Fans Must Stick Together During Another Testing Season

Fans Must Stick Together During Another Testing Season

AGONAsport’s Panathinaikos blogger, Nick Tsambouniaris, talks about Panathinaikos’ season ahead, which looks to be the most difficult year in the club’s history. 

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With the new season only days away, the off-field future of Panathinaikos is still as uncertain as ever and this has undoubtedly had an impact on the playing group. Generally speaking, minimal attention is paid to pre season friendly results, but the fact that the Greens were winless up until the final friendly against Levadiakos (2-0 win) is cause for concern.

Furthermore, starting the season on -6 makes things even harder. Recovering this deficit early is a must to ease the fears, climb the ladder and build some momentum in time for the big derbies. Giorgos Donis must build on the outstanding work of Marinos Ouzounidis in fostering a culture of togetherness and team unity. Hopefully the groundwork was laid in the summer training camp in the Netherlands, in spite of the results.

For all its shortcomings, it is a largely likeable team. Tasos Chatzigiovannis, Dimitris Emmanouilidis, Paschalis Staikos and Giannis Bouzoukis, among others have all risen through the ranks at the club, understand the weight of the shirt and will all play a pivotal role this season. Ousmane Coulibaly was on the verge of leaving, instead he had a change of heart and is raring to go. Anthony Mounier has stated several times his desire to repay the club for signing him when injured, indicating he would take a paycut to stay if need be. Christos Donis is now a senior member of the squad, having also progressed through the Academy, and it will be intriguing to see how his game develops under the tutelage of his father. Dimitris Kourbelis, the best player, captain and talisman, genuinely bleeds for the club and has evolved as a leader. He opted to remain at Panathinaikos rather than moving to PAOK in January for what would have been a bigger salary and playing in a team challenging for the title.

As it can be observed, each player has their own story and it is for this reason the fans should not give up on the team, despite the off-field issues. The players will give 110%, Giorgos Donis as a former player understands the size of the club and is a solid replacement for Ouzounidis. Technical director Nikos Dabizas has also done a good job using his contacts in the transfer market to bring in young and hungry Greeks under 23. Even if things do not go well on the field initially, the fans have to rally behind the players.

This will not be as straightforward as usual as the club has moved away from its spiritual home of Leoforos to OAKA. Sadly Dimitris Giannakopoulos and Giannis Alafouzos put their personal interests ahead of those of the club itself and the fans, going back and forth with a series of statements which only made the mood more toxic. Now at OAKA fans will struggle to create their trademark intimidating atmosphere in a larger stadium sitting further away from the action.

Thankfully, centre back Vangelis Oikonomou understands this, stating in an interview that fans “are very close” at Leoforos. “Even when it does not fill, it has a warm atmosphere and has given us a real help”. Oikonomou went on to say that it is now the team’s duty to “help bring the people to the stadium with strong performances”. He also understands the fans’ concerns since the team is starting on -6 but remains grounded, stating the team can “start the season with 3-4 wins and clear the penalty”.

In terms of the team itself, and the tactics and formation, there are things I would do differently as a fan but we still have to support Donis. He has trialled variations of 3-4-3 and 3-4-2-1 formations in a bid to attack with three players and have an extra body at the back, however, it requires discipline from the wing backs to cover a lot of space and the holding midfielders when a centre back gets dragged wide. It is questionable if the squad has the players to use this formation to effect.

My preference with the current players would be a 4-3-3 formation which would allow the team to remain compact, provide an extra body in the middle of the pitch, and get the best out of Kourbelis as the anchor man to stifle opposition attacks and start attacks from deep. The squad possesses all-action midfielders in the form of Kourbelis, Christos Donis, Ergys Kace and Fanis Tzandaris. On top of this, much attention has been given to the foreign centre forward signing (the only signing Dabizas can make where a player is not Greek and over 23). As there is a dearth of quality striker options, the experienced centre forward could slot straight in.

It is a team game and each member of the squad must do his job, however, the team’s success largely hinges on acquiring a quality frontman. Pedro Conde would be a brilliant signing to fill the void as he is a proven goal scorer in the Greek Super League. Luring him, however, would not be easy as the fee would be above 800,000 Euro and would require Pan Asia to provide the funds. Cristian Lopez, another player recently linked, may prove to be easier. He has already been released by RC Lens after a good stint and has scored everywhere he has played. Anthony Mounier and Tasos Chatzigiovannis would have no troubles playing off such players.

Another exciting incoming is Argiris Kampetsis. Dabizas has vigorously pursued him all summer and the deal is finally over the line. Borussia Dortmund has agreed to release him from their setup. He will be a welcome addition and more than likely slot straight into the starting lineup, and could be a player that makes a big difference moving forward.

The same can be said of Nikos Vergos. His career has not exactly panned out the way many thought following his loan spell with the Real Madrid B team, however, his talent is undoubted. Hopefully he will rediscover his best form at Panathinaikos. His signing also provides Donis with more options in the final third, which was perceived by most to be the major weakness in the Greens’ squad. Now attention has to turn to signing the “bam” foreign striker with experience to bring the goals. Pedro Conde has again been linked in recent days, with rumours claiming negotiations have taken place.

Dabizas’ tactic of acquiring players on free transfers (making former clubs release the player and in return they retain a resale fee), rather than loans is a smart one as the club can sell the player for a relatively good fee in the future provided they perform. This in turn makes the club more self-sustainable moving forward, moving away from signing foreign mercenaries who are past their best. This partly played a role in the club’s demise.

Despite the turbulent summer, the duo of Donis and Dabizas are doing their utmost to give the fans a strong team in testing circumstances. The players and coaching staff deserve the fans’ backing.

By Nick Tsambouniaris
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