10 key aspects of Greek club football in 2018
2018 was a memorable, albeit hugely controversial, year for Greek club football. AGONAsport investigates.
Gun wielding presidents, court cases, endless points deductions...it’s fair to say that 2018 was an eventful year for Greek club football. Reigning Super League champions AEK have fallen from grace after winning the title in spring, PAOK are edging closer to the trophy, Olympiacos are slowly improving with Pedro Martins, and Panathinaikos’ youthful team has captured the headlines on many occasions.
As 2018 approaches its conclusion, let’s take a look at 10 of the most memorable aspects to emerge from club football in Greece this calendar year:
WILD WEST COMES TO THESSALONIKI
Where else to start than Thessaloniki and infamous PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis. On March 11, PAOK hosted AEK at the Toumba Stadium, with the home team needing to win in order to leapfrog their opponents into first place. In a tight, tense affair, AEK looked to be clinging on to a precious 0:0 draw, however Fernando Varela headed a corner beyond Vasilis Barkas in the final minute.
Cue ecstatic scenes of joy among PAOK fans, players and officials alike. However, the celebrations didn’t last long, as referee Georgios Kominis ruled the goal out for offside after vehement AEK protests. PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis suddenly appeared on the pitch marching towards the referee, and after the game was called off, pictures displayed the Russian-Greek businessman storing a gun around his waist. PAOK were subsequently handed a 0:3 defeat and deducted three points from the Super League table, a punishment which practically handed AEK the title.
PAOK EDGING CLOSER TO FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP SINCE 1985
In Europe, PAOK endured a dreadful first half to the 2018/2019 season as they were knocked out in the group stage of the UEFA Europa League, but it’s been the complete opposite domestically. With 14 rounds in the books, the Dikefalos tou Vorra boast a healthy eight point lead over Olympiacos, and they even managed to defeat the Piraeus club 1:0 at the Karaiskakis Stadium in a game which could prove to be decisive. Had it not been for a two-point deduction, PAOK would be 10 points clear!
The bitter ending to the 2017/2018 season gave PAOK even more motivation to finally return to the top of the Greek pile. So far, they’re undefeated in the Super League, winning every single match except for the 1:1 draw at Atromitos. Serbian hitman Aleksandar Prijovic is leading the charge to good effect and PAOK are finding a way to win even when playing poorly. They’ll never have a better chance to win the championship.
ENDLESS POINTS DEDUCTIONS AND COURT CASES
This is the second consecutive season, after the 2017/2018 campaign, when the Super League has been marred by damaging points deductions. PAOK started the season at -2 for the incident involving Ivan Savvidis in March, Panathinaikos were docked six points because of their financial crisis, and AEK lost three points for a clash between their fans and the police during a derby with Olympiacos at the Olympic Stadium in early October (1:1). Fingers crossed, we will get to the end of the current season without any more unsavoury court cases, but that certainly can’t be taken for granted.
EMERGENCE OF PANATHINAIKOS YOUNG GUNS
Panathinaikos were hit by damaging transfer restrictions this summer after the financial mess which the Athenians found themselves in. Given that their squad is largely made up of prospects for the future and seemingly ‘average’ foreigners, the bookmakers had Panathinaikos down as one of the favourites for relegation, but the young Greens have proved their doubters wrong spectacularly. At the moment, Panathinaikos sit in fifth place with 22 points, and they were even threatening an unlikely title challenge until losses at PAOK and OFI. The Prasini held AEK and Olympiacos to draws, displaying fantastic character in the process. Anastasios Chatzigiovannis is a livewire on the right flank, Federico Macheda has rediscovered himself, and boss Giorgos Donis has found a great connection with his players. The future is bright.
OLYMPIACOS SEARCHING FOR STABILITY
Who would have thought that fiery owner Evangelos Marinakis wouldn’t sack the head coach for trailing the Super League leaders by eight points? In the past, that would have been a criminal offence by the Olympiacos supremo, but he’s eager to finally discover some stability. Yes, Olympiacos may be in a distant second place, but the Erythrolefkoi have played some of the best football in Greece this season and captain Konstantinos Fortounis is a completely different player under the guidance of head coach Pedro Martins. This Olympiacos set of players has real potential and a feel of togetherness, and in the UEFA Europa League, the Thrylos ousted AC Milan with a memorable performance to qualify for the knockout stage. Their main problem has been the poignant profligacy in front of goal.
AEK RETURN TO CHAMPIONS LEAGUE AFTER 12 YEAR HIATUS
In the summer, AEK didn’t have the best of transfer windows, losing Sergio Araujo, Lazaros Christodoulopoulos, Ognjen Vranjes, Jakob Johansson and head coach Manolo Jimenez while acquiring inadequate replacements. Former Panathinaikos manager Marinos Ouzounidis was drafted in to replace Jimenez, and in the UEFA Champions League qualifiers against Celtic and Vidi, he got the best out of his squad to steer AEK to the coveted group stage for the first time since the 2006/2007 season!
Unfortunately for the Enosi, that was where the success ended. In Group E of the Champions League, AEK became the first Greek club in history to go point-less in the tournament, losing all six games to Ajax, Benfica and Bayern Munich. Talented winger Viktor Klonaridis was the only AEK player to score in the group phase with a brace in the dramatic duel against Benfica at the OAKA on matchday two (2:3).
At the start of the year, Peristeri based outfit Atromitos took the Super League by storm, finishing in a credible fourth place. Leaders Amr Warda, Andreas Gianniotis and Nicolas Diguiny left in the summer, but instead of falling back into becoming a mid-table side again, Atromitos have shown their mettle to maintain their place among the big hitters. Coached by the wily Damir Canadi, Atromitos are in third place of the Super League as we move into 2019, and prolific striker Efthymis Koulouris has been a major reason behind their fantastic form. On loan from PAOK, Koulouris has been unstoppable in the Super League, netting 11 goals and tallying two assists in 13 matches. Atromitos are showing no signs of stopping their admirable development.
ARIS AND OFI BACK IN THE BIG TIME
This season, Super League attendances have taken a steady rise, and the return of Aris and OFI, two historically well supported clubs, has played its part. Financial hardship resulted in the two clubs spending years in the doldrums, but in the 2017/2018 Football League, they finished in the top two positions to seal their long-awaited return to the Super League. Given the investments made, Aris had expectations of pushing for a European place, but four successive defeats saw Spanish coach Paco Herrera receive the sack. His replacement, Savvas Pantelidis, hasn’t quite been able to make Aris tick yet, but the Thessalonikis do occupy a credible seventh place. As for OFI, the Cretans are involved in a fight to avoid relegation, but they have beaten Olympiacos and Panathinaikos at their intimidating Theodoros Vardinogiannis Stadium.
A REFEREEING CATASTROPHE
The state of Greek refereeing has hit a new low. Back in spring, the Hellenic Football Federation made a decision to appoint foreign referees for the Greek Cup final and all Super League derbies in the following 2018/2019 season, insinuating that foreign specialists are more competent at their job. Sadly, we then ended 2018 with more refereeing controversy, as Super League referee Athanasios Tzilos was beaten up in Larissa. The 15th round of the championship was then postponed as fellow Super League referees refused to take charge of matches as a show of support for Tzilos. Can it get any worse?
AEK ENJOY FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP IN 24 YEARS
Some may argue that AEK won the 2017/2018 Super League crown in the courts, but overall, the Kitrinomavri were the most stable club in the campaign and didn’t get involved in any scandals (asides from the chaos against PAOK). Spearheaded by a rejuvenated Lazaros Christodoulopoulos and the talismanic Sergio Araujo, AEK played with such belief throughout the entire season, beating Olympiacos twice and even embarking on a run to the Last 32 of the UEFA Europa League. Nea Filadelfeia was the place to be when AEK celebrated their triumph in May!