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  • Writer's pictureKostas Lianos

Ten questions for Olympiacos owner Evangelos Marinakis after Freiburg disaster

No one in their right mind can doubt Olympiacos owner Evangelos Marinakis’ commitment to the club – a proven longtime fan that is determined to turn his team into one of the best in Europe.

Marinakis has already won a staggering 10 Superleague titles and four Greek Cups since taking over in 2010, at a time when his predecessor Sokratis Kokkalis walked out in such dramatic fashion that many predicted the club was heading back to the traumatic Petrina Chronia– ask your father how much worse things were back then than they are right now…

The Greek businessman has also turned Olympiacos into a respected European side that has made the knockout stages of a major European competition (mostly Europa League admittedly) a whopping 10 out of their last 12 attempts – and all on a Superleague budget when much bigger clubs are being financed by oil rich nations.

The 56-year-old is a major player behind the Piraeus outfit’s immense success in the last 13 years, which saw the team beating the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, Burnley, West Ham, Borussia Dortmund, Marseille, Benfica, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, AC Milan, PSV Eindhoven, Fenerbahce and more.

Can’t say I am surprised he was the one that finally brought Nottingham Forest back to the Premier League after a 23-year absence…

However, the last two seasons haven’t been consistent with Marinakis’ previous triumphs in Piraeus. Embarrassing eliminations from inferior clubs in Europe, expensive transfer sprees involving washed-up legends, swapping more managers than Taylor Swift changes boyfriends, questionable appointments in key positions and consecutive Forest flops.

After Thursday’s humiliating 5-0 loss at Freiburg – arguably the worst European defeat in the club’s history – it’s time to ask the hard questions…

1. Why was Pedro Martins awarded a contract extension?

Pedro Martins is undoubtedly one of the best managers in Olympiacos history with three Superleague titles and one Greek Cup, combined with immense European success making it out of the group stage of a major competition in all of his four attempts during his four-year tenure. I also had the honour of meeting him and I can safely state he is an amazing person who loves Olympiacos.

But it was obvious two years ago that the football under Martins was no longer up to par and his circle was complete. Funnily enough, Evangelos Marinakis showed confidence to a manager perhaps the only time when he really had to pull the trigger. That led to a humiliating elimination by Maccabi Haifa during last season’s Champions League qualifiers, arguably the second worst campaign since Petrina Chronia and the state we are in today.

Olympiacos are still dealing with what my co-host Costa refers to as PMSD (Post Martins Stress Disorder). That could have been avoided with an amicable divorce two years ago, which would have seen the now Al-Gharafa boss leaving as the winner that he is, the Piraeus outfit moving on in a smooth manner with a new manager that would have more than enough time to put together his preferred team during pre-season and avoid all this chaos.

2. Why was Antonio Cordon signed and why was he removed as Olympiacos sporting director midseason?

Antonio Cordon’s arrival as Olympiacos’ new sporting director was met with glee by fans who started to see hope, promise, confidence and more importantly a plan returning to Piraeus after a disastrous campaign.

Cordon’s proven success at Monaco, Real Betis and especially Villarreal where he turned the Yellow Submarine into one of LaLiga’s top clubs out of nothing, led many to believe great things were in the works.

Another raft of signings took place, several of which were completed late in August, and only a few have stood out so far this season such as Santiago Hezze, Francisco Ortega, Jackson Porozo, Daniel Podence and Ayoub El-Kaabi. However, Olympiacos still made it to the Europa League group stage with relative ease, ended West Ham’s 17-match undefeated streak in Europe and could have been top of the league if that Panathinaikos derby didn’t end the way it did.

However, Cordon’s stint as sporting director didn’t last longer than six months as he will soon be replaced by Pedro Alves and he will supposedly undertake a general coordinator role overseeing all of Marinakis’ clubs. This goes completely against how the Spaniard was presented to the fans. The 59-year-old arrived as the man that would take the club to the next level in the next few years. But not only was that not the case, but he was removed from his position in the middle of his debut campaign in Greece while the team isn’t playing stellar football.

3. Who’s in charge of Olympiacos?

That leads us to our next question, and obviously everyone knows Marinakis is the boss. But who actually runs Olympiacos? And no Joe Rogan fans – I mean conspiracy theorists – this is not me trying to do some gotcha journalism. What I’m trying to point out is that when Cordon arrived he was supposed to be in charge of the club as sporting director alongside his assistant and right-hand man Jose Ignacio Navarro, his son and chief scouting officer Luis Cordon as well as strategic advisor and club ambassador Christian Karembeu.

But now that he is being promoted to a more senior role, the former Ecuador chief is set to be replaced by Alves, who will take over as technical director after a glittering five-year stint at Estoril whom he turned into a decent Primeira Liga side out of nothing.

But will the Portuguese chief have the exact same role, liberty and authority as Cordon? Or will there be interference by some usual suspects? We know Alves will team up with Navarro, but what kind of structure will they follow?

Finally, can fans be promised that Alves won’t be leaving his post in the exact same and sudden manner Cordon did? It’s a little hard for an Olympiacos fan to believe there is a general restart taking place with the prospect of a build-up that will take the team to the next level as they heard the same before in the summer.

Plus, will there be faith in Alves regardless of how he starts? And would a potential flying start see him stay at Olympiacos for the long term and not moved – let’s say to Nottingham Forest?

4. Why so many Nottingham Forest flops?

When Cordon joined Olympiacos the idea was that he would be calling the shots on all football matters, in fact he was going to be No2 only behind Marinakis – that means Evangelos only. But then we saw three Nottingham Forest players – Omar Richards, Gustavo Scarpa and Giulian Biancone - coming in on loan/transfer and

follows two from last season – Hwang Ui-jo and Josh Bowler. None of them succeeded, which is why no one is really thrilled with the prospect of Felipe coming on in the January transfer window amid a defensive crisis.

So far, Olympiacos’ most successful signing from Forest is Andreas Bouchalakis, as my co-host Dimitris Kouimtsidis correctly pointed out, whereas the best move that went the opposite way to the City Ground is Cafu. This speaks volumes! So why insist on a recipe that keeps failing?

5. What is the point of the B team?

When Olympiacos’ B team was launched in 2021 many dreamed of a set up similar to Barcelona’s La Masia and Real Madrid’s Castilla – although most knew that was highly unlikely from the off.

But ever since its inception, only one player has been promoted to the senior team on a full-time basis and that was Andreas Ntoi, who is actually a defensive midfielder but is currently used at centre-back.

Ntoi admittedly put together a string of impressive performances on his debut season but has seriously struggled this term next to Panos Retsos. The 20-year-old got his chance thanks to former manager Michel, who had the stones last season to field B team players against Nantes, such as Kostas Tzolakis (who was promoted to the first team in 2020), Alexis Kalogeropoulos and Tasos Sapountzis. One wonders if Ntoi would even be in the senior squad if it wasn’t for the Spanish tactician…

So what is the point of the B team if only one player has ever made it through to the first team? And the reserves squad is filled with young as well as promising young talent, such as Petros Bagalianis, Christos Mouzakitis, Dimitris Pinakas, Algassime Bah and of course Konstantinos and Babis Kostoulas. Sapountzis and Kalogeropoulos are still in the picture as well.

The lack of vision in the B team is glaring for various reasons as Bagalianis, for example, is now 22 years old and surely should have been axed if he’s not good enough for the first team by now. And does anyone even remember Bandiougou Fadiga and Diby Keita?

Very few youth players can hop onto a first team and set the world alight – the finite list probably only includes Pele, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Therefore, a youngster needs guidance, direction and mentoring to make a successful transition. Manchester United’s famous Class of ’92 would have never succeeded without legends like Eric Cantona, Gary Pallister, Steve Bruce and Paul Ince who helped them transition combined with the influence of Sir Alex Ferguson. That obviously doesn’t exist at Olympiacos, which makes us wonder if a promising wonderkid like Babis Kostoulas will ever see the same success as Giannis Konstantelias and Konstantinos Koulierakis enjoy at PAOK.

6. Are even more transfers the answer?

The reason why we don’t see anyone being promoted from the B team is because of the old-fashion Greek mentality of throwing money to our problems and the lack of patience that demands quick fixes. Instead of investing on a young homegrown talent - who grew up loving Olympiacos, is passionate to follow in the footsteps of his favourite legend and has potential - the team will instead try and fill every spot with a “star”.

Investing in youth takes a lot of time but massive pros can be found in the long term as the fact they are young, upcoming and loyal to the club will guarantee they will be around for a long time. How long until the likes of Hezze, Ortega, Rodinei, Retsos and Podence leave? Hwang In-beom shows us there is not much reason to hope those kinds of players will be sticking around for long…

Furthermore, many people have their opinions about Kostas Fortounis (especially as captain). However, the truth is that after all those years Fortounis will leave a huge void behind him when he finally leaves – that time is not far off as he is 31 years old. Please, compare the start of last season to the second half of the campaign if you don’t believe me… It is far more likely that a talented B team player can fill in the Greek star’s huge boots than some signing from Jorge Mendes…

As club legend Nikos Dabizas once told me, the January transfer window is not there to build a team but to instead make tweaks. Marinakis can’t buy an entire line-up, but instead needs to get together with manager Diego Martinez and whoever the sporting director is (preferably Cordon because he’s been longer) and decide on what the missing links truly are.

7. Who called the shots on last season’s transfers?

Last season must be the worst of the Marinakis era in terms of transfers - a team put together by three different managers in Martins, Carlos Corberan and Michel. A total of 21 signings! Barely eight of them proved to be a success and nine were booted out by January – that included all three washed-up legends in Sime Vrsaljko, Marcelo and James Rodriguez who certainly did not come cheap. That also led to such an inflated squad which included four No10s and four left-backs.

I said it before and I will say it again, whoever was in charge of signings last season should never be allowed in that department at Olympiacos again.

8. Will another managerial dismissal actually fix the problem?

Olympiacos have had five different managers since August 2022 and are still in relevant crisis mode. Martinez is no Ernesto Valverde as he still hasn’t been able to implement or even show what his philosophy really is. When it comes to substitutions especially, the Spanish tactician has been very underwhelming by either making changes too late or too early.

However, findings from Gate 7 International showed Martinez’s first season in charge isn’t that different to Martins in the 2018-2019 season. But one glaringly worrying difference between them is that under the Portuguese gaffer the team didn’t look consistent and could even lose against far weaker opponents. Under Martinez, however, the wins over inferior opposition in Greece are consistent but when it comes to bigger opponents the fear of losing is not only high but now there is also a very realistic possibility of getting thrashed as shown against PAOK and Freiburg.

Nevertheless, Martinez’s success at Granada speaks for itself, let’s not forget he earned promotion to LaLiga on his debut season and then sealed a seventh-place finish on his first year in the Spanish top flight which led to the Europa League where he made the quarter-finals.

The 42-year-old is obviously talented and deserves more time until at least the crucial home game against Backa Topola on December 14 where he will be playing for his future as only a win would ease the pressure. But even if he does lose and leaves the very next morning then his successor can’t do much more realistically than put bandaids everywhere until May when we will start talking about a rebuild again. Happy Groundhog Day everybody!

9. How will Olympiacos benefit out of a potential group ownership?

My co-host Ari Bouloubassis and I had a very interesting chat the other day about Marinakis’ imminent takeover at Rio Ave, who will become the third club under the Greek businessman after Olympiacos and Nottingham Forest – Monza could soon follow.

But as Ari and I wondered, is that really going to work for Olympiacos? The Red Bull Group prioritise RB Leipzig and City Football Group focus on Manchester City. Greek fans in general have never shown the desire to share players, managers, technical staff and resources throughout the years. Even the ongoing allocation of assets between Olympiacos and Forest has looked uneasy.

Olympiacos fans put their favourite club above all else and it’s hard to imagine this team following in the example of the likes of Red Bull Salzburg and Melbourne City. Supporters wouldn’t take kindly to swaps like Hezze moving to Monza and Ortega going to Rio Ave when they are desperately needed at Georgios Karaiskakis…

10. Why did it take so long to sell and profit out of rising young stars?

Olympiacos looked like they were sitting on some winning lotteries in the 2019-2020 season with the likes of Pape Abou Cisse, Ousseynou Ba and Mady Camara tearing it up in Europe. Everyone was convinced those young rising stars would be sold for fees similar to those of Kostas Mitroglou, Kevin Mirallas and later Kostas Tsimikas – the same went for Aguibou Camara a few months later.

But instead, Mady is still here after an uninspiring loan stint at Roma, Ba was also shipped out on loan at Istanbul Basaksehir, Aguibou is undergoing another temporary stint at Atromitos and Cisse was sold to Adana Demirspor for an undisclosed fee that is safe to assume wasn’t earth shattering.

With the team out of the Champions League the last three seasons, one must wonder what the plan is exactly to create income that will help Olympiacos compete at least with Europa League opposition…

PS: If you think things are bad now, wait and see what would happen if Marinakis left the club…


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