Lucescu at the heart of PAOK’s stunning season
PAOK can sense something special is on the cards. With 22 rounds of the Super League in the books, the Dikefalos tou Vora find themselves in first place of the standings, two points clear of nearest challengers AEK Athens. A large reason behind their success is Razvan Lucescu, the Romanian coach who is making a name for himself in Thessaloniki.
The 49-year old joined PAOK in August 2017, replacing Serbian Aleksandar Stanojevic after the latter only lasted 57 days in the hot-seat. Lucescu’s tenure didn’t start off well, as PAOK lost to Swedish minnows Ostersunds in dramatic circumstances to miss out on UEFA Europa League football and began the Super League campaign with a lacklustre 0:0 stalemate at Levadiakos.
Nevertheless, Lucescu is gradually proving his doubters wrong. The former Xanthi head coach has managed to create a real family unit among PAOK’s players, with the Dikefalos tou Vora showing a unity on the pitch which their loyal fans hadn’t witnessed for quite some time. Aided by the likes of stars Dimitris Pelkas and Aleksandar Prijovic, PAOK are Greece’s best team at the moment, winning ten consecutive league matches to move into pole position with eight rounds of the campaign remaining. Backed by rock-solid and record-breaking goalkeeper Alexandros Paschalakis, PAOK have incredibly only conceded a mere eight goals in 22 fixtures.
While PAOK’s players are finally living up to their huge potential, Lucescu has to take an overwhelming chunk of the credit. Managing PAOK isn’t an easy job, especially considering how hungry the fans are for the club to finally turn from a potential title contender into Greek champions. Following a shaky start with PAOK, Lucuesu has steadied the ship in Thessaloniki, silencing those who were calling for his head after a sluggish opening few matches in the Super League.
If alarm bells were already ringing in early September, they soon became deafening as PAOK lost a tight match to Olympiacos 1:0 in Piraeus and fell to AEK at the OAKA by the same score. PAOK seemed to fall apart when playing away from the Toumba Stadium, but to his relief, Lucescu always possessed the full backing of both Giorgos and Ivan Savvidis, the two most powerful figures at the club. As time has shown, they were right to be so trusting in Lucescu.
PAOK are practically unbeatable at the Toumba Stadium - indeed the Dikefalos tou Vora have impressively won all ten matches in Thessaloniki, but they seriously struggled on the road until that crucial 3:0 win at Xanthi. Yes, winning in Xanthi isn’t necessarily an extraordinary achievement, but it was a victory which made PAOK believe that they really are the full package. The way the players ran to Lucescu after scoring the opening goal truly showed their togetherness and rappor.
Since that victory, PAOK have won every single match in the Super League, capitalising on errors from their rivals to glide into first spot. Lucescu has found the key to getting the best out of every player on the roster, transforming playmaker Pelkas into the game-changer he can be and showcasing goalkeeper Paschalakis’ talents. Serbian poacher Prijovic is flourishing under Lucescu, netting 13 goals in the Super League and becoming a starter for the Serbian national team. Lucescu has shown real belief in PAOK’s Greek players too, regularly allowing promising prospects Efthemis Koulouris and Dimitris Limnios to have a decent amount of playing time on the pitch.
Lucescu is creating a PAOK team which people want to support. He’s put together a core group of players who fight, stick together and are perfectly capable of ending the club’s 33-year wait for the Greek title. If PAOK continue their stunning run of form and defeat Olympiacos and AEK at the Toumba in the coming weeks, surely the club can start planning their title celebrations, can’t they?