Living without Kostas Fortounis
It was July 10 of 2019 during a training camp exhibition match in Austria against Bundesliga side Hamburger SV when suddenly, one of Olympiacos' most talented players and the team's leader, Konstantinos Fortounis, went down inside the pitch. Coming off of one of his greatest seasons with the club, which saw him score 12 goals and provide three assists to his teammates in 28 appearances, all of a sudden he was now facing an uphill battle which would keep him out of action for over six months. Not known to succumb easily to injury, this was unexplored territory for the then-26-year-old Kostas and the entire club gathered around to shower him with their support, as over 30,000 fans shouted his name when he was finally able to reappear at the 'Karaiskakis' stadium albeit with the support of his crutches.
His absence however, cost the team many valuable points both within the Super League and in Europe and although they were able to reclaim the title after three seasons in Greece, they did it through the skin of their teeth. There's no doubt that with the presence of their leader inside the pitch, Olympiacos would've been an entirely different team. It was a stroke of good luck that the club had already secured the services of experienced French midfielder Mathieu Valbuena before Fortounis' injury, as the winger was more than able to cover up for his teammate's absence.
Now it is June 2021 and Pedro Martins is forced to deal with the exact same issue, two years later. During a training game with Wolfsberger, the Olympiacos skipper once again suffered a similar injury on his left knee and will be forced to stay outside of the pitch for a minimum of six months. It's definitely a huge blow for the player, on a more psychological level, as he likely won't have the same confidence in his own body anymore as he did previously. Even when he comes back, if all it takes is one knock to send him into surgery, then he probably won't dive into challenges with the same intensity as he used to. This will not be the same Fortounis as the Olympiacos fans have been used to seeing, but a much more delicate player.
But aside from all that, six months is a long time to wait and the club has ongoing obligations that, as harsh as it may sound, cannot wait for anyone. It's difficult to see Valbuena being able to cover that position in the same way as he did two years ago since he is now 36-years-old and in football, that's way past your prime. It's a lot longer than some players are even willing to continue their careers for.
While it is certain that the Olympiacos manager Pedro Martins will require the assistance of Valbuena, he cannot be the only player tasked to cover that position. With the departure of Bruma, who also provided a good solution up front, to add to the injury of Fortounis, the Portuguese trainer has suddenly found himself with plenty of problems that need to be answered.
Currently, Olympiacos has made two transfers, both of which can be described as very well targeted: Tiquinho and Kunde. But neither of them can truly fill the gaps that need closing in the starting lineup. They will need a similar approach in their next transfers if they hope to maintain a level of quality within the squad that can provide access to the highly lucrative Champions League group stage and be at least a little competitive during the later rounds of the competition.
Furthermore, as if the injury of Fortounis wasn't enough, there are already rumors regarding some of the team's other players being close to signing with other clubs. One of the most notable has to do with goalkeeper Jose Sa moving to Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers.
All these issues need to be taken care of at the same time as the Champions League qualifiers take place, which will essentially decide how the season will play out for the club and if they will get that highly necessary financial boost that UEFA provides to all 32 clubs that make it to the group stage or if they will need to settle for the lesser amounts of the Europa League.
The stakes are incredibly high this season for Olympiacos and Pedro Martins, who already had his hands full trying to form a unit from old and new players, choosing who should stay and who should be sent out on loan, and making sure that the team is competitive enough to survive the first few qualifying rounds with no casualties, now has another big headache to content with after Fortounis' injury.
The next few weeks will certainly be interesting at the red-and-white camp!
Get well soon, Kostas!