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Olympiakos’s contract cuts

The financial straits that have plagued European soccer for some time are now also being felt by clubs here. A widespread crisis, it is not just the smaller clubs that are being affected. Highlighting this development, the Olympiakos club, winner of the last six league titles and owned by local telecoms tycoon Socrates Kokkalis, is reportedly feeling the strain for the first time since the entrepreneur took over the Piraeus team in the early 1990s. Players are still owed portions of bonus fees earned for last season’s league title. Indicatively, some outstanding payments to players were only made possible last week thanks to a recent broadcasting deal reached by Olympiakos with local television station Alpha. Contrary to developments at other clubs, Olympiakos players – obviously aware that they are employed by one of the country’s two biggest clubs, and moreover, on relatively lucrative contracts for local standards – have not protested. The trouble started after pay-TV channel Alpha Digital went out of business last September, a bankruptcy which deprived Olympiakos’s budget of approximately 11.7 million euros in broadcasting fees. Though not formally announced to players at Olympiakos, the obvious survival plan will be to reduce contracts or even terminate them. Lucrative deals – in the Greek league – worth slightly over or under a million euros, will soon be history. Developments have already begun at the Piraeus club. Uruguayan Gabriel Alves, whose contract ends next summer, was the first player called in by club officials. He was offered a compensation fee amounting to far less than his contract’s worth to prematurely end it, but rejected it. In response, officials recalled older rumors about the Uruguayan’s big nights out here in Athens and decided to hand out disciplinary punishment with a 60,000-euro fine and a six-month contract suspension. The player is entitled to take his case to FIFA, soccer’s international governing body. If so, Alves would be the first to take legal action of this kind against Kokkalis. The contract of another lucrative foreign signing, Swede Par Zeterberg, is also set to expire next summer, and, under the current detrimental conditions, is unlikely to be renewed. According to reports, Zeterberg would be interested in staying on. Also doubtful is the future of striker Lambros Houtos, whose father recently cast public aspersions on coach Srecko Katanec for keeping the player confined to the bench, as are those of Jorge Bermudez and Peter Ofori-quaye. Olympiakos officials expect to save close to 3 million euros if the five aforementioned players are taken off the payroll.