Can van’t Schip Steady the Sinking Ship?
AGONAsport’s Nick Tsambouniaris assesses where it has gone wrong for the Ethniki since 2014 and what John van’t Schip needs to do to steady the sinking ship.
It is hard to believe that on the 29th of June, 2014 the Ethniki found themselves a whisker away from what would have been an historical quarter-final berth at the 2014 FIFA World Cup held in Brazil. A gutsy Ethniki lacked a cutting edge but bowed out of the tournament with their heads held high, in fact, gaining respect despite the heartbreaking loss.
The hallmarks of the Ethniki in the 2002-2014 ‘golden era’ were attributes such as fighting spirit, determination, passion, energy, fighting for every ball, and playing for the Greek flag and Greeks worldwide. This mentality was key in building a squad that was greater than the sum of its parts.
Here is where it has gone wrong for the Ethniki.
Lack of Leadership and Fighting Spirit, Loss of Key Players
This fighting spirit and determination was brought by strong-minded leaders, whose passion rubbed off on everyone. Most notably, the retirement of Giorgos Karagounis after the 2014 World Cup is surely not a coincidence in the Ethniki’s downturn. He played a vital role in the side as captain, both on and off the field. At 37, he was still barking orders and chasing every ball, leading by example. While not the most skillful player, his quality could not be questioned. He scored his fair share of goals from set pieces and from distance.
With Karagounis as captain, we barely saw the Ethniki slip up to the likes of the Faroe Islands, Luxembourg, Estonia, Armenia, and Liechtenstein, among others. A warrior on the field, he demanded a certain level of effort from his players.
Ever since his retirement, the Ethniki lack direction and leadership. Vasilis Torosidis and Sokratis Papastathopoulos have mostly held the captain’s armband since 2014 but their leadership can be questioned at different points. After the 1-0 loss in Finland, Torosidis stated that “we are a small country and we have an average league.” Not exactly what you want to hear from your captain… Meanwhile, Sokratis played a key role in the sacking of Angelos Anastasiadis during the summer after declaring he “would retire from the Ethniki should he coach remain.”
Other senior players such as Kostas Manolas and Kostas Mitroglou need to be held accountable. They are known for having a poor attitude, especially the former, who also played a role in the departure of Anastasiadis from the helm. These are not the types of players you can rely on to build a strong team spirit akin to that of the 2002-2014 ‘golden era’.
This seems to have rubbed off on practically everyone who has represented (and embarrassed) the Ethniki over the last five years. A lack of fight is a major reason for these shock losses to minnows. As a fan, you just get the feeling that all opponents, whether it be minnows or powerhouses, just love facing the Ethniki as a lack of fight and determination are clearly evident.
The stereotype of “Mykonos FC” cannot be more relevant as the players’ collective lack of effort and poor attitudes, resembles the common notion that they would rather be in Mykonos and focus on their tattoos, having the latest haircuts and Instagram.
The players have often gotten away with a lot of the blame over the last five years, but they have to take most of it in this case. John van’t Schip has a lot of work to do off the field in establishing the required standards and choosing players that want to bleed for the shirt.
Lack of Quality in Most Areas
In almost every area of the pitch, there is a clear lack of quality. The midfield is an important area, yet we offer next to nothing. The Ethniki has sorely lacked a strong box-to-box midfielder for a long time. Someone who can do a bit of everything. Creativity is also a glaring issue. Focusing on the two recent qualifiers, clear cut chances were at a premium and the opposing defences were nothing to fear. Sure, the absence of Kostas Fortounis was costly, but there was no one capable of stepping up to the plate. Dimitris Kolovos and Andreas Samaris, to name two, do not cut it. The latter was largely responsible for Liechtenstein’s equaliser after failing to complete a simple pass. We cannot even do the basics right!
Mitroglou was criticised for his lack of effort and contribution, but Efthimis Koulouris cut a frustrated figure in the last two qualifiers. Last season’s leading scorer in the Greek Super League proved he can score goals in a variety of ways but failed to leave an impression for the Ethniki. The lack of service to the strikers is another huge reason in the demise. If you do not create chances, you will not score.
Sokratis and Manolas ply their trades at top clubs, but the latter has regressed in recent years. Defensively, there are also issues in both fullback positions. There is no one stand-out right back and there is no top notch left back, even though there are several options. Fullbacks in the modern game are so vital - building attacks bombing forward from wide positions and being able to put in good crosses, as well as being able to cover a lot of ground up and down the flank. We are just not up to scratch.
It all starts from the top. The Federation have severely let down Greek football fans on all fronts. The tough questions need to be asked - why did we fail to build on a successful 2014 World Cup campaign? Where did the prize money from that tournament (and other previous ones) go? Why sign coaches with a short-term vision who are out of their depth? Why announce games will be played in Crete yet revert back to playing in Athens, especially at a big stadium like OAKA?
They have allowed this idea of “Mykonos FC” to fester for far too long and have made the wrong calls every time in terms of coaches. At the moment, there is a sense of apprehension and negativity every time the Ethniki plays, from players and fans alike...
Poor Coaching Recruitments
From Sergio Markarian, to Kostas Tsanas, to Michael Skibbe, to Angelos Anastasiadis. None of these coaches genuinely had what it took to turn around a sinking ship. Poor selections and tactics only added to the aforementioned lack of quality and effort over the years. Skibbe for example, ruined any chance we had of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. The first leg annihilation at the hands of Croatia in November 2017 was embarrassing. He selected players who were not regulars at club level such as Orestis Karnezis and he gave away a clumsy early penalty which set the tone.
After missing out on a second successive major tournament, the keys were handed to Anastasiadis for the UEFA Nations League. However, there was no rebuild. In fact, things only got worse as many predicted. He was out of his depth and the team was exposed against Italy and Armenia in June.
He lost the dressing room and his position became untenable. At the same time, the EPO only gave him a one year deal to begin with. This illustrated that even they were not confident in his abilities.
John van’t Schip has said all the right things since taking charge, despite the two poor results but actions are needed, not words, in order to steady the sinking ship.