An Ethniki left hung out to dry (Part 1 of 3)
AGONAsport’s Sarantos Kaperonis talks about the apathetic president of the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO), Evangelos Grammenos and the delusional coach, Angelos Anastasiadis, in part one of a three-part blog series.
If there is one word to describe the current state of the Greek national football team it is CHAOS. What was witnessed both on and off the field in Greece’s last two Euro 2020 qualifiers was no image for a former European champion. The blame cannot be pointed to one person or just one issue, but to a group of factors. That being said, some are to blame more than others.
Without a doubt, the problem begins with those in charge, the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO), specifically the president Evangelos Grammenos. Then, the blame falls on coach Angelos Anastasiadis, who lives in an alternate universe, and lastly on the players.
I have cried out time and time again that the current EPO, the president and its members couldn’t care less about the Ethniki. It is a simple conclusion drawn from the EPO’s actions. The EPO has other things higher on its agenda (too much to explain here) and the Ethniki is not one of them. An agenda that has failed Greek football miserably with Cup finals played behind supposed closed doors (hooligans still managed to receive official invitations), point deductions at an all-time high, a club president entering the pitch with a gun in his holster....the list could go on forever….
As for the Ethniki, this federation will be judged as the one that ultimately set the Ethniki to new lows. Before the qualifier against Armenia, Grammenos stated that no matter the result, there will not be talks of a coaching change. Bold words from EPO’s president - if only he could predict what would follow on Tuesday evening.
With captain Sokratis Papastathopoulos crying out for changes since the Ethniki cannot continue under these circumstances (he did not mention anyone specifically), and Angelos Anastasiadis responding in a domineering way - referring to Sokratis as Mr. Papastathopoulos - the bold-faced Grammenos was nowhere to be seen. He was hiding, the PRESIDENT of the federation, as we all witnessed the national team dismantle in front of our eyes on live television.
The fact that the national team of Greece has no home stadium is just downright embarrassing. Contradicting the requests of both coach and players, the team was moved away from Greece’s only modern football stadium, the Karaiskakis, for political and personal reasons, reasons that do not pertain directly the national team.
With the ‘cold’ OAKA Stadium proving to be a complete failure in the UEFA Nations League and after PAOK fans refused to house the Ethniki at the Toumba Stadium, the Pankritio Stadium, one that is not up to UEFA’s standards, was chosen to house the Euro 2020 qualifiers. A plan was set in place for the Cretan stadium to be ready for the June qualifiers, but with things in Greece always running behind schedule, the Pankritio was deemed unfit for the June qualifiers (and also the September qualifier against Liechtenstein) and the OAKA was once again forced to host two key matches.
Against Italy, a respectable crowd for the Ethniki’s standards came out to support the players, even though it was a rather cold atmosphere, but against Armenia, it was another troubling picture of empty stands.
In group play of just ten matches, each home match is pivotal in producing good results. Unfortunately, Greece have no home and when that extra push is needed from the stands, the OAKA is not the solution.
In the match against Armenia, a second-half goal from Carlos Zeca brought back hope that the game could be salvaged. In that instance, the true advantage of playing at home could have been enough to help overturn the game, to give the players that extra boost from the supporters to go on and find an equalizer, and then a winner.
I find it hard to believe that Greece would have equalized against Bosnia-Herzegovina with a late goal from Georgios Tzavellas, or against Belgium through Carlos Zeca, in World Cup qualifying had those games taken place at the OAKA. The fans gave the players that extra boost that comes with playing in a true ‘home’ game environment, something that lacked on Tuesday. Yet again, well done EPO for failing your national team.
Did the EPO not realize that the Ethniki had matches in early June? If they did, shame on them for not taking the initiative to work with the Super League and rework the season’s schedule to end at a later time. The 2018/19 Super League season ended May 5th, over a month ago. With some players going on vacation, they were summoned back to the national team to play two important qualifiers while the domestic league in Armenia finished just ten days ago. Is it an excuse for Greece to lose to Armenia? Absolutely not. Does it show the EPO’s lack of interest in the Ethniki? Certainly.
The current federation is made up of members that are truly clueless about football and the national team. Just look at Grammenos’ resume. One only knows why he is in charge. The coach and players can only do so much when they are governed by people that clearly do not know what they are doing and have time and time again, shown that the Ethniki is something that does not concern them, no matter the current state of the team. Maybe, just maybe, after the fire lit by Sokratis Papastathopoulos, the EPO will have no choice but to attend to the Ethniki’s problems.
No football logic from Anastasiadis
Ninety-five percent of the Greek footballing world can come to the conclusion that Angelos Anastasiadis was not the right man for the job. We all knew his treles, but what has been witnessed during his time in charge of Greece, makes you wonder what is truly going on his brain.
His tactics, approach, selections, demeanor and interviews are from another planet. The mere fact that in the last four games, Greece have conceded nine first-half goals speaks volumes of his wrong approach from the get-go, 2-0 against Bosnia in the 15’, 2-0 against Turkey in the 17’, 0-3 against Italy in the 32’, and 0-2 against Armenia in the 33’. Anastasiadis was known for doing his homework before a fixture and being one of the best Greek managers to read a game, something which he has clearly lost over the years.
I will give Anastasiadis credit for making perfect decisions in matchday two against Bosnia, where his influence helped Greece earn a draw in Zenica. However, a team cannot find itself behind 2-3 goals within the opening half hour and expect to rally a comeback every time. The result in Bosnia was a nice surprise, but it is not the norm, and masked the real issues at hand.
Anastasiadis misread every game before kick-off and the score lines are a true testament of this. Perhaps the coaching display against Italy was one of the worst in the Ethniki’s history. One without any sort of football logic. Anastasiadis put out the slowest midfield possible, with Dimitris Siovas, Andreas Samaris, and Dimitri Kourbelis against the pacy Italians, while moving the only true workhorse from the center of the park, Carlos Zeca, out to right-back. The midfield was torn apart and before the Greeks could blink, the Italians bagged three goals in a matter of minutes.
In the attack, Greece’s only true threat, Kostas Fortounis, was essentially taken out of the game as he played as a sole striker with no support. Fortounis, who thrives on creating plays for his teammates, was a lost cause in Italy’s third of the field and it showed as Greece failed to threaten the Italians in 90 minutes of play.
Against Armenia, Anastasiadis at least put out a logical lineup and formation, but left out his fastest defender, Kostas Manolas (sought out by European powerhouses again this offseason), from the starting lineup in favor for the much slower Siovas!
To make matters worse, the Greek boss changed goalkeepers for a third consecutive match by putting on Odisseas Vlachodimos between the sticks. Alexandros Paschalakis got the nod in the friendly against Turkey, and Vasilis Barkas started against Italy, where he was regarded as Greece’s best player from the match. There is no doubt that all three are talented players, however, how is a keeper supposed to build chemistry with his defenders if Mr. Anastasiadis has a rotation in the number one position. It is unheard of. Pick one, whoever it may be (for me it should be Vlachodimos), and stick with them. It is as simple as that.
With a slow Siovas in defense and a ‘cold’ Vlachodimos in goal, the Armenians took full advantage to open the scoring in the eighth minute. Vlachodimos and Siovas miscommunicated, and with a slow Siovas chasing behind Alexander Karapetian, the Armenian slotted the ball into an open net. The rest was as we saw it.
Anastasiadis managed to take a good defensive team, one that houses one of the best center-back duos in the world at the international level, and make them look like your local horio team. A toothless team with no shape, no discipline, no motivation, inexcusable gaps in the defending third and so on...
Anastasiadis' tactics, if they can be labeled as such, are not fit for the modern game. Football has developed in all aspects and the 66-year-old is simply well past his prime, not up to speed.
Anastasiadis’ alternate universe
Many can agree that Anastasiadis lives in his own world, an alternate world. It is no secret that the Greek coach is a very, very religious man and brings his belief into the game of football. Others in his position do so as well, however, the extremes carried out by Anastasiadis are simply unfathomable.
Just listening to his post-game interview, for example, makes you wonder if he is actually saying the things coming out of his mouth, or if you are being ‘punked’ by OPEN TV or Cosmote TV. Providing answers such as “It is likely that the Armenians are better people than us and God gives this to them” or “Maybe God is testing us” to questions regarding what is at fault for the poor results are simply mind-boggling.
I myself am a religious person, but these comments are simply outrageous in a postgame Euro 2020 qualifier press conference. Mr. Anastasiadis, God is great and gave you a brain to think, analyze, draw up, and construct a proper game plan for the Ethniki Omada. Use what the Lord has given you and leave these comments for your nightly prayers.
In the postgame interview against Armenia, Anastasiadis did discuss football matters, but the remarks were equally delusional. Stating that the Ethniki played well against Armenia is infuriating to hear. It makes you think about what constitutes a ‘bad’ performance. He went on to say that Greece will qualify for the Euros. Yes, the optimism is great, but in what reality does he live in? I personally do not think Greece are completely out of the running, however, how can Anastasiadis honestly believe the team can turn things around under his leadership.
Anastasiadis failed to connect with the players
When Anastasiadis took charge, I wrote what will result in success for Anastasiadis while in charge: his connection with the team’s leaders, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Kostas Manolas and Vasilis Torosidis. Unfortunately, I was proved right.
In contrast, reports in the Greek media stated that he gave Kostas Fortounis a leading role in the team and it paid dividends for the Olympiacos man. Fortounis, who in the past has struggled with the Galanolefki, is playing some of the best football of his career at the international level and almost single-handedly salvaged Greece a result against Armenia. If only Anastasiadis could have that effect on the other players, the turnaround would be truly amazing.
Anastasiadis lost the locker room as clearly seen in Tuesday’s spat with Sokratis on live television. Behind the scenes, something did not seem right heading into the two qualifiers against Italy and Armenia as Vasilis Torosidis was left off the roster for a supposed ‘lack of readiness,’ but in reality, it was a dispute between the two men. It is now clear that there is much more to this story after Tuesday’s developments.
Sport24.gr released something very concerning a few days ago. The reporter mentioned that a very valid source involved with the national team informed him that the goal (either from EPO or Anastasiadis himself) was to slowly remove the ‘old timers’ from the national team. The first steps were taken with Alexandros Tziolis, Georgios Tzavellas and Orestis Karnezis, who in my opinion have rightfully been relieved of their international duties, and the next set of targets were Torosidis, Manolas, Papastathopoulos and Mitroglou. As of now, these reports have unfolded to be true. Why were these players targeted? One can only theorize the motives.
It is clear that Anastasiadis does not have the backing of the Ethniki’s ‘old timers’ Papastathopoulos, Manolas, Torosidis, Samaris, Mitroglou, to name a few and the locker rooms are divided. All the aforementioned have experienced the Ethniki in its ‘glory days’ and know the team’s true potential.
Papastathopoulos, for example, lives and breathes the Ethniki. There is no denying it. He plays in the world’s best league with one of the world’s best clubs and witnesses what football should be like on a daily basis. He has worked with world-class managers such as Unai Emery, Thomas Tuchel and recent Champions League winner, Jurgen Klopp.
Seeing the Ethniki with no game plan, coached by someone clearly not capable of leading a team at this level, forced him into speaking up and sending his SOS cry to the federation.
More on that in Part II.