Green tribute to captain Zeca
It’s early days into the 2017-18 season and Panathinaikos have lost central midfielder Carlos Zeca, a key player to manager Marinos Ouzounidis both on and off the pitch as he was also captain of the team. AGONAsport looks back at six eventful years that had their fair share of highs and lows, but one thing is certain, no one can deny Zeca gave it his all for the Trifili and he will most certainly be remembered as a fan favourite.
He joined the Greens in the summer of 2011 from Portuguese club Vitoria Setubal on a four year deal worth 400,000 Euro when countryman Jesualdo Ferreira was in charged. He immediately made a name for himself scoring against arch-rivals Olympiacos in a 1-1 away draw. From the very beginning fans knew they had a special player on their hands who literally gave it his all for the team in difficult circumstances. This was reinforced by him being one of the very few survivors after a poor 2012-13 season where Panathinaikos finished a disappointing 6th which prompted a mass overhaul of the playing roster. His equalising headed goal at White Hart Lane against Tottenham in the UEFA Europa League which prompted wild celebrations in the away end will live long in the memory even though the team went on to lose 3-1 and face an early exit from the competition.
The following season Zeca was made captain by then manager Yannis Anastasiou. A successful season culminated in Panathinaikos winning the playoffs and a 4-1 demolition of PAOK at OAKA in the Greek Cup final on the 26th of April 2014. Zeca lifting the trophy was definitely the highlight of his six year stay in Athens. It was also the only silverware he managed to win as a Panathinaikos player. By this stage the tough tackling, hardworking, uncompromising midfielder had already endeared himself to the Panathinaikos faithful through his wholehearted performances and endless running. Merely a couple of months later he signed a new three year contract extension.
In February 2015 after superbly leading Panathinaikos to a 2-1 derby win over arch-rivals Olympiacos, Zeca expressed his interest in playing for the Greek national team. In November 2016, he passed the subsequent history and language tests which resulted in him obtaining Greek citizenship. Until then however, there were still many twists and turns in his time at the club. Early in the 2015-16 season when Panathinaikos lost to Azerbaijani club Qabala over 2 legs on away goals it was Zeca who took it upon himself to apologise to Gate 13 and the rest of the fan base. Following this disappointing loss, coupled with a few more, Anastasiou, the manager who showed a lot of faith in Zeca was sacked but this did not stop Zeca from going about his business on the pitch the same way in which he always did. New manager Stramaccioni kept him as captain.
It was not always smooth sailing for Zeca in the famous green jersey as his passionate displays sometimes led to overly aggressive challenges and a relatively high number of red cards. Last season in an away match at Larissa he was sent off for an off the ball incident, received 2 yellow cards in five minutes at Giannena in early 2016, a straight red for a professional foul at Xanthi 18 months ago, plus numerous other yellow cards and cautions. Even considering his fiery style of play and non-stop running, this is exactly what fans will be missing out on as even in the dark times for such a famous club you could always count on Zeca to inspire the team either by words or actions.
He was rewarded for his club form by Greek National Team manager Michael Skibbe, who handed him a debut in a vital FIFA World Cup qualifier away to Belgium as a substitute. In the new 2017-18 season, Panathinaikos manager built his side on the central midfield duo of Zeca and talented youngster Dimitris Kourbelis. This was showcased against Athletic Bilbao in the recent UEFA Europa League tie where Zeca put in a man of the match shift in the first leg. As always, tireless running, shutting down attacks and shielding the back four were central features of his performance.
Years of consistent performances like this prompted Danish club FC Copenhagen to swoop on the 29 year old. At first their initial offer rumoured to be in the region of 1 million Euro was turned down but with the tight financial constraints Panathinaikos faces, coupled with Copenhagen’s Europa League qualification, the Danish club was able to come back with an improved offer of 2.5 million Euro which was accepted. Zeca may have limitations in his game such as his passing range but over the years at he has more than made up for it with his “fighting spirit” performances which embody the meaning of Panathinaikos along with his superb leadership.