With only two games left to play in the Greek Super League season, five teams are caught up in a relegation dog fight to see which one will join Kerkyra in the football league next year. Among them is AEK Athens, who as one of Greece’s oldest and most prestigious clubs, find themselves staring oblivion in the face for the first time in their illustrious history. Ravaged with debt, unable to play its players and struggling in the league, AEK’s glory days look like they are coming to an end. Its dark days for the once Champions league regulars who have played host to some of Europe’s biggest clubs – Liverpool, Juventus, PSV, Ajax and Real Madrid. Now sitting a single point above the drop zone, AEK could find themselves going out of business if they were to fall into the financially constrained lower divisions.
Greece is suffering from financial turmoil and its football teams have not been left affected. 90% of the clubs in the Super League now operate on vastly reduced budgets, with most having to make significant cost cutting measures last year as the financial crisis took hold, to stay afloat. Transfers are down across all the clubs with only $5.7 million being spent combined by the 16 clubs this season. What makes that figure so remarkable is that five years after Greece shocked the football world by winning Euro 2004, the combined transfer fees in 2009 reached $63 million. But Greek clubs have long been living beyond their means with exuberant transfers and unaffordable wages. Added into that poor business management, corrupt officials and owners and a weak economy, it is no wonder the league is now suffering. Athens “suffering” is rumored to be around the $35million mark with further debt owed in unpaid taxes to the government. As yet they have not come looking for that payment, but it is only a matter of time. Chaos off the pitch has affected events on it, but nothing has been done to prevent rot from setting in.
Athens had an opportunity yesterday to pull themselves away from the relegation zone, as they faced up to PAS Giannina in a re-arranged fixture. But Athens failed to take their chance and lost the match 2-0 with goals from PAS defender Nikos Korovesis and midfielder Fotis Georgiou. Trailing by two goals at half time, AEK’s German coach Ewald Lienen made two changes bringing on Portuguese midfielder Furtado and Greek youngster Valentinos Vlachos in an effort to haul Athens back into the game but the duo were unable to make the difference. That has been the story of AEK’s season so far, often trailing in matches and unable to introduce the spark needed to get them back into the game. In 28 matches this season, AEK have failed to score in 12 of them, and just as damning have only kept seven clean sheets. Weak at the back and limp up front, AEK look like a shadow of the club they used to be. The once powerful club, who over the years has had great players like Rivaldo, Traianos Dellas, Andreas Stamatiadis, Mimis Papaioannou and Demis Nikolaidis on their books, now relies on inexperienced younger players and journeymen.
With only two games left, speculation has started over who will stay up or who will go down. The smart money would be on Aris to be relegated, as they face two tricky matches against Asteras Tripolis and Xanthi but Aris have been known to pull off stunning results when they had to – beating Panathinaikos and drawing with runaway champions, Olympiakos this season. Fellow strugglers Veria face difficult games against Platanias and Panathinaikos but again have taken points off of both teams this season. With OFI a point ahead of AEK, they are not seen as one to watch but they two must secure some points in their remaining two games against Atromitos and Asteras Tripolis if they are to stay in the league.
Ultimately AEK’s fate lies in next Sunday’s crunch game with fellow strugglers, Panthrakikos. A win would all but secure them their league status, a draw would take it to the final week and a defeat would leave their fate in the balance. Having lost the last time the two sides met to a single goal by Marama Vahirua, the odds are stacked against the Athens side. It has been a season to forget with results on the pitch often overshadowed by events off of it. Political scandal followed financial disaster followed player scandals, most recently with Greek under 21 captain and rising AEK star Girogos Katidis being suspended by the club and then the FA for performing a Nazi salute as a goal celebration (as covered in a blog last month). With two games left to focus on, Lienen and his players will know that two wins will be enough to secure their place for next year. Anything less could well spell the end for AEK Athens as we know it.
Super League Table:
Tables and Fixtures by Soccerway.com
For more on the crisis facing greek football, read this great piece by George Tsitsonis in Inside The Game: http://www.insidefutbol.com/2013/03/22/inside-the-game-financial-crisis-takes-toll-on-football-in-greece/81752/