Greece striker Dimitris Salpingidis likened playing for PAOK to being in a jungle after a much-criticised season ended with them clinching a spot in the Champions League preliminary round.
PAOK scrambled through to the third qualifying round of Europe’s elite club competition after a 2-1 win over PAS Giannina in the final match of the Super League playoffs on Sunday.
Salpingidis said teammates feared for their lives during a season when angry fans staged regular protests at the Toumba Stadium and at the training ground while players also had their cars vandalized.
“There is no soccer education in Greece, we are years behind,» he told reporters. «This year I felt I was in the jungle and not a soccer player.
“The players from abroad have been frightened by what they have seen. These are not the sort of conditions to play soccer
in when at any time you feel someone may come to try and kill you.”
Salpingidis is widely regarded as one of the country’s hardest-working players and he has been incensed at the heat that has been turned on the players since the arrival a year ago of new owner Ivan Savvidis.
“We have experienced tremendous pressure this year, the mentality of the Greek is that a team should be built with money and without patience,» he said.
“Everybody expected that after Mr Savvidis came in we would win the championship easily but we are talking about soccer which is a competitive sport.
“It certainly does not help when players have their cars damaged and PAOK will not be heading on the right path if the situation continues.”
Savvidis, a Greek-Russian businessman and politician of Greek Pontian descent, has established a new financial policy at the club in order to pay off vast debts created by previous administrations.
PAOK is the country’s biggest club outside of Athens but last won a league title in 1985.
Its last trophy success was a Greek Cup win in 2003.