Donis’ Panathinaikos Vision
Giorgos Donis rejected big money offers from other countries to take the reins at Panathinaikos. Rebuilding a fallen giant amidst a flurry of off-field uncertainty is undoubtedly the hardest task in his coaching career to date.
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The proposed Pan Asia takeover of the club is taking longer than expected, the team will start the new season on -6 and there are significant transfer restrictions at play. Starting so far behind a ball has even been kicked means the team needs to get going from the beginning.
Donis will need to call upon experienced players that he trusts to make it happen. He believes he has a solid core of 12-13 players he can count on to keep performances at a consistently high level. The aim is to recover the -6 as quickly as possible and compete for a top 5 finish.
With the season set to begin in around a month’s time, Donis is aware of what needs to be done to ensure the team is ready. The preseason training camp and friendlies in the Netherlands are a good starting point for him to assess where the team needs strengthening and which formation will work best moving forward.
The favoured formation appears to be 3-4-2-1. Sokratis Dioudis will be the first choice goalkeeper - a handy option to have, given he is fairly experienced for a younger goalkeeper (in goalkeeper’s terms). Dimitris Kolovetsios, Vangelis Oikonomou and Achilleas Poungouras will be the three centre backs. The latter may feature in the preseason friendlies but it all depends upon PAOK granting him a release in time. He has agreed to terms to join the Greens.
Ahead of the backline, there will be two defensive midfielders. Dimitris Kourbelis - the heartbeat and captain of the side, will be one of those, however, he is currently recovering from injury. Ergys Kace is also a likely starter. Both are in their mid 20’s and will be some of the more experienced players in the team. Fanis Tzandaris and Christos Donis will provide good competition.
They will be flanked by two fullbacks, who will operate more as wingbacks. Ousmane Coulibaly and Mattias Johansson are the two right-footed options, with the former favoured to be first choice. On the left, Emanuel Insua will be the first choice. The club has recently signed Ilias Chatzitheodoridis to provide cover in this position. The youngster has progressed through the Arsenal Academy and has joined the Trifylli on a free transfer from Brentford after his release was granted. He has joined his new teammates in the Netherlands.
Anthony Mounier and Tasos Chatzigiovannis started as the duo behind the striker in the first friendly against AZ Alkmaar. At 30, the former is one of the veterans of the team and by far the oldest attacking player. Donis knows his experience will be crucial. Omri Altman is well and truly on the road to redemption after a horror injury suffered in the dying minutes against Olympiakos last season. It is unknown as to whether or not he will be 100% ready by the time the first matchday rolls around.
Finally, the striker position is the one causing most concern for Donis. The club only had rookie Sotiris-Pantelis Pispas on the books up front when Donis joined. After only a handful of appearances last season, it was common knowledge the club needed to boost its limited striking stocks. Consequently, Mark Sifneos and Stefanos Regakos signed as free agents.
Donis and Nikos Dabizas know that none of these players could be counted on for the rigours of a full season. Regakos has never played at a senior level and Sifneos has only made a handful of appearances in the Dutch second division and Indian Super League.
This has prompted Dabizas to pursue Argiris Kampetsis. The young forward, who signed with Borussia Dortmund (and plays in their B team) from Olympiakos, boasts undoubted potential. He also fits the bill in terms of the qualities Donis and Dabizas are looking for. The German club is open to the idea of loaning him to the Greens but Dabizas is trying to negotiate a permanent deal. The deal has stalled and other clubs have now come circling, according to the latest rumours.
Furthermore, Donis is seeking an experienced striker to fill the void of being the sole non-Greek player over 23 that the club can sign. The team lacks experience in this position and a player who can be called upon for the whole season is the top priority. Several players have already been linked but this signing is expected to happen towards the end of the transfer window, after the club has examined as many options as possible.
Donis has only ever used the 3-4-2-1 formation during his time in Saudi Arabia but is ready to roll it out in Greece. He knows the importance of landing a reliable striker as all the play would go through him. The defence would also be tightened by virtue of playing with an extra centre back. On top of this, the four players ahead of the back three will have defensive capabilities. The two pivots in this case will be vital. Closing space and not allowing the opposition to play are the main goals of this as the midfield will be flooded. The wing backs will also drop deep when the team is defending.
Donis wants his team to have possession but also knows the significance of doing something with it. “When the opponent is chasing, they easily get tired and you can take advantage of this” are Donis’ words. This quick transition and fast ball movement is what the squad is working on in the Netherlands.