Having participated in the Champions League group stage 18 times, the most by any team outside Spain, England, Italy, Germany and Portugal, Olympiakos’ supporters will claim that their beloved club is back where it belongs. Having missed out on last years edition, Olympiakos face an almighty task taking on Barcelona, Juventus and Sporting CP.
The economic crisis that has dominated Greece the last decade, has naturally taken its toll on Greek football as well. With Olympiakos’ arch enemy Panathinaikos facing bankrupcy on several occasions, Olympiakos has maintained a stable and growing economy mainly attributed to president Evangelos Marinakis’ modern leadership. The times when Olympiakos could compete with Europe’s greatest sides in terms of economic powers is well beyond us, but the “Erythrolefki” has remained a shirt expected to be seen in every UCL season.
Moving away from the times Olympiakos were able to bring top quality players like Zlatko Zahovic, Giovanni, Christian Karembeu and Rivaldo, the club has been moving in a different direction since Marinakis’ take over in 2010. Accused of match-fixing and “running an criminal organization” by Panathinaikos, PAOK and AEK (without any signs of proofs), the shipping magnate has seen to the Netherlands and Portugal for inspiration on how to run the football club.
Where Olympiakos produced transfer deficits every year under the former president, the economic environment of Greece forced the club to think differently. The result of this has seen Olympiakos produce and develop a number of quality players in recent years. Examples include Kostas Manolas, Andreas Samaris, Kevin Mirallas, Kostas Mitroglou, Arthur Masuaku and Luka Milivojevic, to name but a few. The largest profit were made this summer though, with the sale of Panagiotis Retsos from the academies. Retsos’ talent and maturity saw Bayer Leverkusen pay a staggering 22 million euros for the 19 year old.
The main problem in Olympiakos in recent years, has been consistensy. Frequent managerial changes and a huge turnover of players every summer, has undoubtedly halted the progress somewhat. One considerable difference from recent summers, has seen “Thrylos” looking a whole lot stronger looking a whole lot stronger in the end of the summer window, compared to the start. Having invested in a fine mix of young talents and established, quality players, Olympiakos now boast a significantly stronger team than in May, despite the loss of Retsos.
Many an eye brow were lifted when Besnik Hasi, coming from a failed tenure in Legia Warsaw, was announced as the clubs new coach this summer. It’s still early days, and knowing Olympiakos’ tendency of changing managers at least once a season, it’s way too early to deem the Albanian Kosovan a success. The initial signs though, look very promising. Having brought no less than five players he knew from his time in Belgium, knows he needs to deliver results fast.
With the additions of Björn Engels (Retsos’ replacement), Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe, Guillaume Gillet, Uros Djurdjevic, Emmanuel Emenike, Jagos Vukovic, Panagiotis Tachtsidis, Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez, Hrvoje Milic and Leonardo Koutris, there won’t be room for many of the players securing our last Greek championship, number 44. Only seven of the players having arrived before this summer is expected to feature regularly, namely Stefanos Kapino, Marko Marin, Diogo Figueiras, Kostas Fortounis, Sebá, Felipe Pardo and Alaixys Romao.
Bearing this in mind, it’s very difficult to preduct whether Olympiakos will be ready for a team of Sporting CP’s capacity, when the Portuguese come to visit Pireaus tomorrow night. Even the most optimistic of Olympiakos’ faithfuls will acknowledge that the prospects of progressing past the group stages look bleak, but a victory tomorrow might prove vital for the chances of claiming third place behind the Italian and Spanish giants.
Having rotated quite a lot in his early days as the club’s manager, Hasi is expected to field a counter attacking side tomorrow, emphazising on winning the midfield battle. Kostas Fortounis, club captain, and arguably Olympiakos’ best player, is expected to only make the bench as Hasi prefer the more physical approach of Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe in front of the two defensive midfielders. Hasi also values the tactical awareness of youngster Sasa Zdjelar, who is expected to line up beside Guillaume Gillet in central midfield. Björn Engels, having made his debut and scored in the the 1-1 draw at Xanthi this weekend, will start in the center of the defence. Omar Elabdellaoui, Alaixys Romao and Diogo Figueiras complete the back four, with Stefanos Kapino between the sticks. Marko Marin and Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez joins Uros Djurdjevic, another debutant this weekend, in attack.
Having already drawn Juventus and Barcelona, none from Olympiakos wanted to see Sporting CP being drawn from pot 4. The race for third spot is relatively open, but Olympiakos’ most important game this autumn, comes already tomorrow. Despite a very difficult group, the supporters can’t wait to see their team back in Europe’s top competetition again. And while there’s very little doubt of Olympiakos being an underdog, there’s equally little doubt that the Champions League again will once again witness one of Europe’s very most hostile atmospheres. Having won 15 of their last 20 Champions League games at the Karaiskakis’, our opponents will do wisely in not underestimating the power Olympiakos posess when playing in Pireaus.
By: Øyvind Rusten
Photo: Daily One