Lack of discipline costs Livaja and AEK
In the summer, AEK splashed out 1.8 million euros to sign striker Marko Livaja on a permanent basis from Las Palmas, but the Croatian international contrived to receive two red cards in a disastrous UEFA Champions League campaign.
When he originally joined AEK on loan from Las Palmas in the summer of 2017, Livaja arrived in Athens with a bad boy reputation, having often been punished for breaches of discipline in the past. However, the 25-year old managed to wipe the slate clean at AEK, starring in the club’s run to the Super League crown with wonderful performances. As a result, AEK paid Las Palmas 1.8 million to pen a three-year contract with Livaja, but the forward has since let his employers down with his lack of self control.
In the Champions League third qualifying round against Celtic, Livaja played a key role by scoring the winning goal at the Olympic Stadium, but that was his last positive moment in the competition. After the completion of the playoff victory over Vidi, the Croat suddenly lost his temper and foolishly kicked opposing forward Danko Lazovic, something which was completely unnecessary given that the final whistle had already been blown. Livaja was rightly shown a red card by the referee and UEFA subsequently banned him for the next four Champions League games, meaning he wouldn’t be eligible to play until the home match against Ajax on matchday five.
By the time AEK hosted Ajax at the OAKA, the Kitrinomavri were already out of contention for a berth in the Champions League knockout phase, losing all of the first four matches. In Athens, AEK had to defeat Ajax to maintain hope of dropping down into the UEFA Europa League, however Livaja once again hindered the team with his astounding lack of discipline. Already on a yellow card, Livaja contrived to move his arm towards the moving ball inside the AEK penalty area, in turn earning a second yellow and gifting Ajax the opportunity to open the scoring.
Incredibly, Livaja was suspended for 473 out of the 540 minutes which AEK played in Group E of the Champions League! Had Livaja been available for all of the matches, it’s doubtful whether AEK’s fortunes would have dramatically improved, however he possesses star quality with his superb technical ability and the team certainly missed his presence.
Overall, AEK’s shocking discipline was one of the main reasons behind such a disappointing showing in Europe’s elite competition. Taking into account the qualification matches, the Enosis were handed six red cards in a mere 10 matches, as Konstantinos Galanopoulos (2 red cards), Anastasios Bakasetas and Helder Lopes were also given their marching orders by referees. Before the tournament began, many expected AEK to be competitive against Ajax, Benfica, and Bayern Munich, but the Champions League dream rapidly turned into a nightmare which will be hard to forget.