Saturday, October 17, 2009

La Bruja, however, was not to be made a fake Greek. Once again ultra-nationalism played a role, this time a reverse one: if normally foreigners had to pose as Greeks for the glory of club and country, La Bruja had to stay exactly who he was for the glory of club and country – Greece was showing to the world that it was becoming big football country. Watch out, world! Panathinaikos was coming to concur you! I guess an exemption from the rules was quietly made… which triggered a domino effect. It was not only Veron Panathinaikos bought, but two other guys – another Argentine named Irala and a Brazilian named Araken Demelo. Demelo at least can be traced: he played a bit for Vasco da Gama before moving to Huracan (Buenos Aires) from where Panathinaikos got him. He stayed three seasons in Panathinaikos, moving to Atromitos (Athens) in 1975, but his record is not impressive: 41 matches and 21 goals in four seasons. Irala is complete obscurity – even his first name cannot be found. Where Panathinaikos discovered his talent is also unknown. He posed with Demelo and Veron for photos intended to scare the world, but… he played 2 games if I am not mistken. Solid record of class. By the end of 1972 Panathinaikos obtained a forth foreigner – an Argentine again, Ramon Artemio Gramajo, who survived the grueling Greek football for two seasons. La Bruja himself played two years for Panathinaikos – a total of 57 matches in which he scored 22 goals. Not bad, but not great either.
However, if Panathinaikos is allowed to import players, Olympiakos must be allowed too. They were… 4 foreigners, so to be ‘fair’, but with a difference: as if to spit on their enemies, Olympiakos got Uruguayan player from Penarol (Montevideo), a little hint that Uruguayans had beaten Panathinaikos for the Intercontinental Cup in 1971. Milton Viera and Julio Losada arrived, joined by 2 Argentines – Antonio Justo Alcibar and Migel Alberto Nicolau, and Austrian of Greek ancestry Peter Persidis. There were already 2 French players and a Cypriot in the team from 1971 – Tryantafilos and Romain Argiroudis, and if they, Persidis, and Nicolau were to pass for Greeks, Losada and Viera were to be kept foreign, at par with Panathinaikos’s foreign stars. Curiously, the Olympiakos’s foreigners faired much batter in Greece than the Panathinaikos’s: Viera played 4 seasons and Losada (who later took Greek citizenship and settled in Athens) played 7 seasons for the club from Piraeus.
Now, if you allow Panathinaikos and Olympiakos to take foreigners, the third big club – AEK – cries murder. So they have to be allowed too… AEK acquired 3 obscure Argentines. The record went to a smaller provincial club, Kalamata, which was immediately graced by 5 foreigners – 4 Argentines plus a Brazilian, of which nobody ever heard of before… or after. And so it went: permitting Athens clubs to buy from abroad did not stay well with Thessaloniki’s big guys PAOK. If PAOK can import, its city rivals Aris and Iraklis should too… and very soon every Greek club was importing (largely unknown Argentines for the most of the 1970s) by the carload. Eventually, European players came to Greece and by the end of the 70s players of some fame started slowly to appear. It was far cry from Rivaldo and other major names routinely playing for Greek clubs nowadays, but it was the beginning of the improvement of Greek football. I strongly think the foreigners eventually introduced real professionalism into Greek football and started its ascent. As for the rule against foreign players, I suspect it was never changed, but quietly forgotten.
As for Panathinaikos becoming big, dominating club in the early 1970s European football – this did not materialize, La Bruja or no La Bruja. But the players market expanded nevertheless.
Julio Losada, the first successful foreigner in Greek football – 5 times champion with Olympiakos. Also called Losanta in Greece, the striker played for the national team of Uruguay before going to Piraeus, including 2 matches in the 1970 World Cup.