AGONA Spotlight: Ivan Savvidis, the PAOK History Maker
The dream has finally become a reality. After years of trying, PAOK have eventually returned to the top of the Greek pile, winning the Super League for the first time since 1985. In connection with the triumph, the AGONA Spotlight takes a closer look at PAOK supremo Ivan Savvidis.
It’s official: PAOK are the Champions of Greece. It appeared they missed their golden opportunity last year, but in what has been a superb campaign, PAOK have dominated the Super League from start to finish by winning 25 of 29 matches. Players such as Vieirinha, Alexandros Paschalakis, Leo Matos, and head coach Razvan Lucescu deserve all the credit they get, but had it not been for wily, controversial owner Ivan Savvidis, this victory wouldn’t have been possible. In the space of seven years, Savvidis has taken PAOK to the top of the Greek game, claiming three trophies in the past three seasons. PAOK also have the chance to achieve the double if they win the Greek Cup for a third straight season in the May 11 final against AEK.
TIME IN SOVIET ARMY, BUSINESS BEGINNINGS IN ROSTOV
Nothing was handed to Savvidis on a plate. In 1959, Savvidis was born into a working class Pontic Greek family in the Tsalka District of Georgia, which was then a part of the Soviet Union. At the age of 15, he decided to move to the Rostov in southern Russia, where he rolled cigarettes for a living, served in the Soviet Army, and subsequently gained an education. Savvidis graduated from the Rostov State University of Economics in 1988.
In 1993, Savvidis became the general director of the Donskoy Tabak company, the organisation which had previously handed him his first place of work after moving to Rostov. Reports online suggested that Donskoy Tabak gifted one billion cigarettes a year to the Russian Army as it became a big player in the national tobacco industry.
Savvidis subsequently founded the Agrokom organisation in 2004 and spent spells as the president of Rostov FC and SKA Rostov FC.
Representing Rostov, Savvidis was elected as a Deputy of the State Duma in 2003, a post which he held for eight years. Savvidis was a member of the pro-Vladimir Putin party United Russia, but in 2012, he took the decision to mainly focus on Greece.
Savvidis has become a hugely important figure for Thessaloniki’s economy. Alongside taking control of PAOK, Savvidis purchased Greek tobacco companies, hotels (notably Macedonia Palace) and controls Belterra Investments Ltd which manages the Port of Thessaloniki. He is also the owner of the OPEN TV consortium.
PAOK JOURNEY BEGINS
The Dimera company, owned directly by Savvidis, acquired the majority of PAOK FC’s shares in 2012.
Savvidis’ contribution to PAOK’s success cannot be underestimated. It’s taken time and patience, but after Savvidis cleared the club’s outstanding debts, the Dikefalos tou Vorra have gradually become a true force to be reckoned with. Managing the club with intelligence, he has given PAOK the consistency which they’ve always needed, and three trophies in three years speaks volumes. The 2017 Greek Cup triumph against AEK in Volos was the breakthrough moment.
The Toumba Stadium - which will shortly be knocked down to allow a new arena to be constructed - is one of the few Greek stadiums to always be packed to the rafters. PAOK’s tasteful marketing program, coupled with success on the pitch, has worked wonders.
The businessman’s first major PAOK scandal occurred in 2016. In the semi-finals of the Greek Cup, PAOK supporters invaded the pitch with the team losing 1:2 against Olympiacos at the Toumba Stadium, and Savvidis consequently withdrew his club from the competition with the second leg in Piraeus yet to be played.
His second bout of controversy was a lot more dramatic. In Thessaloniki, PAOK were hosting AEK in the decisive match of the 2017/2018 Super League season, and the home team had Fernando Varela’s last-gasp goal disallowed for offside. Incensed by the decision, Savvidis promptly stormed onto the pitch, venting his anger at referee Georgios Kominis and allegedly verbally abusing AEK officials. Shocking images displaying a firearm attached to Savvidis’ waist drew worldwide condemnation.
PAOK were handed a 0:3 defeat for the incident and docked three points from the Super League standings. For his part, a warrant was issued by the Greek police for the arrest of Savvidis, and he received a three-year ban from football stadiums in the country. The scandal effectively cost PAOK the title as they finished in second place behind AEK.
In the 2017/2018 Greek Cup final, PAOK gained revenge over AEK with a 2:0 victory at the Olympic Stadium in Athens, and their players donned masks of Savvidis’ face after clinching the trophy.
REVENGE IN 2018/2019 SUPER LEAGUE
Savvidis has had the last laugh. This season, PAOK have completely dominated the domestic league, winning three of four games against Olympiacos and AEK to secure the title after 29 rounds. This is PAOK’s maiden Greek championship triumph since 1985 and only the third in their entire history.
His next challenge is taking PAOK to the promised land of the UEFA Champions League. In the summer of 2018, the Dikefalos tou Vorra came within two games of qualifying for the group stage, but they fell to Benfica in agonising circumstances. Such an ambitious club, with solid financial backing, simply has to be playing among Europe’s elite.
At this moment in time, Savvidis’ net worth is rated at 1.5 billion dollars, making him one of the richest men in Greece and Russia. His outspoken son, Giorgos, is heavily involved with PAOK as well.