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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 08 July 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 8 JULY 2017 27 SPORT MARCUS BERG PHOTO: TWITTER How do you solve the ‘no Berg’ conundrum? The main man in the PAO attack is desert-bound. So where do Marinos Ouzounidis and his men go from here? GERARD PAPASIMAKOPOULOS It's difficult to imagine Panathinaikos taking to the field in the opening match of the new season and Marcus Berg not leading the team's forward line. Such is the connection the Swede has achieved with the Athenian team since he first pulled on the PAO shirt in 2013, that a Berg-less Panathinaikos seems, well, odd. Truly, it's a task in itself to accurately describe the multifaceted role Berg has played for Panathinaikos without feeling that you have somehow left out some important element. Without a doubt the most astute and successful signing in the Giannis Alafouzos era and arguably one of the best players to ever arrive in Greece, Marcus Berg was far more than the team's centre-forward. In 2013, the Swede was a player looking for a much needed career restart. Sinking without a trace at Hamburger SV, a team that he joined after scoring for fun during his two year stint at Groningen, Berg saw the Panathinaikos offer as his ideal way out. Promised a starring role in a new look Panathinaikos team that would focus on youth in order to balance the books, Marcus ended being much more than a standout star. A scorer of goals, a creator of chances, a leader of men and boys (with or without the captain's armband) a fan focal point and a beacon of sporting relevance, he was called upon time and again to be the powerful engine that would pull the leaking ship that was Panathinaikos to safer waters. And he did. To the best of his ability. So then. What now? With Berg finally leaving Greece, for one last gold-plated contract with Al Ain, how will Panathinaikos cope? How do you cope with losing a player that scored 65 goals in his (nearly) four years at the club and created countless more? How do you move forward after losing a player that everyone else at PAO looked towards when the going got tough? In short, you don't. That is to say, you don't if you expect to find another Berg. Could there be another Berg-ish player out there, just waiting for Panathinaikos to come calling? Possibly. Would that player be a feasible option with the squeaky tight budget the Athenians have to work with for the coming season? Highly doubtful. The main problem Panathinaikos face is one of options. Berg is not the only vital piece of onfield footballing hardware that the team is missing. He is by far the most important one, but surely not the only one. Victoras Klonaridis, the fast-moving satellite that spun around the Swede last season providing the best strike partner Berg has worked with during his years in a green and white shirt has also gone, returning to AEK Athens. So too has Paul-Jose M'Poku, the Congolese midfielder who provided the vital creative spark and drive upon which many of Panathinaikos offensive forays were based. There is also Sebastian Leto, who despite clearly being a fading force, played an important role coming off the bench last season. He has also waved his goodbye. In short, Panathinaikos are now without their spearhead, as well as the creative engine that worked with him to create chances and score a combined total of 61 goals last season. It's an impossible footballing void to fill. What Panathinaikos need to do then, is follow a different road. To forget about a centre-forward that utilises his teammates as much, to put aside the notion of a lone striker who will rely on the players around him to create the avenues needed for him to surge through and score. What Panathinaikos needs right now, with a tight budget pressing at their waist limiting their footballing air supply, is to take a chance. To invest in a striker who is looking for something different. To look for a maverick, a far more selfish individ- ual thanBerg ever was, more a look-at-me forward and less of a I-am-through-my-team kind of player. Going for someone like that, instantly takes the pressure off finding a host of high quality attacking midfielders and supporting strikers and allows PAO some precious time to think about the next step. A selfish striker, a finisher whose first thought when given the ball in the final third is to drive it through the net is vital for Marinos Ouzounidis and his team at this time, if they are to keep their heads above water next season. Berg, for all his goals, was a player that always shined brighter as part of a functioning attacking unit, where he could create space, interchange passes and (eventually) score. There is surely no such creative luxury in this Panathinaikos team. Lucas Villafanez is the only proven creative player of true quality left and to expect the Argentine to somehow transform into a focal point is surely asking for a tad too much. So, if PAO do look for a lone wolf of a player, where would they find one? If rumours are to be believed, then the name of Mevlut Erdinc has been thrown into the mix and that's exactly the kind of player the Athenians need. A regular scorer of goals over his many seasons in France, Erdinc is just the right mix of temperamental, selfish, and unpredictable. Sure, he has proven to be a difficult individual for many coaches to accurately deal with, but that is to be expected when you're discussing a player of this type. If Panathinaikos are to come through this testing time, then they need to think outside the box. There is just no other way. The Berg era is over and hoping that they can replicate it in some new, cost-effective form is a recipe for disaster. Besides. Right now, PAO are not just missing ammunition. They're missing a gun. So why not go shopping for a distinctly different type of firearm?
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