The Valbuena Effect
If there was anyway to describe 2020-21, it’s to use the word odd. The covid crisis hasn’t allowed fans to watch sports in stadiums. Our couches have become the closest thing to watching football or any other sport from a close distance. Though not ideal, this situation without their supporters didn’t stop Pedro Martins and his squad from conquering the Greek Superleague title and competing in the Round of 16 of the Europa League.
This past week had much activity for Red-and-White supporters. Olympiacos crushed AEK in the 2nd round of the Greek Superleague Playoffs. The final score was indicative of the talent on the pitch; an easy 1-5 victory and had coach Martins not eased up (he substituted two of his best players in Youssel El-Arabi and Mady Camara), the score could have gotten out of hand - maybe 7 or 8 goals. This past Wednesday, a magical Ahmed Hassan volley equalized the Cup Semi-Final against PAS Giannina giving the Erythrolefki a clear advantage coming home for the second league. Finally, a 3-1 victory over eternal rivals Panathinaikos officially clinched the league for the Legend.
This wasn’t the only important news from the week that passed. In a low radar move, Olympiacos renewed Mathieu Valbuena’s contract and today we will discuss this further.
It was a cool, breezy night in May 2019. The summer was ahead of us and everyone expected to visit the Greek islands, drink frappé and read the newspapers while following closely the transfer news. On this day, Valbuena came to the offices in Plateia Alexandras and signed a contract with the team after his release from Fenerbahce. The first reaction from the fans wasn’t the best. A lot of people pointed out his age and that at that time he was 34 years old. They kept asking what a 34 year player could do to the team that failed to clinch the 2018-19 Greek championship. The Frenchman gave some answers in the following months.
July 11th of that summer would prove to be a really sad day for the club. Coaches, staff and players were preparing the upcoming season and the squad’s leader Konstantinos Fortounis tore his ACL. Everyone was in shock. We cannot forget that Fortounis was about to lead this team to the upcoming season, score and create even more. It was a massive dent in Martins’ plans.
At this point, Valbuena stepped up the plate and showed what he was made of. A big player with a big heart and extremely “big cojones”. He soon became the catalyst for this team’s offensive and a locker room leader through all the difficulties guiding Olympiacos in the Champions League qualifier and later in the group stages.
In a time of need, the Frenchman proved that he is the brain of each time’s starting 11 and helped in all the statistical categories. The team learned to play his style-of-play and like a really famous maestro, he showed the tempo for the team to follow. His presence on the pitch was marvelous, his quality undeniable. He gave the team a safety net when he was on the field.
Valbuena also linked well with newly acquired striker, Youssef El-Arabi. The Moroccan striker was lethal due in big part to Valbuena’s contributions. The two connected immediately and Valbuena knew exactly where to find El-Arabi on the pitch. Even after Fortounis healed from injury, it became almost impossible to remove Valbuna from the Starting XI. It took the Greek international a lot of time to find his steps and fill the Frenchman shoes in the games.
After two years in Piraeus, Valbuena had some great, some good and some bad times. The bad times were mostly from nagging injuries. We cannot forget that he is 36 years old now. Those injuries have kept him off the pitch for long durations, especially during this season due to the lack of proper rest and preparation last off-season because of Covid. Personally, I think age is just a number - Mathieu will be able to contribute next season as well!
Football is not only about passing the ball, scoring and defending. You need to have players that know the organization, realize and understand the constant pressure this team has to win titles and matches.
Olympiacos are blessed to have the most hardcore fans in the world - always thirsty for victories and “Joga Bonito” attractive football. There aren’t many players that can come to Greece and immediately understand the philosophy of this team. Valbuena can - and that is why his contract renewal resonated with me! He was born to wear this jersey and lead at Karaiskakis Stadium! I can’t tell you how excited I am that I will be able to continue seeing his brilliance in Piraeus while he’ll be wearing the Red-and-White jersey.