Panathinaikos 2018-19: Glass Half Empty or Full?
AGONAsport’s Panathinaikos contributor Nick Tsambouniaris assesses the 2018-19 season for the Greens.
Last summer Giorgos Donis inherited a largely unfancied squad when he took the reigns from Marinos Ouzounidis. Matters were made worse by the club’s dire off-field situation. As a result of severe financial trouble, the team could not obtain a licence to participate in the Super League and therefore, started the season on -6 before a ball was kicked. On top of this, Donis and returning Technical Director, Nikos Dabizas, were heavily restricted in the transfer market. Only one foreigner over 23 could be signed, small contracts could only be handed out, and they could only sign new players on free transfers or loans.
Given this bleak outlook, expectations were low and Donis would be forced into turning to the club’s strong youth setup. The first six or so weeks of the season were truly incredible. Against all the odds, Panathinaikos wiped away relegation talk and rocketed up the ladder in an astonishing manner. The opening game of the season remains one of the highlights - the Greens scored late through debutant Giannis Bouzoukis to defeat perennial bogey side Xanthi. This thumping long range strike sparked wild celebrations as young Bouzoukis ran embraced Donis. The wins followed - the Trifylli was scoring for fun against Larissa, Lamia, PAS Giannina and Levadiakos.
Along with Bouzoukis, Tasos Chatzgiovannis took his game to a new level and was one of the best players in the early parts of the season. His pace, creativity, direct running, crossing and confidence proved too much to handle. Italian striker Federico Macheda also hit the ground running and endeared himself to the fans. His all-round game stood out as he was exactly what the team lacked - an experienced forward who could score and bring others into the game with his hold-up play and vision (he ended the season on respectable digits in terms of goals). Emanuel Insua was a beast on the left edge, covering acres of space up, getting stuck into the defensive aspect and contributing with top class goals and assists.
Sokratis Dioudis found career best form, as his big saves earnt the Greens results. Meanwhile, Dimitris Kolovetsios was another who blossomed. The centre back’s great form was recognised as he was selected in the Ethniki squad late last year. Then there is Dimitris Kourbelis, the team’s talisman ands captain. He further developed his game this season, even when performances dipped later this season. It is easy to see how he has solidified his place in the starting side for the Ethniki, he shields the back line, offers stability and can pick a pass from deep positions.
The team began to fall apart at the back end of the 2018 calendar year but all hope was not lost at this point. They failed to score a goal in three straight derbies against PAOK, AEK and Olympiacos. They were no match for PAOK at Toumba, should have beaten AEK, and fought hard to take a point against Olympiacos at Karaiskakis. The latter was also one of the highlights of the season. The team soaked up pressure and struck on the counter through Ergys Kace’s audacious volley. It will go down as one of the best goals in the Derby of Eternal Enemies in recent years. The Greens conceded a late equaliser but Konstantinos Kotsaris proved to be the hero in goals, after replacing the injured Dioudis.
From January 2019 onwards, however, the capitulation was in full swing. Points were dropped left, right and centre against Larissa, Lamia, Levadiakos, Xanthi, Panionios and OFI. Lamia also knocked the Trifylli out of the Greek Cup. Attendances and interest levels amongst the fan base began to wane.
The fast, dynamic, swashbuckling attack made way for slow, predictable build ups. Injuries had well and truly set in, and inexperience amongst a young squad was a telling factor in the demise. At one point, the goals totally dried up - the team had scored half the amount of goals in the second half of the season, compared to the first. Added to this, Kolovetsios was without a stable partner in the heart of defence as Fanis Mavromatis was hit and miss in his first season at men’s level. Donis also moved between a conventional back four and three centre backs.
Perhaps the biggest talking point of the season came in the home derby against Olympiacos. Tension had been predictably building from before kick off and by the back end of the second half, the match was abandoned as fans made their way onto the pitch on multiple occasions (some had also attempted to fight the Olympiacos bench). Panathinaikos legend Djibril Cisse was in attendance and completed a lap of honour at half time.
The wild scenes are something Greek football has become all too familiar with. To be fair, all parties were to blame, including Olympiacos and the authorities for provocation, but none more so than the minority of Panathinaikos fans. It led to a further 5 points being deducted.
Consequently, all hope was lost and the team ended the season in an inconsistent manner. A solid home win over Aris, and a final day smashing over Panetolikos proved what the team is capable of when the shackles are off, but more will be expected next season.
The fact that a possible European spot was given away without a fight, means the season cannot be classed as a “success.” The team was in the box seat at the halfway mark of the season. However, on the flip side many will point out that the situation could have been much worse. It depends on how one perceives it, but one thing is certain - more will be expected next season.
This season can be looked back on as a success should the young guns unearthed by Donis go on and continue their rise. In truth, this season was somewhere in between “success” and “failure.” A total of 11 points were deducted from this season through no fault of Donis and the players, yet they soldiered on. If not for points deductions, the team would have finished in sixth spot.
The fact that a whopping 29 players were used throughout the season, merely highlights the Trifylli’s rotten luck with injuries, but it also illustrates depth is an issue. Several young talents were given their first shot at playing against men on a weekly basis and this should hold them in good stead.