SPORTS

Panathinaikos president apologizes to fans

Highlighting the immaturity, unpredictability and volatility that too often overwhelms Greek soccer, the mood at Panathinaikos, front runner and title favorite until last Sunday’s loss to archrival Olympiakos, has suddenly taken a dramatic downturn. The club’s president, Angelos Filippidis, responding to violent scenes by a group of enraged fans – or hooligans – at the club’s training center on Tuesday, offered apologies to supporters yesterday. Citing big investments during the summer, Filippidis said better days lay ahead once the current crisis was over. At Tuesday’s training session in Paeania, some 250 fans, disappointed by last weekend’s 3-0 loss against Olympiakos which virtually eradicates the team’s title hopes, threatened players and officials before breaking through a police cordon to damage luxury cars belonging to players and club facilities. Thirty people were detained. Moreover, several Panathinaikos players said they would not remain with the club. Amid all the bedlam, coach Sergio Markarian, who experienced his first loss with the team on Sunday in two stints with Panathinaikos, this season and last, also said that he was leaving. With one round of play remaining, Olympiakos and Panathinaikos share first place with 67 points each, but the former has the advantage as a result of a better aggregate score in their two games this season. Panathinaikos had won 3-2 at home earlier this season before Sunday’s 3-0 drubbing. If the two teams remain tied, and third-placed AEK, two points behind, does not overtake them following the final round of matches, Olympiakos will clinch its seventh consecutive title. Interestingly, should all three sides find themselves locked on equal points, AEK would win the title, as it has the best record in matches involving the trio. If AEK were to tie with Panathinaikos, however, a playoff would be needed to determine the champion. Despite his team’s mathematical chances for the title, Filippidis has discounted any possible hope. He believes that Olympiakos’s final-round opponent, Xanthi, will not pose any problems for the defending champion. «I apologize to the club’s supporters. The title’s been lost. I’m not counting on Xanthi,» Filippidis told state radio ERA Spor yesterday, adding that the referees in Xanthi’s previous two matches had made certain of that, by making six Xanthi players ineligible for the match, through the use of yellow cards. The club’s president denied humiliating his players following their poor performance on Sunday. «I never called my players chickens, either directly or indirectly. But I did have a heated discussion with them,» said Filippidis. «I support them because they’re good professionals but that doesn’t mean that I would not demand explanations for the performance at Rizoupoli,» he added. Filippidis, responding to a story run by Kathimerini yesterday on a lucrative deal offered to the league’s top scorer Nikos Lymberopoulos by Olympiakos a month ago, said he knew nothing. «I don’t know if Olympiakos has made an offer to Lymberopoulos. But even if this is true, I don’t believe that he agreed to discuss the issue before last Sunday’s clash,» said Filippidis. «We’ll decide on his case at the end of the season,» he added. Olympiakos officials have confirmed making an offer, worth nearly double Lymberopoulos’s current remuneration package. Filippidis, referring to the hostile environment faced by his players before last Sunday’s kickoff – many flares were tossed onto the pitch as the Panathinaikos squad warmed up – said that pre-match security measures discussed with Olympiakos officials were eventually neglected. Commenting on the competition, Filippidis cited AEK as this season’s best side. «Olympiakos is not a worthy champion based on one game alone. If we consider the entire season, AEK would deserve to win it. If we took away the first three rounds of play, then we would deserve to be champions,» noted Filippidis, referring to his team’s disastrous opening to the season, which is now being heavily felt. Panathinaikos lost its first three games.