Panathinaikos Strikes Gold In Dark Times
With absolutely zero financial support from club management, the youth setup at Panathinaikos continues to go from strength to strength with all 3 Academy sides (U20, U17 and U15) still in contention to win their respective competitions.
The situation has been so dire that Academy Director Takis Fyssas (a former player at the beleaguered club) has had to contribute funds from his own pocket to keep the youth sides afloat. In addition to this, youth coaches and support staff have not been paid for several months. Other reports indicate there are no funds available to allow for basic requirements of the smooth operation of the respective departments.
One such example to put this all into context is the fact that the dominant U20 team was forced to travel to Larissa for the last matchday on the same day as the actual game itself as the club could not afford accommodation. As one can envisage, this undoubtedly makes it harder for the players having to travel and play on the same day, but in a typical strong performance, the young guns emerged 2-0 winners to notch their 17th win in 21 games played this season. The other 4 results have all been draws with zero losses.
That was just one example to highlight aforementioned dire situation. All of this is occurring whilst rivals Olympiakos have pumped millions into their youth setup, particularly in terms of infrastructure, and PAOK has also recently considerably invested in this area.
In the U20 League, Panathinaikos is undefeated on 55 points, with PAOK being the closest challenger in 2nd place on 51 points. Olympiakos is 3rd on 50 points. The last time Panathinaikos won this competition was in 2012, and it is worth remembering they finished 9th in 2016 and 10th in 2015.
As far as the U17 is concerned, the side is in 1st spot, 1 point ahead of 2nd placed Olympiakos and 10 ahead of 3rd placed Panionios. The club has never tasted success at this level, with 2009 being the last time they won the old U18 League. In the U15, the side sits in 2nd spot, one point behind leaders Olympiakos. Panathinaikos has never won the U15 in its 4 years of existence as a competition.
As it can be observed, in spite of a severe lack of funding the Academy is seeing its best results ever and much of this boils down to placing an emphasis on the collective and working hard as a team. When he took over as Academy Director just over a year ago Fyssas himself stated that his aim was to mould the young men into great players, but also good people off the field by having an understanding of Panathinaikos’ history and what it means to represent the club. In the past, a lot of work was put into selecting the better players to make the step up into the men’s side or to be sold for a fee, whereas today under Fyssas a winning mentality has been fostered.
Former Panathinaikos Academy Director Theodoros Elefteriadis revealed that there were numerous “diamonds” in the Academy and if they were adequately supported they could move straight into the first team and make an impact. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that a whopping 14 players were promising youngsters from the Academy have signed professional contracts with the club a few months ago.
Marinos Ouzounidis has already given some of these players an opportunity, both as starters and as impact substitutes, and there are more waiting in the wings. The rise from youth star to being an established first team player is never easy. The off-field issues plaguing the club has resulted in the integration of some of these players not being done in the appropriate manner due to a ridiculously high turnover in the first team which has been well-documented. All of this, however, does not negate the fact that there are some very talented players in the Panathinaikos youth system, some of which are among the best young players in Greece.