soviet Supreme League was considered an amateur one). His debut was made in a 3-0 home win against Yugoslavia. He even managed to score his team's last goal in his debut. Hatzipanagis featured in three more matches (two matches against Iceland and one against Norway). However, despite being told by national coach Konstantin Beskov that his ability was "way above Greece's level", he turned his back on the Soviet league – where as a left-sided attacker he was considered second only to the great Oleg Blokhin – to move to the land of his fathers.
Another highlight for Hatzipanagis was his first appearance for the Greek national side, in a friendly match against Poland at the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium in May 1976. The Athens crowd were bewitched by the long-haired wonder, who seemed to do whatever he wanted with the ball. Afterwards, Hatzipanagis was notified that he was ineligible for international duty, having played for the USSR. His second appearance with the national team came many years after his retirement: he played for 20 minutes in the friendly match against Ghana on 14 December 1999 - where he was honored by the Hellenic Football Federation for his overall contribution to the game of football.
As an attacking midfielder with Iraklis, he packed in the crowds at Thessaloniki's Kaftanzoglio Stadium, where his performances earned him the moniker of 'the footballing Nureyev'. However, the reason he gave for his fancy footwork was simple enough. "When I see defenders in front of me, I want to dribble around every one of them," he once said.
Further recognition did come on 22 June 1984, when he was invited to join a World XI featuring other legends such as Franz Beckenbauer, Mario Kempes, Kevin Keegan, Dominique Rocheteau, Peter Shilton, Jean-Marie Pfaff, Hugo Sanchez, Ruud Krol, Felix Magath and his countryman Thomas Mavros for a match against New York Cosmos in New Jersey.
In November 2003, to celebrate UEFA's 50th anniversary, he was selected as Greece's Golden Player of the past 50 years by the Hellenic Football Federation. Now aged 50, Hatzipanagis said: "It is very touching to see that you are not forgotten, that your contribution is appreciated even after so many years."
He added: "I regret not having been able to wear the Greek national jersey more than once. And I regret not having made a career abroad. I would have liked to play in a better league, to have enjoyed football at that level. If I could turn back the clock, I would do some things differently."
- John Ashdown (17 April 2015). "Has any player ever scored the 'perfect dead-ball' hat-trick?". The Guardian.
- Alan Robins (21 June 2014). "World Cup Heroes: Greece and Vasilis Hatzipanagis". Backpage Football. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
- "Iraklis 0-0 Valencia". UEFA.com. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
- "Valencia 2-0 Iraklis". UEFA.com. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
- СБОРНАЯ СССР' 1975 (in Russian). СБОРНАЯ РОССИИ ПО ФУТБОЛУ. Retrieved 6 February 2011.
- Vassiliki Papantonopoulou (26 January 2011). "Greece's answer to Nureyev". UEFA. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
- Хадзипанагис Василис Кирьякос (in Russian). КЛИСФ. Retrieved 7 February 2011.[permanent dead link]
- Vasilis Hatzipanagis at National-Football-Teams.com