Contracts burden soccer clubs

PAOK’s Ifeanyi Udeze is in transfer talks with England’s West Bromwich Albion, Greek media reported Thursday. The Nigerian international could be the second high-profile victim of a financial crisis hitting Greek clubs. Cash-strapped PAOK is reportedly hoping to raise more than 2 million euros by selling the 22-year-old defender and help solve acute financial problems with its players. Greek clubs are still reeling from September’s collapse of the Alpha digital pay-TV channel, which cost them an estimated 35 million euros in annual revenues. Most of the 16 teams in the first division have reached less lucrative agreements with Alpha’s terrestrial channel. Poor ticket sales, hurt by lackluster performances and fan violence, have deepened the crisis. Defending champion Olympiakos, owned by Greek telecoms tycoon Socrates Kokkalis, has reported financial problems. And Panathinaikos Chairman Angelos Philippidis recently warned that some first division clubs could go bankrupt before the end of the season. Many players have not been paid for months. Former Spanish Sevilla midfielder Vassilis Tsartas broke ties this week with AEK Athens after it refused to pay him arrears and a bonus for AEK’s qualification to the Champions League, worth 1.25 million euros. The move came after AEK handed the player a six-month suspension – ending in June 2003 – for complaining about his back pay. Tsartas, a Greek international, was not available for comment, but his agent, Yiannis Kenourgios, described AEK’s stance as «cold war and provocative.» A final decision on Tsartas’s fate will be made in early January by a league organizers’ committee for financial differences. Most other AEK players have already accepted pay cuts. Rift denied Olympiakos’s coach has denied a rift with striker Lambros Houtos after controversial comments from the player’s father. «There is no problem with Houtos,» former Slovenia coach Srecko Katanec told reporters on Thursday at a Christmas event organized by the Piraeus team. Katanec’s remarks followed a Wednesday interview on state radio with Houtos’s father Giorgos in which he criticized club officials and said he had offered 1 million euros to buy out his son’s contract. Olympiakos has denied any negotiations with Giorgos Houtos over his son’s contract. (Privately, however, they have hinted they would welcome getting rid of a player who has contributed very little relative to his contract). Houtos senior attacked the club’s handling of a knee injury that curtailed the striker’s season last year and belittled one of his son’s teammates, senior striker Alekos Alexandris. The player later issued a statement apologizing for his father’s outburst. The Greece international joined Olympiakos three years ago in a $4 million move from Italy’s AS Roma. (AP)

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