Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Greeks showed a bit of improvement – at least when comparing themselves to their hated neighbours, the Turks. It was in the results of the national team rather than the clubs, but the combination of money and foreign imports was seemingly bringing some results. Greek football remained an enigma: if one looks the statistics of Olympiakos in the Wikipedia, things do not match – it is said there that Greece run ‘Non-Professional League System’ until 1977. How was that possible with professional players, heavy transfer fees, and rapidly increasing number of foreigners, I leave to the Greeks to explain. Another aspect of Greek football is easier to explain: the grand plans of Panathinaikos, dreamed in 1971, did not materialized – by 1975 Olympiakos was the flagman of the Greek football. According to traditional and universal football myth, Olympiakos represents ‘the people’, ‘the province’, the working class’ opposed to ‘the rich’ and ‘the capital city’. Shabby working class Pireus vs elegant bourgeois Athens. Never mind that by 1975 the cities were already amalgamated and the clubs were owned by rich and political influential men. Considering, that by 1975 Socialists were governing, it was even more likely the ‘working class’ club to be allowed to scheme and Panathinaikos – somewhat restricted in the realm of dirty tricks. No matter how, Olympiakos were the better team – Nikos Goulandris was the club’s President from 1972 and he signed expensive talent – Giorgos Delikaris, the French Greek Yves Triantafilos, Dimitris Persidis, the Uruguayans Julio Losada and Milton Viera. The investment paid off, to the delight of the fans: Olympiakos got the upper hand in Greece, if not on international stage. In the 1974-75 season the ‘workers’ won a double – both championship and cup.
Front, left to right: Delikaris, Viera, Kritikopoulos, Aidiniou, Stavropoulos.
Back: Siokos, Kelessidis, Liolios, Angelis, Kyrastas, Gaitadzis.
Well, half of the squad here was playing for the national team, with Delikaris perhaps the biggest star, but more interesting is something else: Olympiakos was almost never coached by a Greek from the down of their history (the first foreigner came in 1927 – the Czech Jan Kopsiva), except for brief interim periods practically never longer than an year. However, Goulandris appointed local man – Potropoulos, who was briefly coaching the team in 1971. Potropoulos was practically the first Greek coach to be appointed a second time by the club and the first to be really successful. After winning the double, Potropoulos was handsomely rewarded by the grateful club: he was replaced with the English coach Vic Buckingham (Ajax, Barcelona, Sevilla; creditied with the discovery of Johan Crujff; and also involved with match fixing in the British betting scandal of 1964) in June 1975. Thanks for the trophies and get lost!
Unlike Potropoulos, players faired much better – foreign implants adjusted better in Olympiakos than Panathinaikos, and played more important roles as well. Julio Losada – or Losanta – won 5 titles and 3 cups during his long spell in the club – 1972-80. He also became a club legend. Milton Viera, acquired from Penarol (Montevideo) stayed shorter – 1972-77 – but was more influential player than Losada. He won three Greeks titles – 1973, 74, and 75 – and two cups – 1973 and 1975 – with Olympiakos before moving to Athens and AEK, where he added two more championships – 1978 and 1979.
Viera in the ‘holly’ red-white stripes. He is probably lesser deity for Olympiakos fans than Losada, because of his AEK spell, when he fathered a son and named the baby Lukas, after AEK President Loukas Bartos.
The foreigners in Olympiakos tended to be of smaller status than those hired by Panathinaikos in the first half of the 1970s, but their contribution to Greek football was much larger. Point in case: ‘The Witch’ Veron was international star when Panathinaikos got him, and he stayed two years with the club, without playing much and winning even less. Losada and Viera played little for Uruguay – Losada has only 2 caps – and although both were in World Cup squads – Losada in 1970 and Viera in 1966 – neither played a minute in the final tournaments. But they played a lot in Greece and won plenty. When the Turks depended solely on foreign coaches for developing their game, the Greeks depended on coaches and foreign players – it worked if not significantly better, then at least faster than the Turkish approach. Faster, yet not that fast… by 1975 Greek football was still lowly in Europe.