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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 25 March 2017
28 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 25 MARCH 2017 SPORT Olympiakos in crisis? Surely not The spluttering Piraeus engine is in need of a service, even if the team that Marinakis built is still top of the league DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM ISSN 1321-1676 9 771321 167062 PHOTO: SENTRAGOAL.GR/PEGASUS GERARD PAPASIMAKOPOULOS For an outsider looking in, defining Olympiakos as a club in crisis may seem like a slight stretch. After all, the perennial champions and current league leaders have a healthy six-point lead at the top of the Superleague, are in the semifinals of the Greek cup and seem well on course to securing another domestic double. A club in crisis? Nonsense. Yet for anyone that has watched this season unfold for the Piraeus club, it has been evident for quite a while that all is not well in the team that Vangelis Marinakis built. A stuttering side that has struggled to extract any value from its well-paid playing staff, Olympiakos have stumbled and coughed their way to this point; burning through managers like it’s going out of style and finding life hard without much-needed Champions League cash. Takis Lemonis, returning for a third time to the Olympiakos dugout – after managerial spells in 2000-2002 and 2006- 2008 – will be the FIFTH manager to have helmed the team since the start of the season, a statistic that says a lot more than any other single number or event connected to the team’s current state of affairs. Current Hull Tigers coach Marco Silva, plus Victor Sanchez, Paulo Bento, and Vasilis Vouzas have all come and gone - attempting to steady the red and white ship with varying degrees of success - but none managed to truly kickstart a team that appears to be regressing, losing some its best players in the process. It’s no wonder, of course, that an already problematic season has only gotten worse after the high profile sales of star striker and top scorer Ideye Brown to Chinese side Tianjin Teda and midfield lynchpin Luka Milivojevic to Premier League strugglers Crystal Palace. Olympiakos are a side that have grown accustomed to building their season around the money that would come their way through their automatic promotion to the Cham- pions League group stage, but with Greek teams failing to collect the required number of points in European competitions, Olympiakos were forced into unknown territory, playing in the qualifying stage of the Champions League for the first time in quite a while. Their exit at the hands of Israeli side Hapoel Be’er Sheva, left their financial plan for the season in tatters, and the eventual sale of the side’s two best performers after the halfway point of the season had passed was inevitable. That being said, you can’t fault the Olympiakos board for their business sense, seeing as they managed to extract nearly €30 million from the sale of two players that had been purchased by the club just two years ago for a combined fee of approximately €8 million. Football, however, is not just about balancing the books and while Olympiakos were busy wheeling and dealing the team all but ran out of gas. Recent big profile losses to AEK Athens, Panionios, PAOK, and Panathinaikos in the league, as well as a crushing Europa League defeat to Besiktas that threw them out of the competition on aggregate, have marked out a horrendous run of results - the likes of which the Piraeus side hasn’t lived through in decades - and have made the alarm bells ring loud and clear. But is the appointment of Lemonis, a coach whose career appears to have stalled, but who has connected his name to some landmark moments in the team’s history enough to finally lead the team to calmer waters? Well, it depends on what one defines as “calmer waters”. Expecting the current crop of players to suddenly burst into life, playing mesmerising and high scoring football would be unrealistic but it appears this is what would be needed for the grumbling crowds of the Karaiskaki stadium to be satisfied. It’s not going to happen. The current squad is arguably the least talented set of players Olympiakos have had in years and you would struggle to fit any of their current starting eleven – Fortounis included on current form – in any of the teams that owner Vangelis Marinakis has constructed since he took over. Speaking of Marinakis, the current position of the club’s owner and the effect that has had on the side is equally important. Still being scrutinised for his role in a lucrative match fixing ring by local and international press, as well as his possible involvement in a massive drug shipment that was seized by authorities, it has been clearly evident that Marinakis has chosen to take a back seat, watching events unfold and carefully planning his next move. Some say that involves the sale of Olympiakos to Chinese investors; a move that would then allow him to finally complete his purchase of sleeping giants Nottingham Forest and distance himself from the toxicity of the Greek League. Whatever the case may be, Olympiakos need to act fast to halt their current slide and more importantly need to go back to the drawing board, in order to plan ahead for next season. Missing out on Champions League football for a second year in a row would be an unmitigated disaster and another year of this managerial merry-go-round would severely dent a European profile that club has worked hard to establish. Managers and players with an established CV will think twice about heading to a side that is likely to turn on them at the first sign of onfield trouble. Of course, if Olympiakos have retained their league crown and pocketed the Greek Cup as well by May, very little of this will make any sense. All the unrest and all the groans from the stands will be silenced by victorious fireworks and fist pumping bravado. The players will be heralded as worthy of wearing the red and white shirt and Lemonis will be crowned as the triumphant returning hero. All will be great once more. That is to say, until the new season kicks in. But that’s still a LONG way away. Isn’t it?
18 March 2017
1 April 2017