Josef replacement? Giorgos Giakoumakis embraces challenge at Atlanta United


During his introductory press conference as Atlanta United's marquee 2023 signing to date, Giorgos Giakoumakis was quick to ease any media members unsure about how to pronounce his name.

“Gio or Gigi,” the Greek international forward assured a reporter when asked if he went by any other monikers.

"I can tell my surname is not an easy one for you."

While the former Celtic FC star – who joined the Five Stripes this week on a Designated Player deal through 2026 – isn't all that preoccupied with what people call him, the same can't be said for Carlos Bocanegra.

Sitting right next to his offseason crown jewel, Atlanta's VP/technical director made clear in no uncertain terms that nobody should consider – let alone call – Giakoumakis a replacement for recently-departed club legend Josef Martínez.

"I don’t want to put those expectations on Giorgos," Bocanegra responded about any comparisons to the Venezuelan, who joined Eastern Conference rivals Inter Miami CF this winter after reaching a contract buyout with Atlanta.

"I like pressure"

It's easy to understand Bocanegra's position. Martínez reached icon status in Atlanta by scoring 103g/17a over 144 combined regular season and Audi MLS Cup Playoffs matches. He reached the peak of his powers in 2018, winning Landon Donovan MLS MVP honors and the MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi by scoring a then-MLS record 31 goals, lifting the club to an MLS Cup title that season alongside now-Newcastle United star Miguel Almiron.

However, Giakoumakis hardly seems daunted by the expectations his arrival has generated.

"Of course I feel pressure and I’m happy that I feel pressure," the 28-year-old said. "If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have a big motivation. I like pressure, I work under pressure all the time."

There are reasons for such confidence. After making a name for himself in the Greek Super League over nearly a decade, Giakoumakis cemented his status as a productive striker in Europe by finishing as the top scorer in the Eredivisie (26 goals during the 2020-21 campaign at VVV-Venlo). He then made the move to Celtic in 2021, tallying 26 goals and two assists in 57 games across all competitions for the Scottish giants.

It was also at Celtic where Giakoumakis embraced the challenge of wearing the iconic No. 7 jersey, which once belonged to club hero Henrik Larsson.

"He’s the legend of the legends," Giakoumakis said of one of Sweden's all-time greats. "So I respect it, but at the same time I wanted that pressure, that motivation. And I think I did well."

Facing a similar situation in Major League Soccer, Giakoumakis now welcomes the comparisons to Martínez.

"I have to replace a great player," he said matter-of-factly.

"Hungry for goals"

Courted by several clubs – most notably Japanese top-flight side Urawa Red Diamonds – Giakoumakis ultimately decided on Atlanta after Bocanegra went above and beyond to secure his signature.

"Carlos was the only one to go to Glasgow to visit me. That means a lot," the 11-time capped (two goals) Greek international said. "I wanted to go somewhere where I would feel important."

And after playing in the lopsided Scottish Premier League – where only traditional powerhouses Celtic and Rangers FC typically compete for silverware – the lure of facing more ambitious opposition also proved decisive for Giakoumakis.

"I think this league [MLS] is a bit more competitive, they all try to play. So I think I will find even more space" and, by extension, score more often.

"I'm hungry for goals. I think that's my fuel."

Just how many goals is anybody's guess at this point. That said, Bocanegra envisions Giakoumakis as the crowning piece of a four-pronged attack that also includes fellow DPs Luiz Araújo and Thiago Almada, as well as winger Derrick Etienne Jr., acquired this winter in free agency.

"It might be he scores 15-20 goals. It might be he scores 12 and the team scores 60 because he’s creating some of the other problems and Derrick scores more, or Luiz scores more, or Thiago scores more," Bocanegra said.

Giakoumakis himself refused to throw any specific numbers out, but is already dreaming about an ATLUTD debut similar to – who else? – Josef Martínez.

"Score in the first game," he said. "That would be the best."