The country’s deep financial crisis has left Super League clubs’ coffers empty, with hardly a summer arrival of note. In most cases clubs got rid of highly paid players in order to avoid defaulting on money owed. Gone are the days when shipping tycoons and business magnates dominated, pouring in endless funds to buy only the best players.
The best example of what is happening in the top flight at the moment can be seen at Panathinaikos.
The Athens club were on the verge of bankruptcy at the end of last season despite the team having won the play-off round to secure a place in the third qualifying round of the Champions League. In a bid to raise funds, former major shareholder Giannis Vardinogiannis put his 54.72 per cent stake up for sale, but found no takers.
Skai media group owner Yiannis Alafouzos then came up with the idea of creating Panathinaikos Alliance 2012, a fan group with the aim of acquiring the majority stake in the club. Any Panathinaikos fan could become a member by investing a minimum of €20, and acquiring a number of shares corresponding to the amount of money invested, but with only one vote in any decision-making procedure.
“All together, in the most important match for our team, we are taking Panathinaikos back into our hands,” is the recruitment drive’s motto, and the response has been very positive, with thousands lining up to become members.
The club’s Portuguese coach, Jesualdo Ferreira, was the first symbolic donator of the alliance, giving €1,000 to the fund and signing a two-year extension to his contract.
“To stay at Panathinaikos is, for me, an act which I think demonstrates my great love for the club and proves my willingness to help in building a new project,” says Ferreira. “As everybody undoubtedly understands, particularly in these difficult times that the club is experiencing, it is not money that is important. I know the risks and difficulties that I am undertaking but I want to stand by Panathinaikos.”
Most of the players also did their bit to help out by agreeing to pay cuts of up to 40 per cent. As for new talent, Pana have added Ivory Coast winger Ibrahim Sissoko on loan from Wolfsburg and Portuguese defender Andre Pinto from Porto. Venezuelan defender Jose Manuel Velazquez has also arrived on loan from Villarreal, Senegalese midfielder Pape Habib Sow joins from Academica of Portugal and New Zealand forward Kosta Barbarouses is on loan from Alania Vladikavkaz.
Sebastian Leto, the Argentinian striker who scored 15 goals in 17 league games last season before he was injured, continues to be sidelined and will miss the first six months of the new campaign following knee surgery.
Missing from the squad this term will be national team midfielder Sotiris Ninis (who has joined Parma), Cleyton (Kayserispor), Cedric Kante (Sochaux), Simao (Shandong Luneng) and Damien Plessis (Arles).
Another club going through a major facelift are AEK Athens, who have a new coach in Vangelis Vlachos. Club legend Thomas Mavros has been appointed honorary president and, like city rivals Panathinaikos, AEK are also trying to get supporters to help the team financially.
However, reviving AEK is going to be a tough job as debt problems mean the club were not allowed to compete in European competition this season and have been banned from signing any new players, other than Greeks who are under the age of 22.
In order to help meet their pressing financial needs, AEK sold big names such as Viktor Klonaridis (to Lille), Grigoris Makos (Munich 1860), Kostas Manolas (Olympiakos), Jose Carlos (Rayo Vallecano), and Fabian Vargas (Independiente), while Eidur Gudjohnsen, Nikos Georgeas and Pantelis Kafes also left, and Nikos Liberopoulos and Traianos Dellas retired.
“We were forced to give away Klonaridis, who would have brought us much more money in the future,” said Vlachos. “It is not good to sell players and the first person who suffers from this is the coach. But perhaps this sale of Klonaridis will save us temporarily – and AEK is above all of us.”
One of the ideas to bring in cash is to offer 50,000 season tickets at a very attractive price of just ¤150, with the hopes of going beyond last year’s sales figure of 15,000.
“All together we must make AEK a team that they would be afraid of, and not one that they feel sorry for,” added Vlachos. “Our first goal is to have AEK regain its respect and its dignity.”
Considering the money problems their biggest rivals are experiencing, the relatively wealthy defending champions Olympiakos are likely to continue their dominance of the Super League. The Piraeus club have added to their squad this summer, bringing in Vasilios Karagounis (from Udinese), Andreas Gianniotis (Ethnikos Gazoros), Claude Dielna (Istres), Siovas and Panagiotis Vlachodimos (both Xanthi), and AEK’s Manolas. Their main losses were Sweden defender Olof Mellberg, who left as a free agent, and national defender Avraam Papadopoulos, who was injured at Euro 2012 and will be out for the first half of the season at least.
Olympiakos also have a new coach in Venezuela’s Leonardo Jardim, previously with Braga in Portugal and who has signed a two-year deal to replace the departing Ernesto Valverde.
Dusan Bajevic, who has won eight Greek titles as a coach, returned to
take over Atromitos for the next two seasons, with the team preparing for Europa League action.
“The good thing about Atromitos is that it does not have financial problems like many clubs in Greece,” says Bajevic. “The club is consistent with its obligations towards the players. Our goal is to advance to the group stage of the Europa League and get to the domestic league play-offs. The Greek Cup is also a chance for us to reach a higher level.”
Bajevic’s ambitions will be helped by the addition of Stathis Tavlaridis (OFI), Manolis Kallergis (Fokikos), Nikos Lazaridis (Aris) and Finnish striker Njazi Kuqi (Panionios).
Atromitos were led into Europe after a fine season under Giorgos Donis, who has since taken over from Laszlo Boloni at Europa League-bound PAOK.
Donis says his aim is to bring some joy to the fans of the financially stricken club, saying: “I represent a very big club. What I want to do is proceed step by step. A significant part is to set targets. We will have to stay on a high level and overcome the crisis.”
He has added only South Africa defender Bongani Khumalo (from Tottenham Hotspur) while letting go
of Bruno Cirillo (to Al Nasr) and Fotis Koutzavasilis (Panserraikos).
AEK’s place in the Europa League was taken by Asteras Tripolis and their coach Sakis Tsiolis will have to embark on the club’s first-ever European adventure without Juli, who has joined Rayo Vallecano, and Rogerio Martins, who went to Levadiakos. The club did, however, manage to bring in Ergotelis midfielder Michalis Fragoulakis.
Aris are another club with money woes who are looking to their fans to come and back them.
“The problems are one right after the other on top of our heads. We need people to come and support us in the stadium. Aris can only go forward with a stadium that is filled,” appealed board member Stavros Lambriakos.
His remarks were echoed by Aris coach Makis Katsavakis who added: “Only a united Aris of supporters, players and administration can overcome the difficulties.”
Aris will have virtually an all-Greek squad this season following the departure of foreign players Eldin Jakupovic (to Hull), Javier Umbides (Orduspor), Ronald Garcia (Oriente Petrolero), Nery Castillo (Pachuca), Nikos Lazaridis (Atromitos) and Ricardo Faty (Ajaccio). The Salonica-based side managed to add domestic players Dimitrios Aslanidis and Giannis Gesios (both from Epanomi) and Nikolaos Pantidos (Ethnikos).
Former international goalkeeper Dimitris Eleftheropoulos will also have to rely on Greek players as coach of Panionios. He has brought in Konstantinos Peristeridis (from Almere City), Christos Aravidis (Doxa Drama), Dionysios Giannoulis (Sylvia) and Vasilios Lambropoulos (Ethnikos), with Dimitrios Siovas and Njazi Kuqi leaving for Olympiakos and Atromitos respectively.
PAS Giannina had a nasty surprise in July when club president Giorgos Christovasilis was arrested over the ¤187,000 his club owe in state taxes. Their limited budget has meant they, too, have had to shop locally, signing Charis Kostakis (from Iraklis), Dimitrios Kolovetsios (Larissa), Evangelos Georgiou (Epanomi), Nikos Korovesis (Apollon), Theodoros Berios (Zenit Caslav), Apostolos Bakolas and Konstantinos Ganotis (both from Psachna), and Michalis Avgenikou (Diagoras).
Kerkyra have replaced Mario Galinovic (to Veria) and Dimitrios Grammozis (Bochum) with Dimitrios Diamantopoulos (from Fokikos), Anastasios Tsokanis (Psachna) and Andreas Vasilogiannis (Olympiakos).
OFI Crete picked up Giannis Vlachos (from Chersonisos), Alexandros Perogamvrakis and Anastasios Tzirakis (both from Rouvas), while among those let go were Jordi Lopez (to Goverla), Boldizsar Bodor (Beerschot), Efstathios Tavlaridis (Atromitos), Giorgios Giorgiou (Levadiakos) and Fotis Papoulis (Apollon Limassol).
Levadiakos also added Alexandros Kasmeridis (from Thrasyvoulos), Kristijan Miljevic (Brescia) and Panagiotis Tsintotas (Pierikos), while giving up Paschalis Melissas, Dimitrios Ioannou and Dimitrios Kaliaras (all to Paphos AEP), Mano (to Estoril) and Giannis Alexiou (Uerdingen).
Panthrakikos picked up Ilias Michalopoulos from Kallithea, Veria signed Carlinos and Guille (both from Gijon), and Skoda Xanthi signed Benjamin Onwuachi (from Panetolikos) and Panagiotis Triadis (Wehen Weisbaden) while parting company with Dimitrios Souanis (to Apollon Limassol) and Stephane Darbion (Troyes).
By Lou Economopoulos