Ethniki Sink to New Lows in Nations League
AGONAsport’s Nick Tsambouniaris dissects where it has gone wrong for the Ethniki in the UEFA Nations League and laments a failure to adopt a fresh approach.
Now that the dust is beginning to settle on the Ethniki’s latest embarrassment in Finland, we cannot rest on our laurels and wait until the next games in November to right the wrongs. The damage has been done and urgent action must be taken before things get worse.
The UEFA Nations League competition represented a golden opportunity for Michael Skibbe and the players to regain some respect after failing to qualify for the FIFA World Cup. It also provided a good second chance to qualify for Euro 2020. Truth be told, it was far from a difficult group and first place should have been the objective. Nevertheless, many would have settled for a changing of the guard in terms of playing personnel and a more attack-minded playing style. Even if results were not there, this would have given Skibbe more time as he could show that he was trying to forge an identity. However, the results have not been there and to top it off, the football has been beyond dire.
Skibbe’s job is now surely untenable and the EPO must act. Focusing on the two most recent games, even the win over Hungary at OAKA was poor. It simply papered over the cracks and reality soon sunk in at Tampere after a hard-working Finland side easily won despite missing talisman Teemu Pukki for most of the game. It also enabled the Finns to run away with the Group. Heading into the final 2 games, the Ethniki require a miracle to get promoted to League B.
Against the Hungarians, we enjoyed well over 60% possession at one point but it was meaningless for the most part. The team only registered a woeful 2 shots on target, one of which was a goal. This did, however, paper over the cracks as as previously mentioned. How can you expect to make strides with efforts such as this?
Against the Finns, it was even worse. We had majority of the possession yet did not manage to muster a single shot on goal in a meek 90 minute surrender. Ugly traits of the Skibbe era reared their ugly head once again in both games. There were hardly any bodies forward when in attack, a player would look up to cross to find no one in the box. The attacking players looked lost in the final third, devoid of any creativity. There was no movement at all, no bodies in motion. This slow motion, one-dimensional play made us predictable once again. The pressing was half-hearted and the back four was ruthlessly exposed with no protection whatsoever. If not for Barkas, it would have been uglier against Finland.
The time has now come for the EPO to act and remove Skibbe from the role. Tactics aside for one moment, one can only imagine how draining it is for the players to hear him say things such as “we are aiming for a point” or “we will score 1 goal.” The players must shoulder a portion of the blame but the negativity from above would not inspire them. Every time the Ethniki plays it feels as if there is a ‘negative’ vibe and it feels like a chore watching them.
Special mention must also be made to Skibbe’s half time substitutions in both matches. With both evenly poised, he opted to bring on the two players who irritate fans like no other in the form of Alexandros Tziolis and Giorgos Tzavellas. Granted Tziolis was decent against the Hungarians, it only papered over the cracks. These two substitutions were insults to fans. He also pushed out our best left back in Jose Holebas, who is currently in career best form. On top of that, he kept another veteran in Orestis Karnezis in the squad due to being a “good influence” on the dressing room. This takes up the spot of a young, promising Greek goalkeeper and we have plenty of those.
Ultimately the buck stops with Skibbe but the EPO are most to blame for this mess.They accepted mediocrity when they gave Skibbe a contract extension after failure to reach Russia. The ‘boys club’ they have formed has dragged us to new lows.
The squad lacks quality in most positions, however, they should be winning most, if not all of these Nations League fixtures on paper. The fact that they have failed to do so, speaks volumes. We lack a proper box-to-box midfielder who can do a bit of everything, a combative striker who brings others into the game, wingers who have pace and can cross, and full backs who can defend and attack.
On top of that, looking at most players they are physically weak. Their lack of size across the board is telling, especially when shrugged off the ball or when they lose an aerial duel. Lack of fitness is another major deficiency common throughout the squad. These issues can be levelled at Greek footballers in general, most are mentally weak and poor trainers.
We will now enter the Euro 2020 qualifying group at a crossroads. From here, we need a Greek boss at the helm or someone who understands Greek football well. There are several quality options who could do a decent job too. Out of the Super League coaches, Giorgos Donis and Marinos Ouzounidis are the best picks but both are probably a tad unrealistic at this stage.
Ange Postecoglou, a Greek-Australian with a proven track record of playing attractive football that is easy on the eye, would be an outstanding appointment. He is currently managing in Japan, but would surely relish the chance to lead his country of birth into a new era.
Former Olympiacos managers, Michel and Leonardo Jardim have a sound knowledge of Greek football and both would be top appointments, looking to blood in our talented youth players from the U21 set up. Jardim has just been sacked by Monaco so it would not be out of the realms of possibility.
All of these aforementioned names, all have one thing in common. They would all look to create an identity, something we have been longing for. Far too often we witness the same players play to the same style with little end product. These Nations League matches have proved to be a wasted opportunity but the EPO has to act and we must be patient with the right managerial appointment.
This is arguably the most important period in the Ethniki’s history - building an identity with a distinct playing style would be a good start.