After Mitroglou, Who? The Disappearance Of The Greek Striker
Tasos Donis’ display against Belgium this past fall as a ‘false nine’ in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier between the two sides was superb. It went to underline the fact that Donis can be an attacker that the national side can rely on for the foreseeable future.
His role that day however underscored a major problem in Greek football; a dearth of top strikers. Kostas Mitroglou is the undisputable man up top for Greece and has been for the last couple years. However, as is the case against Belgium (and Estonia), when the Marseille striker is unavailable, the Ethniki have a serious problem up front.
Greek football has been blessed in recent years with high quality defenders, a host of players that have found success in Greece and Europe at the club level led by the duo of Kostas Manolas and Sokratis Papastathopoulos. Even the new talent coming through are known more for their defensive qualities such as Panagiotis Retsos, the 19-year-old now turning out for Bayer Leverkusen.
The 1980’s and 1990’s saw Greece able to produce some strikers who long live in the memory. Players such as Thomas Mavros, Nikos Anastopoulos, Dimitris Saravakos, and later on Demis Nikolaidis, Nikos Machlas, and Angelos Charisteas all were considered top strikers for Greece with the latter trio also doing well in stints in European leagues. Nikolaidis had a decent season at Spanish giants Atletico Madrid, Machlas finished top scorer in Europe at Vitesse earning a move to Ajax while Charisteas had solid campaigns in the German Bundesliga and Dutch Eredivisie.
Other players who made strong contributions to the national side in recent times include Nikos Lymberopoulos, Fanis Gekas, and Dimitris Salpingidis. All appeared as strikers at times (Lymberopoulos and Salpingidis also playing in other attacking positions) and could be counted on for goals.
The likes of Apostolos Vellios and Dimitris Diamantakos, the current back-ups to Mitroglou in the last qualifying cycle, have not shown to be at the requisite level to carry the mantle into the next generation for Greece.
The hope is that a new batch of attacking talent will come through. However, hope will only bring you so far. Certainly, the fact that only a small number of clubs in the nation’s top domestic league start Greeks in the forward positions doesn’t help. This season only Larisa and Asteras Tripolis have given a consistent run of matches to a Greek striker, in this case Thomas Nazlidis for AEL and Michalis Manias for Asteras. One argument could be that there isn’t quality talent coming through, but the counterpoint is that how can talent be developed without the appropriate experience in a domestic league. There has not been a Greek striker atop the Super League scorer’s charts in over a decade when Lymberopoulos was top scorer in the 2006/07 season (Kostas Fortounis bagged the most Super League goals in 2015/16 as an attacking midfielder).
The solution is a difficult one to find especially considering Greece’s overall financial problems currently and the lack of money in developing the sport at the youth level. The only sure thing is that the Greek game hasn’t seen a lack of scorers like this and ultimately that could hurt the national team and Greek clubs going forward unless something changes.