The house ‘Meli’ built
AGONAsport’s AEK contributor, Greg Gavalas, explains the changes AEK need to make this offseason in order to contest another Super League crown while shedding some light on the club’s new boss, Miguel Cardoso.
AEK won the 2018 Super League, the first time since 1994, the celebrations were wild, the new stadium was under construction, and the club qualified for the UEFA Champions League group stages, returning to Europe’s premier club football competition. Things were looking nice for the Enosis...
Since then, though, things never lived up to what anyone may have envisioned. The core of the team all departed for various reasons, from defense (Vranjes), to midfield (Christodoulopoulos), to the strikers (Araujo), and all the way through the managerial hot seat (Manolo Jimenez).
The core was not replaced and more loan players came in (with a purchase or two) that did not quite match the departed. This created the writing on the wall for many fans who would clearly see that the team was going to struggle both on the continental (Champions League) and domestic (Super League) stage.
Unfortunately, it did very much pan out like that. Whilst AEK did not disgrace themselves on the field in the Champions League, they did fail to pick up a point becoming the first Greek team to suffer six defeats from as many games in the group stages. AEK’s best game in the group stages was a heartbreaking 2:3 loss at home to Benfica, which should have been a 3:2 AEK victory had Viktor Klonaridis be more mindful up front and assisted a certain goal instead of selfishly going for goal. Yes, he was on a hat-trick at the time, but of course, the team result is above and before all personal achievements.
Whilst that was the Champions League, the domestic season was nothing great for the reigning champions. A steady start saw AEK fall in a high energy loss to PAOK on the road and salvage a late draw at home to Olympiacos. Two draws against a youthful Panathinaikos did not impress, whilst a home thrashing of Aris was a good result in a season that ended without a single derby win for the Enosis (against PAOK, OLY, PAO). A 4:1 thrashing at the hands of Olympiacos at the Karaiskaki Stadium all but summed up where the champs had sunk too.
The season was also marred with the player saga in the winter when Vasilis Lambropoulos, Tasos Bakasetas, and Andre Simoes were ostracized by the club and left out of the squad, because they would not renew their new contracts. Similar to past players leaving, the new contracts did not offer a satisfying wage increase and in many cases, were the same amounts as their previous deals, despite helping the club to Super League glory for the first time in 24 year. In the end, Bakasetas and Simoes settled for new contracts whilst Lambropoulos parted from the club. A shame as he offered much needed stability in the AEK defense...
When the dust settled, Marinos Ouzounidis resigned as coach and last season's Championship winning boss, Manolo Jimenez, was appointed. Unfortunately, things remained the same as mentioned above. Fast forward to today, and Manolo has been let go in favor of Portuguese coach Miguel Cardoso.
Coach Cardoso has one season of greatness in his arsenal, with Rio Ave in his homeland during the 2017/18 season when the club achieved their best season in the top flight with a fifth placed Primeira Liga finish. The success of that season saw Cardoso head to France for Nantes, where he lasted just eight games before being terminated. He then headed to Celta Vigo in Spain where he lasted 15 matches before being sacked in a disastrous campaign of three wins from those 15 matches.
One hopes for two things in the new season.
Miguel Cardoso clicks with the team and the results from his last two seasons in France and Spain do not repeat themselves, otherwise the ‘Tiger’ will be paying out the new coach before he knows it.
Transfers! Good, strong transfers. High on the club’s priority list are two effective wide players with numerous names in the look in. AEK need to invest in players by purchasing them while steering away from a ‘loan player formula.’ Ezequiel Ponce is another product of the loan system; Arguable AEK’s best player of the season netted 16 goals in the league and five in the Cup, however Roma’s asking price of six million euros will not convince AEK to sign him on a permanent deal. Although this amount does not sound high, AEK fans await the day where Melissanidis will pay that number for a player.
What is for sure is this: AEK fans and management will want to see some good football accompanied by good results, at least three derby wins in the league. The main reason Jimenez was not retained was due to the brand of football ‘his’ team played while he was in charge.
Cardoso surely has some big shoes to fill as AEK dawns toward playing football in their new Agia Sofia Stadium (set to be ready for the 2020/21 season). The thrill of playing in a new ‘home’ will need to be accompanied by good, competitive football. Or else this long-awaited dream of a new stadium will be marred by a team that continues to sink and not live up to its true potential.