Academy products offer hope for struggling Panathinaikos
Panathinaikos are enduring maybe the worst period in the successful club’s history, languishing in a disappointing eighth position of the Super League and plagued by huge financial problems. However, young academy players are slowly receiving the chance to show their potential.
Not having the funds to employ high quality foreigners, the Greens are looking to off-load their biggest earners while still being competitive in the Super League. Leading figures such as Niklas Hult, Lucas Villafanez and Rodrigo Moledo are all rumoured to soon take their leave from Athens, but Panathinaikos’ excellent academy gives the club hope for the future.
Coming into the weekend’s home match against AOK Kerkyra at the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium, Panathinaikos were in desperate need of a victory. Head coach Marinos Ouzounidis opted to put six Greeks into the starting line-up, with Odisseas Vlachodimos, Evangelos Oikonoumou, Dimitris Kourbelis, Fanis Tzandaris, Christos Donis and Anastasios Chatzigiovannis all included in the roster. In the second half, Paschalis Staikos and Christos Kountouriotis were introduced, meaning that Panathinaikos had four academy players on the pitch, something which hadn’t occurred for a number of years.
Ouzounidis’ decision was justified, as Panathinaikos thrashed Kerkyra 4:0 to gain a massive three points. Donis (a converted forward) scored the opening goal, and tricky 20-year old Chatzigiovannis impressed with a decent performance. Not too much can be read into one victory, however it does appear that fielding youthful, competent Greeks who care about the club is the way forward for the Athenian giants. Taking into account Sotiris-Pantelis Pispas, Dimitrios Emmanouilidis and Stefanos Evangelou, players which have all received minutes in this year’s Super League, almost ten faces from the club’s academy are now in the first team. Interestingly, Panathinaikos have fielded 29 different players in just 18 matches of the 2017/2018 campaign, but this statistic does show that Ouzounidis is willing to give academy prospects an opportunity to show their capabilities at the highest level.
The financial issues have forced Panathinaikos into changing their policy, now beginning to rely on their own academy players which didn’t cost a penny to purchase. Importantly, since this season started, 21 academy prospects were offered professional contracts, and Ouzounidis is gradually trusting them with game time in the Super League. It may take time for the new talents to provide the required results, but the future could be bright if the correct steps are taken.