AGONAsport PROFILE: Who is New Panathianikos Boss Giorgos Donis
The exit of Marinos Ouzounidis due to the financial uncertainty surrounding Panathinaikos has paved the way for another former player of the Trifylli (and former teammate of Ouzounidis), Giorgos Donis, to enter the hot seat. AGONAsport analyses the appointment of the 48 year old and his fascinating career to date.
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Donis was highly regarded as a player and holds the unique honour of being the first Greek to play in the English Premier League and the first Greek footballer to use the Bosman rule to his advantage in this move to Blackburn Rovers.
Th German-born midfielder began his playing career in 1990 at PAS Giannina. After a successful season, he made to the move to Panathinaikos, where he arguably spent the best part of his career. This is where he earned the nickname of “Train” due to his acceleration.
His greatest moment in the famous Green shirt undoubtedly came in the 1995-96 season, particularly in the UEFA Champions League first leg semi final against Ajax. It was Donis who bagged the assist and all-important pass leading up to Polish striker Krzysztof Warzycha’s late match-winning goal. A mazy run beating multiple players to find the unmarked Warzycha gave the Greens a 1-0 lead on aggregate after the away leg of the tie. Unfortunately, it was not enough as the Dutch outfit comprehensively won the second leg in Athens.
Following this, he became the first Greek to venture into the big-money world of the English Premier League. The move made him the most expensive Greek athlete at the time, signing for 1.1 billion Drachmas (approximately 4 million Euro). This was a ground-breaking move on many fronts, but he was the first Greek to take advantage of moving to another European team with no transfer fee needing to be paid as his contract expired.
He only spent one season at Blackburn, where he was erratic at best, scoring twice in 22 appearances (11 as a starter, 11 as a substitute). The goals came against Everton and Coventry City respectively. He then headed back to Greece to join AEK for the first of his two stints there. A year later, he was back in England in Sheffield United colours for one season. After that, he moved to Huddersfield and then back to the Enosi where he ended his unique playing career.
He made 24 appearances for the Greek National Team, scoring on 5 occasions.
Early Coaching Career and Success
The “Train” started his coaching career in 2002 with Zografou-based Ilisiakos, earning consecutive promotions from the fourth tier of Greek football to the second. This earned him a move to Larissa, where he stayed until 2008. He brought the club up to the Greek Super League from the second tier in his first season in Thessaly. He then led the club to a respectable 8th placed finish in his first season managing in the top flight.
Step up to AEK too Much to Handle, Atromitos Success, PAOK Appointment
Donis stepped down from his post as Larissa manager at the back end of the 2007-08 season, and moved to AEK in May 2008. This step up to a bigger club relatively early in his managerial career proved too much as he was sacked by November due to a run of poor results and early exit from the UEFA Cup.
A year later he moved across Athens to join Atromitos. In the 2010-11 season he led the club to a Greek Cup final berth, only to lose to his former club AEK 3-0. In the next season, Atromitos reached the Greek Cup final once again under his guidance (losing 2-1 to Olympiakos after extra time). This was coupled by a playoff berth in the League for the Peristeri-based club.
This was arguably the making of Donis as a manager and it enabled him to try his luck at a big club in Greece once again, this time in Thessaloniki with PAOK. He joined PAOK on the 31st of May, 2012 on a two year deal, however, after a crucial defeat to Asteras Tripolis in the Greek Cup at the semi final stage, chairman Ivan Savvidis sacked him.
Coaching Abroad, Arab Experiment
Donis’ first move abroad was to Cypriot giants APOEL in October 2013. In his first season in Cyprus, he managed to win the League-Cup double. This was the first time in his coaching career where he won the League title. It consequently earned him a contract extension for a further season. In August 2014, he led APOEL to the group stage of the UEFA Champions League after disposing of HJK Helsinki 4-2 on aggregate and Aalborg BK 5-1 on aggregate. In the group stage of the competition, APOEL was drawn against European heavyweights Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Ajax. APOEL was only able to collect a solitary point ( 1-1 draw at home against Ajax). The other five matches ended in defeat. He terminated his contract by mutual consent on the 6th of January, 2015 after a string of poor results, most notably a 1-1 draw against Agia Napa.
He is no stranger to the fear of the unknown (as his playing career shows - being the first Greek to make the move to England and use the Bosman rule).
So just over a month later, he moved to Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal, where the club had recently come off a heartbreaking AFC Champions League final loss. He managed to guide the club to the semi final stage of the competition in the 2015 edition of the competition. In addition to this, he won the League title after defeating Al-Nassr in the final.
On the 28th of July, 2016 he signed with UAE club Al-Sharjah with the contract running until the summer of 2018. However, he swiftly put an end to the experience of living and coaching in the UAE as he rejoined APOEL almost exactly a year later.
Timing of Panathinaikos Move Could Not be Better
He was then sacked by APOEL in March 2018 as the club dropped out of first spot in the Cypriot League. As a result, he has since been without a job and is ready to take the opportunity to manage Panathinaikos, the club where he made his name, his eldest son, Christos, is a member of the playing squad, and youngest son Tasos, rose through the Academy ranks.
Panathinaikos needed someone who was familiar with the club and knew the weight of the shirt. Given the uncertain circumstances with the financial mess the club finds itself in as the Giannis Alafouzos regime comes to a much-needed end, there is no better option for the club than Giorgos Donis right now. Pairoj Piempongsant deems him as the man to make Panathinaikos great again, but before that, fans of the Trifylli can expect him to focus on giving chances to hot, young Greek talent rather than overpaid and overhyped foreigners. This bodes well for the future where he can build on the attacking playing style and culture fostered by Ouzounidis. It will undoubtedly help knowing the weight of the shirt when attempting to build a culture of togetherness between the squad and a “team before player” mentality.