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  • Writer's pictureStephen Kountourou

Jose Sa: From Backup Loanee to Thrylos Great

We all knew this day would come. Olympiakos keeper Jose Sa has officially signed for Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers for a fee of around 9 million Euros. Former Wolves keeper Rui Patricio has now made his move to Roma permanent with Sa’s successor, Czech international and free agent Tomáš Vaclík, joining Olympiakos on a free transfer.

After 3 years of impeccable service between the sticks, Sa leaves the club having won two straight league titles and a domestic double. Now that the deal for Sa’s departure is pretty much assured, I think I speak for all supporters of Thrylos when I thank Jose for some incredible performances between the sticks. For helping us find our way back to the top of Greek football where we belong, as well as taking us to the next level in Europe. As sad as it will be to see Jose Sa leave the Port of Piraeus to new pastures, this week I will be taking a trip down memory lane and looking back at the Portuguese shot-stopper’s time in Piraeus, from coming in as a stopgap backup on loan to becoming one of the best keepers we have ever had in the modern era.

2018/19: Back-up to Undroppable

It was the summer of 2018. Thrylos had just come off the back of a very poor season after finishing 3rd in the Greek Super League and finished bottom of our Champions League group with a whimper. Marinakis made a lot of changes to the Thrylos squad over the transfer window in all positions and one, in particular, came on the final day of the window as Jose Sa arrived at the Piraeus club on loan from FC Porto. At the time of his arrival, Sa had endured a mixed spell with the Dragons having been dropped as their first-choice goalkeeper after a couple of high profile blunders for his parent club.

Not much was expected of him at first after he was signed on loan by Olympiakos as back up to first choice Andreas Gianniotis. Many, myself included, did not think much of this move by the club, thinking that he would play some cup games, make a handful of league appearances, and he would be on his way back to Portugal at the end of the season. Boy were we all wrong about that.

For the first couple of months, Sa was not a feature in the first team at all, either making the bench or not even appearing in the squad at all. By the time the end of October rolled around, Olympiakos were enduring a mixed start to the campaign, with losses to PAOK in Piraeus and OFI in Crete, which cost Gianniotis his place as first team keeper. Sa was given the nod over the Greek shot-stopper and never really looked back after that. Early on there were signs that Sa really could make a mark in Piraeus after he managed to keep two clean sheets in his first two league matches. He made headlines after his performance in a 1-0 loss to Real Betis in the Europa League group stages where he saved a penalty.

He would also be an integral part of guiding Olympiakos to the knockout stages of the Europa League after a historic 3-1 win over AC Milan in front of a packed out Karaiskakis stadium. While we were unable to regain the league title during the 18/19, season there were certainly signs of progress with manager Pedro Martins and his band of players. Sa himself exceeded expectations by keeping 14 clean sheets in all competitions and there were many calls from supporters to sign the then 25 year old permanently at the club. Thankfully the club hierarchy had the same sentiments, and by the first of July 2019, Jose Sa was officially re-unveiled as an Olympiakos player after the club paid 2.25 million Euros to keep the Portuguese keeper in Piraeus.

2019/20: Undisputed Number 1 and Regaining the Title

From the get-go Jose Sa was imperious for Olympiakos, playing every minute of their Champions League qualifying campaign on a run that would take Thrylos to the group stages, only conceding once during the playoff second leg to the Russian side Krasnodar. He pulled off some impressive displays in the group stage proper, as the Piraeus side stood toe to toe with Tottenham, Bayern Munich, and Red Star, defeating our orthodox brothers on the final matchday to secure 3rd place and Europa League football.

Sa would continue his great performances on the European stage in the new year, as his heroics were one reason why Thrylos overcame Arsenal during that famous night at the Emirates in the Europa League Round of 32. Sadly, the Round of 16 became one of those “what if” stories as there was a significant gap between both legs against Sa’s future club Wolves due to the COVID19 outbreak.

Between Olympiakos drawing 1-1 in Piraeus and the second leg at Molineux, the ever-reliable shot stopper sustained a hand injury less than a week before the integral away tie. The injury to Sa turned out to be a crucial miss as backup keeper Bobby Alain gave away a penalty minutes into the first half, which would turn out to be the difference maker to Olympiakos, exiting the Europa League to their Premier League opponents.

The league campaign is where Sa asserted himself as the undisputed keeper for Olympiakos while also being head and shoulders above the other goalkeepers in Greece. He was part of a team that finished the regular season undefeated and only lost one game during the playoffs, bringing the league title back to Piraeus. Sa kept 22 clean sheets in 33 league matches which means over that period he denied his team conceding in over two-thirds of the games that he played in the league which, despite the quality of the Greek Super League, is still very impressive.

2020/21: Slight Form Dip and The Strong Finish

Sa's injury would keep him out of the first game of the season which Ironically was the last game of the previous campaign in the Greek Cup final which his side ran out 1-0 winners over AEK. He was also unavailable for the opening match of Thrylos’ title defence in a 3-0 victory over Asteras Tripolis. Thankfully his return to full fitness was a swift one and by the time the Champions League playoffs against Cypriot side Omonia came around he was able to play both legs in Piraeus and Nicosia. Sa kept two clean sheets as part of a strong Olympiakos defence that saw their way past Omonia and through to the Champions League group stages 2-0 on aggregate.

From that point, Sa was able to easily re-establish himself as the number one keeper at the club, playing every minute of Thrylos’ Champions League campaign. Despite some disappointing performances, he helped our team reach the Europa League once again after some heroic performances against Marseille on matchday one in a 1-0 win and a tight 0-1 defeat in Piraeus to Manchester City. The league campaign also saw Sa play all but three matches throughout the regular season and up until the winter break, the Portuguese shot-stopper was comfortably in his element between the Olympiakos goal posts.

After the restart, however, certain patterns started to emerge as the team conceded unnecessary goals from set pieces, but Sa himself seemed erratic at times when attempting to defend his net. This seemed to affect his confidence somewhat and there were question marks as to whether flashes of what had been seen of him at Porto was starting to creep into his game for Thrylos.

Despite this, Olympiakos continued their undefeated run through the new year until they met a stumbling block in the form of Panathinaikos. Our eternal rivals were able to beat us at our own game 2-1 at Leoforos and more question marks were placed on Sa after conceding a goal he perhaps should have saved.

Four days later in the Europa League, those same questions were asked after PSV took advantage of our weak defending from set pieces when Zahavi was able to equalise twice against Thrylos after we went ahead twice at home. Eventually, we were able to rally and win the first leg of the Round of 32 ties 4-2 with a much more solid performance defensively in the second half.

After squeezing past the Dutch side 5-4 on aggregate, Thrylos were once again drawn against Premier League side Arsenal. Sa’s performance during the first leg in Piraeus left much to be desired after conceding thrice to give the Gunners a 1-3 victory in which he possibly should have saved two of those chances. It later transpired that Sa and his family had been hounded on social media post the game, which was unacceptable behaviour from those involved. Upon travelling to London and the Emirates for the away tie, it was do or die for Sa and Olympiakos.

With overturning the deficit seeming almost unobtainable, a performance to make fans of the Erythrolefki proud in bowing out of Europe for another season was desperately needed, and thankfully the team delivered. Sa really stepped up in the match and kept a clean sheet through some fantastic saves as Olympiakos ran out 0-1 winners on the night in the new look 3-4-3 formation.

Despite it not being enough to reach the quarterfinals it was truly a proud moment to see the team we support till the bitter end exit in such a fashion. From that point on Jose Sa’s performances improved, and thankfully the Portuguese keeper seemed to have regained his confidence as he helped Thrylos retain the title in a revenge match against Panathinaikos in a 3-1 victory. Unfortunately, we were not able to win a second domestic double this season but despite this, it was overall another staggering season from Sa.

After playing in all competitions for nearly 4 thousand minutes the shot stopper kept 19 clean sheets in 44 appearances. If we look at Jose’s overall stats from joining us in the summer of 2018 he competed in 124 matches, just over 11 thousand minutes in all competitions. In that time, Sa kept 62 clean sheets which averages out to a clean sheet every other game when he has played for Olympiakos. Staggering. It is no wonder he is such a highly sought after goalkeeper.

His ability to make point blank saves, assure his defence, a crack hand at saving penalties, and his distribution are all the qualities that make him a next level keeper. When he does eventually move to Wolves, he will be sorely missed in Piraeus by all Olympiakos fans, myself included, and we will all wish him well for the rest of his career as he goes to show the Premier League what he is made of.



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