46 Titles but still we dream…
A view from the outside to next year and what we need to succeed moving forward.
Whilst we celebrate the 46th title in our history today, something remains unfulfilled. I am sure each and every die-hard Olympiakos fan can agree, the lack of European progression still has us scratching our heads as to where we are falling down at the crucial moments in big matches.
I do not profess to know the exact reason, however if you look back over the last few seasons, during the big matches, we have lacked composure, quality and big game experience when it matters most.
I draw attention not to the obvious matches, but to the lesser-known ties which hurt us in the end.
Let us look at Red Star Belgrade away a few years ago. (1-3). We control the tempo and possession and create multiple chances in the first half which Guerrero could not finish. We snatch a goal from a set-piece by Semedo and go into the Half time break 1-0 and very comfortable.
57th Minute, Yassine Benzia gives away a soft foul, and then inexplicably mouths off to the referee and gets sent off. This moment for me is the turning point of the whole Group campaign for Olympiakos.
We go on to lose the game 3-1 and then off to face Bayern twice in 3 weeks, then Tottenham away which ultimately seals our fate. Now imagine we have some composure in these heated moments, some professionalism and experience. We go on to dominate that match and get 3 points, which takes us to 4 points; 2nd place in the group. Taking that form into a home match against Bayern full of confidence. I’m not suggesting that we would win, but id rather go into those ties with confidence and points than down on form and only 1 point to show for it.
Fast forward to Wolves away. Bobby Allain and the brain fade for the penalty, then conversely you have Rui Patricio who was basically Superman at the other end. Finally, we have Hassan missing a guilt edge opportunity in the dying stages to send it to Extra Time. In these big matches, you need players that can seize those moments. I’m afraid to say at present we only have 1, or maybe 2, of those players in the squad (El Arabi and Valbuena).
Going back a few years, we had Podence, Manolas, Mellberg, Cambiasso, Mirallas, Dominguez, Mitroglou, Fuster, Galletti, Kovacevic, Saviola, Givanni, Rivaldo, Karembeau.
Sadly, we have never had enough in the same team at the same time.
If you look at the output of attacking players this season, it begins to explain why in big games we struggle to put teams to the sword and capitalize on our possession and territorial dominance.
Masouras: 42 Apps, 12 Goals, 6 Assists
Bruma: 28 Apps, 6 Goals, 3 Assists
Randjelovic: 34 Apps, 0 Goals, 2 Assists
Valbuena: 27 Apps, 2 Goals, 7 Assists
Fortounis: 45 Apps, 8 Goals, 11 Assists
Vrousai: 17 Apps, 3 Goals, 2 Assists
Not enough quality from the attacking midfield positions to support the player, who in my opinion, is the most clinical Striker we’ve had since Darko Kovacevic in El Arabi.
It’s only natural that this lack of end product will only be more impotent in high-stakes European matches, and this is where we are supposedly wanting to achieve greatness according to our President and the social media platforms.
There is not enough support for our strikers, who for their part are doing well considering.
El Arabi: 41 Apps, 24 Goals, 4 Assists
Hassan: 31 Apps, 15 Goals, 3 Assists
So, what is the answer you may ask?
Well, in recent times, I’m glad to report that our ancient methods of signing big names who are well past their prime have been cast aside under this Martins regime. Some might point to Valbuena, Holebas, Avraam, Torossidis and Lazaros, however most of those were signed as backups.
Valbuena exceeded all expectations and has repaid the investment in spades.
The answer, in my opinion, is 2 fold.
It lies with our untapped youth for one. We have the best academy in the country, but probably the worst blooding system. It takes a youth player at least 4 years to see proper game time; most of which time is spent out on loan at lower league clubs or relegation battling clubs in the super league.
The only 2 exceptions have been players who got out of the Greek system completely, and went to a league that encourages youth development. I speak of Tsimikas and Vrousai at Willem II.
It baffles me how management cannot recognize that this is the way forward, especially given the giant strides both those 2 players took when they were playing regularly in a competitive league.
Players like Liatsos, Sourlis, Tselios, Tzolakis, Apostolopoulos. These kids need minutes. They’re 17, 18, 19 year-olds. By that stage, some kids in other European countries are captaining their sides, yet we let our kids waste away in the lower divisions, or worse, in our youth league.
And Lastly, we need to identify and better scout transfer targets for specific positions, rather than signing players based on spur of the moment decisions. Granted, the majority of the Martins era signings have been very good (Semedo, Podence, Sa, Camara, Cisse, Ba, Oleg, El Arabi).
I did some research earlier as to some transfer rumours and touted signings for the European Summer transfer window. We have been linked with Younes Belhanda and Alex Texeira.
Stats aside, I can tell you that these are better options than Pepe Rodrigues and Tiago Silva, and Bruma and Lazar Randjelovic. Both are experienced and well travelled players. Most importantly, they have had big game Champions League and International experience. Pepe, Tiago Silva, Lazar Randjelovic and the likes have not. Its these small nuances that make the difference in big European matches. If the president, and management in general, are serious about progression, they need to invest heavily in these 2 areas.
Martins has proven that his tactical nous is second to none, so why not give him the tools to succeed. Spend some money; we all know Marinakis is good for it. And with the youth, have the stomach to see it through. It will not only benefit Olympiakos, but also the national team and the league in general. I feel like we have partially become the Benfica of the Mediterranean. We are identifying talent, and starting to reap the financial rewards, however we are not using the funds to future proof and benefit the long-term vision. If we can plug that gap, I feel like the only way is up for this team.
Signing off for tonight, my thoughts are both jovial in celebration of a great achievement (46th title), but also hopeful that we can capitalize on what is in my opinion a purple patch of stability at the club under Martins.