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Why Man Utd are to sign Kyriakos Papadopoulos after four years of watching

Shock Manchester United interest for Kyriakos Papadopoulos?

Not really. Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, has known about the 20 year-old for the past four years, and made enquiries about him after an outstanding U19 European Championships in 2008 with Greece.

In his homeland, the Schalke defender has been big news ever since he made his first team debut as a 13 year-old at fourth division outfit Svoronos. In 2007, at 15, Papadopoulos was becoming the youngest player to play in the Greek First Division with Olympiakos, which had snapped him up from Svoronos barely months earlier.

Papadopoulos has been big news for years and unlike so many of his peers, his family background has helped him to cope with the scrutiny that comes with being a child prodigy. Mum Elena was a Greek hurdles champion, Dad Nikos an accomplished footballer who went on to become president of Svoronos.

"They are my biggest critics," Papadopoulos said with a smile. "They've always been there for me."

Now he's part of a Greece squad which has defied the experts to reach the quarterfinals of the European Championships and after a successful year with Schalke, he has Ferguson again considering a bid for his services.

"It's an honour for me to hear that such a big club likes my football, but at the moment I don't know anything about it," he smiled when discussing the reports last week.

"Of course I would like to someday play for Manchester United, but I am a player of Schalke and I am focused on them."

In Germany, Papadopoulos is known as a 'take no prisoners' defender, where even in training he can terrorise teammates. English scouts liken him to United captain Nemanja Vidic and his clashes with Borussia Dortmund centre-forward Robert Lewandowski last season were among the campaign's highlights.

Despite his progress, Papadopoulos continues to push himself.

"In this league, you can never relax," he said before joining Greece's Euros squad. "In every season, you have to prove yourself again. In fact, in every game you cannot relax. Only a few players can consider themselves a guaranteed starter.

"I know what I have to work on, but I'm very ambitious."

Papadopoulos, standing at 6ft, can also play in midfield, though is adamant where he prefers to play: "I play where the coach tells me. But if I could choose, I prefer playing as a central defender."

But it's not just on the pitch where Papadopoulos' focus lies. He has also been passionate about learning the local language and set himself a goal to conduct a full interview in German this summer.

"Coming to Schalke has been a big change for me. Sure, it looks like everything has gone smoothly. But there's a lot to do with that, not the least the way the club has helped me to adapt."

Schalke, having burned off competition from Liverpool and Tottenham to sign Papadopoulos two years ago, know interest in their top prospect is again emerging and have already tied the youngster to a new deal to 2015 - without a buyout clause, which they pushed hard to secure.

But should Ferguson make a firm move for Papadopoulos, Schalke management know they're in no position to resist any serious offer. And after a watching brief of four years, Ferguson may now feel it is the right time to sign the 20 year-old, just as he's becoming known across Europe.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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