SPORTS

New round of roster uncertainty hits AEK

AEK, one of the Greek first division’s more beleaguered soccer clubs of recent times, whose administrative and financial uncertainty has led to widespread disenchantment among team members, appears to be struggling to hold on some of its key players. A series of meetings between top-ranked club officials and players on Monday night could soon prompt a roster shake-up at the Athens club. Attacking midfielder Vassilis Lakis, responding to an offer by the club’s vice president Petros Stathis for immediate partial payment of outstanding fees with the rest to follow by a June 30 deadline, said he would decide on his next move within a week. Lakis and his manager had filed a lawsuit against the club for overdue fees last Friday. Also Monday night, a meeting between Stathis and key midfielder Vassilis Tsiartas over unpaid fees also ended in vague fashion. Tsiartas, who was offered the same settlement terms as Lakis, said that he too needed several days to make up his mind. Though it is considered likely that both Lakis and Tsiartas, both internationals, may well choose to disrupt their contracts, AEK officials remained optimistic following the latest talks. Another midfielder, Hristos Maladenis, also owed fees, was given the all-clear to seek a transfer to another club following a meeting, also Monday, with the club’s top-ranked financial officer, Panayiotis Valasopoulos. Maladenis was more concerned about his lack of playing time this season than the financial aspects of his contract. AEK’s coach Dusan Bajevic, who has fought hard to keep his roster together ever since the club’s financial woes began deepening a little over a year ago, said he would put up any resistance against Maladenis’s willingness to depart. Thessaloniki club PAOK is reportedly interested in signing the player. Last weekend, the club managed to renew the contracts of two players. Defender Nikos Georgeas reportedly signed a three-year deal worth 200,000 euros per year. Midfielder Theodoros Zagorakis, the national team’s skipper, who apparently went to his meeting backed by offers from an unspecified English club, Italian team Peruggia, and Thessaloniki club PAOK, also agreed to stay on. AEK, like most other professional Greek clubs, was hit hard by the collapse of a pay-TV station on the eve of the previous season, which deprived the team of anticipated revenues from broadcasting rights. In addition, the club’s crisis was intensified by a previous administration’s mismanagement of funds, whose consequences became apparent later on. The Athens club’s roster has since come close to disintegrating several times, but has remained intact mostly due to the persuasive efforts of Bajevic, the team’s Greek-Serb coach, one of Greek soccer’s most highly regarded figures backed with numerous league titles to his credit. AEK was fancied as a pre-season league title favorite by numerous local pundits, but is currently placed fifth in the 16-team Greek first division, 10 points behind frontrunner Olympiakos, at the season’s half-way mark. AEK also fared poorly in this season’s Champions League, with just a point from six group games for its early exit. The club’s majority shareholder, British firm ENIC, recently boosted its stake in AEK to 72 percent with the aim of financially restructuring the troubled club and then selling out. Stathis, the current vice president, recently said that a former club president, Dimitris Melissanidis, intended to take over the club once its murky financial state cleared. Melissanidis has continued offering support to the club from his peripheral role.