Title-hungry club set for spending spree

Contrary to its frugal spending policy in the transfer market over recent years, title-hungry Panathinaikos, now without a title since the mid-1990s and, in contrast to recent seasons, futile in European competition this year, appears to be preparing for a spending spree in coming weeks. Recent initiatives and statements by club officials indicate that new blood, from abroad, could soon be bolstering the club’s ranks. The first signs of more aggressive activity in the transfer market by one of Greece’s two most powerful clubs surfaced several days ago when Panathinaikos President Argyris Mitsou told a news conference that the team’s budget had no constraints and new signings were imminent. He did not elaborate. At the same news conference, however, when asked about a recent deal between outgoing key defender Panayiotis Fyssas with Portuguese team club Benfica, Mitsou responded that the player was unable to adjust to the Greek team’s revised financial state. The collapse of a pay-TV channel last year deprived Greek clubs of broadcasting rights revenues that were crucial to their budgets. Just days ago, Panathinaikos’s majority shareholder, Yiannis Vardinoyannis, told Greek daily Eleftherotypia that Panathinaikos would sign the players needed to bolster its roster. The team’s coach, Itzhak Shum, in an interview with sports daily Goal published yesterday, was slightly more specific in his remarks, saying that the club needed two or three players, which, he said, would soon be acquired. Moreover, several club officials have journeyed frequently to European and Latin American countries in recent weeks, a likely indicator that the club is out shopping. Definite transfer news, pundits say, is likely to be disclosed by the club during the upcoming festive season, when the Greek league takes a short break. Besides its extended stretch without a domestic title, this season Panathinaikos has also performed poorly in Europe, where the club has found consolation for its lack of local success with respectable Champions League campaigns in recent years, including a run all the way to the lucrative European club-level competition’s quarterfinals two seasons ago. There has been no such luck this season. Toward the end of first-round group play in the Champions League, Panathinaikos lies a dismal last in Group E with a solitary point from five games and no chance of a berth in the next round. The club, however, would earn a consolatory spot in the less prestigious UEFA Cup’s third round by finishing third in its four-team group. To do so, Panathinaikos must defeat Rangers, three points ahead and currently placed third, when it travels to Glasgow next Tuesday night for the final round of group play. Sixteen contestants, the top two from eight groups, will then move on to knockout home-and-away encounters all the way to the final in spring. Last season, Panathinaikos appeared set to clinch the domestic league title after leading for the season’s greater part, but was overtaken by archrival Olympiakos, winner of the last seven titles, right before the league’s finale. This season, Panathinaikos is currently placed second, two points behind the defending champion.