PAOK allowing Greek players to take centre stage
PAOK Thessaloniki are often criticized for a lack of homegrown players, but change could be around the corner. In this year’s Super League season, a small Greek core is starting to appear within the team, something which holds great optimism for the country’s footballing prospects.
In the last few years, PAOK’s key group of players have always been foreign. While that has resulted in PAOK regularly competing in Europe and finishing in the top five in Greece, they have enjoyed little trophy success apart from the 2017 Greek Cup. However, things are slowly changing. Due to injuries and suspensions, head coach Razvan Lucescu’s had no other option than to field more Greek players. They’ve impressed too, notably spearheading PAOK to a thumping 4:0 win against Panathinaikos last weekend.
Diminutive midfielder Dimitris Pelkas is the standout figure. The small 24 year old, who was shunted out on loan during his early professional years, has taken the bull by the horns in Thessaloniki. Blessed with wonderful technical ability, Pelkas is capable of running the show on his own when he’s in the mood. A perfect example is the recent game with Panathinaikos, where he scored two stunning goals at the Toumba Stadium. His brilliant form even earned him a call-up to the Greek national team’s fateful World Cup playoff matches against Croatia.
An emerging Greek talent among PAOK’s ranks is forward Efthimis Koulouris. A hugely important player for the Greece U21 side, Koulouris is just starting to show what he’s made of at the top level. Having spent some useful time on loan at Anorthosis Famagusta in the 2015/2016 campaign, he returned to Thessaloniki a matured player. He started the game against Panathinaikos in place of Serbian Aleksandar Prijovic, scoring his team’s third goal from the penalty spot. If he carries on in the same vein, Koulouris could turn into the striker which Greek football craves.
Another Greek player at PAOK worth mentioning is goalkeeper Alexandros Paschalakis. He only signed for PAOK in August this year, but he’s already caught the eye in Thessaloniki. Argentinian Rodrigo Rey is considered the club’s number one, however Paschalakis is determined to put the pressure on. He has started two Super League matches so far this season, not conceding a single goal. It will be interesting to see how many games Paschalakis can take off his rival Rey.
Yes, Lucescu is mainly being forced into fielding Greek players as a result of injuries, but he is seeing for himself that locals are no less capable than foreigners. Despite Omar El Kaddouri, Vieirinha, Aleksandar Prijovic and Mauricio all not available to start the match against Panathinaikos, the team still managed to tear their opponents apart. Left-back Panagiotis Deligiannidis and forward Dimitris Limnios are others who are receiving more playing time in Thessaloniki, with both proving that they have the potential to grow into quality players. Lucescu might have a few selection headaches coming if they continue performing so successfully.