SOS cry from Sokratis (Part 2 of 3)
AGONAsport’s Sarantos Kaperonis talks about the captain’s courage to come out and speak the truth about the Ethniki’s situation while mentioning the players’ portion of the blame in part two of a three-part blog series. Read part one here.
Thank you, captain Sokrati
It takes a lot for a player to say what Sokratis said on camera. The Arsenal defender saw that his concerns were not being addressed in the locker room and as a result, he made public the team’s troubles. Kudos to the captain.
As he should, Sokratis took full responsibility for the performances of the Greek players against Italy and Armenia but called out to those in charge to also take responsibility for their actions. He requested drastic changes be made within the national team set-up because if things remain the same, the Ethniki will not qualify for either Euro 2020 or any upcoming major tournaments in the future. Papastathopoulos did not mention any names, nor did he say anything out of line. He spoke the truth, to the fans and the reporters, to those that love the national team, in hope that his cry for help would finally be answered by those in charge. A cry that comes just in the nick of time to save something from this qualifying campaign. This was the time to speak up, and the captain did just that.
Sokratis was fortunate enough to leave the cancer of Greek football at a young age and has proven himself on the world’s stage. He has nothing to prove to anyone. He does not need the Ethniki to boost his career, he has already reached the elite level. The Ethniki needs him.
He wants the Ethniki to return to its respectable standards, not its current state of embarrassment. Part of the media might portray him as the ‘bad guy’ for speaking against his coach (which he did not) and refusing to play for his country. I say to those fans and reports, get out of your tunnel vision.
Sokratis has played at many clubs and has never caused an issue anywhere in his career. In fact, it is the exact opposite as he is loved by fans from all the clubs he has played for. He captained one of Germany’s biggest team’s in Borussia Dortmund. He is currently the captain of a Greek team in the midst of a crisis and he feels responsible to do everything in his power to change the state of play.
It now comes down to Grammenos himself if changes will actually be made. If Sokratis did not speak on Tuesday, I find it very possible that Anastasiadis would still be in charge of the team heading into September's qualifiers away to Finland and at home to Liechtenstein. He still might be if Grammenos has the final say, but Sokratis’ actions have changed everything. In essence, a revolt.
Grammenos cannot dismiss his concerns and let him, Manolas, Torosidis and likely many others, walk away from the national team while leaving the senile Anastasiadis in charge.
The captain’s words have already persuaded most of the officials in the federation that Anastasiadis’ time is over with the national team. Only Grammenos wants to keep the former PAOK and Panathinaikos boss in charge.
Why? Maybe because he doesn't want the burden of looking for a new coach. He has other things on his agenda, why waste time looking for a coach that can actually lead the Greek team to success.
Mr. President, listen to the SOS call from Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Kostas Manolas. Players that play at the highest level know what constitutes correct football. Listen to their cries, take action, make changes, put all things aside and make the Ethniki a priority. Help bring back the team that has given us so many amazing moments and put us all out of this miserable slump.
The players are also at fault
Of course, blame must be put on the players as well. After all, they are the ones on the pitch. Despite being led by an incapable manager and an apathetic federation, the players must give it their all on the field - something that looks to be lacking.
Claudio Ranieri, Sergio Markarian, Kostas Tsanas, Michael Skibbe, all came and went during this tragic period for the national team. Some managers are to blame more than others, but the common denominator remains the players.
Putting tactics aside against Armenia, three turnovers in the midfield led to all three Armenian goals. Samaris was the culprit in the first goal, followed by Fortounis on the second goal, and Kolovos’ mistake led to the counterattack that resulted in Armenia’s third goal. The Greek players lacked composure and cohesion - due to a lack of leadership and organization from the bench - allowing the Armenians to take full advantage of all Greek mistakes.
The national team might not have the talent it used to have as players such as Kostas Katsouranis, Giorgos Karagounis, Angelos Basinas and Theodoros Zagorakis have been irreplaceable in the midfield. Not only for their talents, but for their leadership abilities. However, the current Greek team is not bad enough to deserve a fifth-placed finish in this Group J.
There is talent
First and foremost, the central defensive pairing of Papastathopoulos and Manolas is one of the best on the international stage. Yes, the two have underperformed with the Ethniki recently, but with the lack of leadership from above, they can be given the benefit of the doubt. The two led the Greek backline at the 2014 World Cup, and even though that tournament was five years ago, these players are still playing at an elite level and have no excuse to lose to the Armenias and Estonias of the footballing world.
To the left is Leonardo Koutris, who is an up and coming star and will likely be playing in an elite European league next season. Unfortunately, Greece lack a strong option in the right back position with Torosidis reaching the end of his career and Bakakis out of form. Mavrias is simply not good enough and Kotsiras seems like the last-choice option.
Greece have three exceptional goalkeepers in Vlachodimos, Barkas and Paschalakis. Vlachodimos is the goalkeeper of Portuguese champions Benfica and his teammate at the club level is fellow Greek international Andreas Samaris. The midfielder, however, makes you wonder sometimes how he plays a leading role in Lisbon when looking at his performances with the Ethniki.
Partnering Samaris in the Greek midfield is Carlos Zeca, the captain of FC Kobenhavn, the best team in Denmark. The Danish Superliga is no elite competition, but Kobenhavn are a respected club in Europe.
In the attack, Greece have a true playmaker in Kostas Fortounis, who is enjoying the best form of his career. He has been the best player for the Ethniki in this dismal campaign and with some support in attack, can truly create danger to opposing defenses. Tasos Donis, although inconsistent at times, houses the potential to take on players one-on-one, something that is missing in the Greek team. He, along with Giorgos Masouras who needs to improve for the international level, can help solve one of Greece’s biggest problems - the lack of effective wingers.
The main problem remains the striker position. Efthymis Koulouris finished as the Super League’s highest scorer and we can only hope he can transfer that scoring potential to the Galanolefki. For him to be effective, he must receive service, and this will only come with a set game plan composed by a capable manager.
Yes, it is easy to say that these players are simply not good enough, but is that really true? These players finished second in the last World Cup qualifying group and only missed Russia 2018 after falling in a two-legged playoff to a much better team - and eventual finalists - Croatia.
Is Finland better than Greece? Armenia? Bosnia? Absolutely not. The Ethniki can surely compete with these teams. The key is tying it all together. This comes from inspiration from the man in charge and the man in charge is appointed by a federation.
Let's not forget that players like Zagorakis, Karagounis, Basinas, Charisteas and Fyssas were once regarded as ‘not good enough’ for international level just years before they conquered Europe. Put faith in these boys, they have talent, maybe not enough to win another major competition, but enough to qualify for a major tournament.