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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 3 December 2016
28 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 3 DECEMBER 2016 SPORT DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM ISSN 1321-1676 9 771321 167062 Out of time, out of patience and out of here – it’s the end of the line for Andrea Stramaccioni The Italian Job didn’t quite work out for Panathinaikos, which finds itself in limbo yet again Udinese coach Andrea Stramaccioni. PHOTO: AAP VIA AP/PAOLO GIOVANNINI. GERARD PAPASIMAKOPOULOS As these words are being written, on a nose-numbingly cold December morning here in Athens, Greece, Andrea Stramaccioni is still the manager of Panathinaikos. It is highly unlikely, however, that he will still be at his post by lunchtime. Last night, his Panathinaikos side were all but dumped out of the Greek Cup, after losing to second division OFI Crete, with the Athenians now needing a combination of highly unlikely results to stay in the competition. Flat, with no urgency and bereft of ideas, Stramaccioni’s side has now won just one of its last ten games and it seems that its potential Greek cup exit will be the final straw. Team owner Yannis Alafouzos, who saved Panathinaikos from the brink of bankruptcy and a crash-and-burn drop into the third division a few seasons ago, has so far been right behind his manager, shielding him from any and all criticism that lanced towards him, but it seems that even he has run out of ways to protect him. During the post-match press conference, Stramaccioni once again appeared unwilling or completely unable to grasp the severity of the situation, blaming an individual mistake by full-back Ousmane Coulibaly and marking it as the turning point of the match. The match itself, for all it was worth, saw Panathinaikos take the lead through a sharp Marcus Berg goal and a solid first half performance, but typically for Stramaccioni’s side, a complete collapse followed in the second, allowing the underdog to hustle and muscle its way back into the match and claim an unlikely victory. Ultimately, the 40-year-old Italian must take most of the blame. Backed significantly by the team’s board, Stramaccioni has been allowed to draft in nearly 20 players in little over a year, a number that is as surprising as it is alarming. Surprising in the sense that the side inherited by previous coach Yannis Anastasiou was hardly shambolic, having won the Greek Cup during the 2013-2014 season and alarming inasmuch as for all the recruits he has brought in, the Italian has managed to show little progress on any front. Most worrying of all, how- ever, is that Panathinaikos seems to be a team in complete limbo. Should Stramaccioni go, the Athenians are back to square one. Out of European competition, lagging behind a highly average Olympiakos side – the very fact that the perennial champions are so far ahead this season should be a source of embarrassment for all their pursuers – and now out of the cup as well, Panathinaikos finds itself looking to the new season for hope, before the current one is past the halfway mark. To be fair to Stramaccioni, he wasn’t alone in this hopeless endeavour. His first half of his season in charge, after Yannis Anastasiou was booted out, was dour, with Panathinaikos playing with little invention or purpose. The Italian, who had hardly set the Serie A alight when in charge of Inter and Udinese, did not hide his inadequacies well; they were there for all to see. A shrewd mover in the transfer market, he was always impressive in his player dealings, but when time came to handle things from the bench, to address the balance of a match as it was unfolding, that was where Stramaccioni was found wanting time and time again. Nevertheless, the board put faith in him at the end of last season, allowing him to go out and gather troops that were best suited for his tactical and footballing plan. The problem is, of course, that after a year in charge and the Italian all but packing his bags, no one is quite sure what that plan was. Which brings us to Yannis Alafouzos, the businessman at the head of the Panathinai- kos structure. Hardly a typical example of the sort of person usually involved in Greek football, Alafouzos has adopted a rather more softly-softly approach in dealing with internal team issues, whether they be manager-related or otherwise. And while putting faith in the captain of your boat and giving him every opportunity to lead you to calm waters should be commended, ignoring mistakes made to the point where you repeat them time and again should not. That Stramaccioni had lost the plot, the faith of his players and any grasp of footballing reality was evident long before Panathinaikos was put to the muddy sword by OFI in Crete. The signs were there from last season, but they were ignored. So where does all this leave Panathinaikos? Certainly and primarily, in search of a new manager. While the temptation to continue with another manager from abroad may appear great, chances are that this time Alafouzos and his board will look to appoint someone who will be able to grab the reins with a minimum of fuss and manual reading. Giorgos Donis and Marinos Ouzounidis seem to be the favoured options, both having played for Panathinaikos in the past, but it is Ouzounidis who would be the betting man’s choice, a shrewd, promising manager, and more importantly, a stern individual who would bring the Panathinaikos dressing room back in line by force of character alone. Whoever steps into the managerial hot-seat will of course pray that star striker Marcus Berg, who is without a doubt the greatest signing of the Alafouzos era, will be willing to stay on and lead the line once more. Panathinaikos is a team bleeding out the precious few drops of self-confidence it has left. New manager or not, the loss of Berg at this point in time would simply be too much of a blow for a team once again looking for a sense of purpose.
26 November 2016
10 December 2016