With a capable manager and a clear plan, there is hope (Part 3 of 3)
In part three of a three-part blog series, AGONAsport’s Sarantos Kaperonis explains that the Ethniki have hope for an unexpected turnaround if a capable manager is given the keys to the team. Read part one and two here.
Approaching matters with the glass half full
Tuesday’s loss to Armenia resulted in a major blow to the Ethniki’s chances to qualify for Euro 2020. However, for those like myself who want to approach the situation with the glass half full, this loss could potentially save the campaign.
As seen from the opening four qualifiers, Anastasiadis is not the man to lead Greece. With Greece’s loss to Armenia and more importantly, Sokratis’ karidia to speak up, Anastasiadis will be replaced.
He will be replaced at a time when there is still hope of turning things around. Of course, if Greece continue to perform as in previous matches, a finish above Liechtenstein in the group will be the only realistic goal.
However, if the EPO turn their attention to the national team and appoint a manager that can inspire these players, it may not be too late. Had Greece defeated Armenia, or even salvaged a draw, Anastasiadis would have likely been in charge for the next qualifiers to lead Greece into an inevitable doom under his command. Better now rather than later to realize Anastasiadis is a dangerous man in his current position and was the wrong choice to replace Michael Skibbe.
I personally liked former boss Michael Skibbe. He brought the Ethniki back on the right track after a disastrous Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. The German led Greece to a second place finish in World Cup qualifying, behind eventual semi-finalists Belgium, before tasting a heavy defeat in the playoffs to eventual finalists Croatia. It was a respectable campaign for the Galanolefki, however, I stand by the fact that Skibbe was not the man to take Greece to the next level.
In hindsight, Angelos Anastasiadis was a failure. What Skibbe built from nothing - taking over after Greece finished bottom of their group in Euro 2016 qualifying - was destroyed in less than a year by Anastasiadis, leaving the team completely divided and in turmoil. Something Anastasiadis has been known for in the past when things do not go to plan…
Finding the right guy for the job
We all hope that Grammenos does take action and sacks Anastasiadis in the coming days. The EPO will then be forced to find his replacement in quick time as the next qualifiers are just under three months away. However, this decision must not be rushed but taken efficiently and carefully. We can only hope that those in charge will put in the time and effort to find the right man for the job.
In an ideal world, the EPO would look abroad for a successful manager, who has a proven track record at international level. Nevertheless, the current state of affairs in the federation are not ideal as Greece’s football governing body faces a financial crisis.
The budget for the national team coach’s salary is minimal as was the case with Anastasiadis. It is sickening to read that the current chairman of the EPO’s Refereeing Department, Vitor Melo Pereira, makes higher wages than the national team coach. Again, if the EPO cared for the Ethniki, a little rearranging of funds could help the coaching selection process a bit easier….
It seems unrealistic that a foreign boss will be convinced to take over a national team in a downward spiral while receiving well below average wages. It simply won't happen. Thus, we must turn to the Greek market.
The new boss must have a plan in place to execute and know the modern game, unlike Anastasiadis who is stuck in a football mindset from many years ago. A clear plan is something that Anastasiadis also lacks and if the players can see that a sense of normality and organization is established within the team, this can in turn pay dividends on the pitch.
It is also important for the new coach to reinstate the defensive mentality which inspired Greece to success between 2002 and 2014. Yes, that style of football might not be attractive, but it is effective, especially for Greece. It is in the Greek football DNA. We need to accept it. Those who criticized Otto Rehhagel and Fernando Santos for their tactics are likely praying for their return.
The only viable option at this point seems to be Marinos Ouzounidis
The Greek boss has worked with many teams in the Super League including giants Panathinaikos and AEK. He has a proven track record of success especially with Panionios, leading the team to great runs in the Super League, and Panathinaikos. At the Greens, he coached under unthinkable circumstances for a club of Panathinaikos’ standards and succeeded with limited talent and resources at his disposal.
Many will consider his time at AEK as a failure. In a sense this is true, but the AEK team of 2018/19 cannot be compared to the championship squad of 2017/18. Even when Manolo Jimenez took over for Ouzounidis, the Spaniard could not salvage the situation as AEK finished in third place well behind leaders PAOK and runners-up Olympiacos. Nonetheless, Ouzounidis did lead the Kitrinomavri to the UEFA Champions League group stages after beating Celtic and Vidi in the qualifiers.
Ouzounidis has worked with many of Greece’s current internationals such as Zeca, Kourbelis, Vlachodimos, Mantalos, Bakakis, Barkas and Bakasetas. In addition, Ouzounidis has experience playing at the international level and was a member of the Greek team which narrowly missed out on the 1998 World Cup. A downside is that he has never coached a national team, which is a whole different ball game from coaching at club level.
The 50-year-old knows how to get the most out of his players and give them the motivation and inspiration to fight for the emblem on their shirt. He has shown this trait with many players he has worked with at club level. He is an inspirational figure and can instill this in the national team, which can turn ‘The Pirate Ship’ in the right direction.
He also boasts experience of working under poor conditions. His time at Panathinaikos is a perfect example as the club’s president, Giannis Alafouzos, was missing in action while Ouzounidis took matters into his own hands to lead the club in a time of trouble. One can say the Ethniki is in a similar position, financially burdened and without leadership - the EPO is non-existent when it comes to the national team. Maybe, just maybe, Ouzounidis will be the one who can lead the Ethniki to success while the EPO focus on their own agenda.
Looking at matters on the pitch, Ouzounidis’ style of play will fit well with the Ethniki. He is a manager who creates well-organized, disciplined teams that can defend well. While at Panathinaikos, his teams did have trouble scoring, which is already a concern of the Ethniki, but looking at the Ethniki’s ‘glory days,’ scoring was never a characteristic of the Greek team.
Currently, Ouzounidis is the front runner for the job and rightfully so. Assuming Anastasiadis is eventually sacked, it will be Ouzounidis’ decision if he wants to take charge of another chaotic environment, this time to help lead his country out of complete destruction.
Moving forward and the slim hope of qualifying
Moving forward, a plan must be put into place. The federation needs to sit down and construct a short term, and long term, plan for Greece’s national teams with the appointment of a new coach taking top priority. The EPO must outline what they want in the new manager, what are his targets and construct a criteria which will guide the decision-making process.
Looking back, Anastasiadis’ appointment was likely decided by Grammenos without any thought process other than, he is a good friend, he is Greek, and is a manager with some successful stints. No thought process whatsoever as seen by his lack of a plan.
All hope has not been lost for the Ethniki in Euro 2020 qualifying. Again, if the current state of play remains the same, don't expect anything higher than a fifth-placed finish in Group J. If things change and the true potential of the team comes out, nothing has been lost.
It will surely be an uphill battle and Greece’s back is against the wall. The next qualifier against Finland will determine a lot. It seems to be a must-win match, but even a draw could suffice in Tampere. Greece will need to pick up at least 13 points from their final six matches in qualifying to have any hopes of a second place finish. That includes six wins, one loss (away to Italy) and one draw (take your pick: @FIN, v FIN or v BIH).
Being an optimistic supporter, 13 points could be just enough to sneak a second place finish. It is not an impossible task. On paper, Greece have a better team than Finland, Armenia, Liechtenstein and possibly Bosnia, who look to be worsening as the years go by.
If Greece do fail to qualify, it will be detrimental. Nonetheless, under any circumstances, these qualifiers cannot go to waste as they can be used as another building block for the next campaign to come. Maybe not the 2022 World Cup, but to set eyes on the 2024 European championships.
But again, a plan needs to be implemented and executed. Without a plan and organization from the EPO, the downward spiral that is the Ethniki Omada will continue, no matter who is in charge.
Hopefully, Sokratis’ cries for help and change do not go unheard. Thank