Olympiacos: The Season So Far
It's been a rather transitional period for the Olympiacos team, who are looking to find their identity inside the pitch after a number of changes and additions to the squad. As of yet, they're not impressing anyone with their performances - especially on the European front - but there are a few signs that their diehard fans can be optimistic about.
This is something that has been spoken about before, but Portuguese manager Pedro Martins was forced to scout for players while at the same time keeping his current team at a good enough level, in an effort to make it through to the UEFA Champions League group stage. Unfortunately he dropped the ball on the one end, with the 'erythrolefki' getting eliminated from the third round and losing tens of millions of Euros in the process.
It remains to be seen however, if he's done a good job on the other end. Almost none of the players that he personally selected have done much to prove that they're actually worth the money they're getting, or the opportunities that Martins is giving them in favor of some other talented player from the B team. These young talents may not be as experienced but would definitely be a lot more eager to show what they're made of.
Onyekuru, Kunde, Rony Lopes, Karbownik, Tiquinho: these are all players who Olympiacos made a big investment on during the summer transfer period based on Martins' suggestions and they have gotten almost nothing out of them.
It can be said that some of them may need to go through an adjustment period in order to play at their best. Kenny Lala is a prime example of this. The 31-year-old French full-back got very little game time when he first arrived back in January and is now considered one of the cornerstones of the Olympiacos defense.
However it may also be an issue that for some - if not all - of these players, a move to the Greek Super League is a huge step back in their career, as they are now forced to play in a competition that most fans around the world don't even know exists.
Think about it: going from the Bundesliga, the La Liga, or even the Turkish Super Lig to play in Greece, where there aren't even proper stadiums and infrastructure in the biggest football competition the nation has to offer. How happy would you be to do that?
Some were surprised at Henry Onyekuru's performance against Eintracht Frankfurt. But really, it was the player's only shot to be seen somewhere outside of Greece's obscurity and gain a bit of attention from European clubs. These are professional players and they don't really care about the team, after all. They only play because they're being paid to do so.
This seems like a bit of a difficult concept for fans to grasp these days.
How responsible is the Greek Super League for Olympiacos' performances?
It was plain as day during the two games against Eintracht Frankfurt, a team that is fighting for its survival in the Bundesliga. Olympiacos simply couldn't keep up. They only held on for about a quarter in the first half of the second game between the two teams at the ‘Karaiskakis’, then once they conceded that equalizer, it was all over.
But who's really to blame for this? Martins can try to run his players rugged in training, but that will not stop the problems afflicting Greek football. For Olympiacos, Greek football is all about trying not to get hurt by incoming tackles. Every game requires us to simply open up an opposition defense that has 11 players behind the ball so they won't let a goal through, hoping to celebrate the fact they got a draw from Olympiacos - not necessarily to help them reach their own targets for the season, but rather to stop the 'erythrolefki' from adding yet another championship trophy to their collection. How much does that really help them?
When they need to play in stadiums (if anyone can call them that!) where you can get injured simply by running with the ball, due to no one bothering to cut the grass, or run for their lives every time they celebrate a goal away from home, due to opposing fans throwing everything from plastic cups to metal coins at them, then how can they focus on the game and follow Martins' orders?
When the league starts two months late, and every other team in Europe has already adjusted to the rhythm of highly competitive games on a weekly basis, what can Martins do about his own squad's fitness levels?
The tragic situation of football in Greece
One might argue that this has always been the case with Greek football, yet clubs have been able to find European success some way or another: Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, AEK, PAOK; even AEL and Athinaikos have stories to tell from their glory days.
But the gap between them and the better teams of Europe has kept widening throughout the years, with Greek football maintaining its focus on the petty squabbles between the clubs, rather than how to make it better for everyone.
AEK have been the only one to truly make any real impact on the football industry these last few years, with the creation of their new stadium which will (finally!) be ready next season. Other teams, such as Panathinaikos, run around from the Olympic Stadium to the (dangerous) 'Apostolos Nikolaidis' like refugees, while there are even clubs like AEL who invested in new playing grounds, yet can't afford to maintain them (AEL FC Arena).
Greece has also been slow in investing in youth academies, with many talented players opting for a move to a European club (not necessarily one belonging to a high-level league) rather than remaining in the misery of the Super League.
And then there's the violence issue. Constant bickering that goes on from the lower levels all the up to the owners of the clubs. How many board meetings have ended up with chairmen and other board members of clubs getting into heated arguments with those of other teams about their merits or who had control of the referees or whatnot?
It is truly pitiful to see fans literally CELEBRATING a random European team's victory over a fellow Greek club. I mean, do we even understand the position that we're in right now?
It's entirely different to mock someone because their team lost, that happens everywhere. But to actively WISH for it to happen, to watch a game HOPING that they'll lose, well that's just next level foolish. Especially when their loss has an indirect impact on your team!
Do all the Olympiacos fans that are reading this truly think that our position in Europe hasn't been affected by PAOK's poor performances, Panathinaikos' financial situation, and all those random teams who claim they want a place in the Europa League, yet never make it past the first qualifier? Asteras, Atromitos, Panionios, Xanthi, OFI, you name them! They go out to play in Europe and can barely string two passes together. I remember watching a game between OFI and Apollon Lemesou in Crete a couple of years ago and the Cypriots embarrassed them. Truly.
It's all a chain reaction. Yet it gets even worse. There have been rumors circulating these past few years that certain Greek clubs actively throw their European games in an attempt to stop Olympiacos from reaching the Champions League group stage and getting the financial boost by UEFA. That way, they think the Piraeus club can be brought down to the same level as them and they'll finally be able to beat them on equal terms.
Even the foreign referees haven't been able to put a dent in the trust issues between Greek fans. Always, someone has to be 'paid off' and more often than not, they're tied with Olympiacos. That's not to say that the fans of the Piraeus club don't suffer from the same issues, having made someone like Takis Tsoukalas their poster-child.
Hatred, hatred and more hatred. That's the only thing that comes out of the completely toxic environment of Greek football. People chant for over 90 minutes about how they "had their way" with the mothers or sisters of the opposing team's fans, in a pitiful attempt to somehow assert their dominance. I assure you, if these chants were in English or could be easily understood by English-speaking players and fans, Olympiacos and all Greek teams would have suffered severe sanctions by UEFA a long time ago. But luckily it's all Greek to them.
What else to expect by Olympiacos this season?
All this being said, Pedro Martins and his players still have a duty to fulfil and if there's anyone who's showing an (understandable) lack of interest, they should be more up front with it.
Players such as Aguibou Camara are a prime example of professionalism, with the young Guinean coming in and playing his heart out, becoming an indispensable member of the squad at only 20 years of age.
There could be many others like him in the B squad (Algassime Ba seems like a prime candidate) and they could easily replace those who just don't care to play in Greece.
But of course, as mentioned earlier, it could all be a matter of adjustment and these new players may require some more time in order to prove what they're made of. Garry Rodrigues has been able to come in and make a difference almost immediately because he's played in Greece before; he knows where he is.
Despite all of this, Olympiacos are still first in the Greek Super League and in a position to qualify from their group in the Europa League. Their next games in both competitions - against AEK and Fenerbahce respectively - will determine a lot regarding not only the club's future, but the security of Pedro Martins' position as well.
Olympiacos fans are not known for their patience and the Portuguese manager has been on a tightrope these last few weeks. Admittedly, he's been in similar positions in the past and was able to work his way out, but right now, after almost four seasons at the club, it seems that he may just be losing interest in the Olympiacos project with which he can only go so far. It may be time for something new.
It must be said however that without Martins to guide them, the 'erythrolefki's' fate seems grim at best. After all, he is the club's recordsman. If things do go well and Martins does remain at the helm, then fans should expect the team to show a significant improvement during the December-February period, as they usually do.