The season is still fresh and their careers are only just taking off, but Giorgos Donis has unearthed a host of “diamonds” in Panathinaikos’ head-turning start, as well as reviving the careers of several others after they were at a crossroads. Here are the best picks.
The 20-year-old midfielder has come from nowhere to break into the first team from the Academy ranks. He earned the nickname “Bazooka” after the first few games due to his ability to strike thunderbolts from distance (none better than his career opening goal at Xanthi in the first round).
He backed that up with another in the home win over Lamia and as a result, was chosen by Antonis Nikopolidis to be part of the U21 Elpidon squad, where he managed to find the back of the net against Belarus. His presence in the middle of the park has given the Greens another dimension, with his passing game catching the eye.
The versatile 21-year-old attacker is arguably the pick of the bunch. He has come of age under Donis and is one of the most in-form players in the Championship. Panathinaikos’ prized possession has delivered on all fronts so far, with his pace, crossing and natural attacking instinct stealing the show. He also has an eye for goal. This was evident with his expertly taken header against PAS Giannina which got the comeback started a few weeks ago.
This led to may wanting to see him in the men’s Greek National Team, but he had to be content with a spot in Nikopolidis’ Elpidon team, like many other teammates. There were rumours in the summer that he would be loaned out with an option to buy, how lucky the Greens are those rumours did not eventuate.
The young prodigy was held in high regard at Borussia Dortmund, however, Nikos Dabizas got his man after lengthy negotiations with the Germans. It centred around Dabizas wanting to take him on a free transfer, rather than a loan. This has proved to be a masterstroke with the player settling in seamlessly.
He has started a few games but the way things stand at the moment, he will have to be happy with a role as a “super sub”. Something he is very effective at. His pace, energy, and shooting make him a menace for tired defences. As the season progresses, it would be interesting to see how the team would fare if he was paired with Macheda up front. His pace would compliment Macheda’s nice touches and vision nicely.
The first player born after the turn of the millennium to make his Super League debut. Emmanouilidis undoubtedly has a major future ahead of him but has to bide his time at the moment. However, he has shown if given the chance he will take it with open arms. His first goal against Lamia will live long in the memory, as will his celebration where he ran and embraced Donis.
He is a natural goalscorer, who has brought his form and scoring boots in the youth setup to the first team. He is also a tough competitor who chases every ball and makes it a nightmare for opposing defences to contain him.
The captain has emerged as a true leader before the age of 25. His love for the club has made him a firm fan favourite. He rejected a better offer from PAOK in January as he believed it would not further his career, compared to a bigger move overseas eventually.
He is the team’s best player - a rock in the middle of the park, winning the ball back and protecting the back four. Donis has preferred to keep him in midfield so far this term, but he can also play as a centre back. Now a regular for the Ethniki, he is about to enter the best years of his career.
The Swedish fullback was an enigma last season and started this season outside of the first team. Far from a youngster or “diamond”, he has a new lease of life under Donis and has already done things no one thought he could do. His 3 goals to date have endeared him to the fans and they were all expertly taken. A striker would be proud of those finishes. This has led to him seriously challenging Ousmane Coulibaly for a spot in the first team, rather than being on the periphery. Elevation into the Swedish National Team would be a fitting reward.
The goalkeeper is far from a “kid” but his career was at crossroads. After bursting onto the scene with the Greek U19 team in 2012, his career appeared to be heading in the right direction but injuries and poor moves stunted his growth. Many were worried with him as the first choice this season following the departure of Odisseas Vlachodimos to Benfica, but Dioudis has proved to be an outstanding replacement.
Once again credit to Donis for turning the player around. Last season’s inconsistent displays have been replaced with a keeper who commands his area well and makes extraordinary saves.
Chatzigiovannis is under contract until 2020, so he is not the first priority but in order to keep him at the club, he would need to be offered a better deal at some point later down the track. This would also help if serious European clubs came calling as he would bring the club a massive transfer fee, should he continue his upward trajectory of course. Thankfully Marinos Ouzounidis gave him an improved contract in 2017.
The duo of Emmanouilidis and Bouzoukis are the top two priorities, purely down to the fact that they are both on low wages. They are both off contract in 2020, like Chatzigiovannis, but they are only on 20,000 Euro per season. Pittance when you consider what they could be earning with their current performances. It is no secret that the Trifylli want to offer them both fresh contracts sooner rather than later.
All in all, the shift to trusting the youth over overpaid, older foreigners has proved to be a masterstroke. Not only have the performances significantly improved, but it will also leave the club in a much better state off the field. These players will make the club money moving forward and cost relatively little.