SPORTS

Keeper problems at the top

Title contenders Olympiakos and Panathinaikos, separated by a mere point at the top of the Greek league’s standings, have both run into goalkeeper problems just over the season’s midway mark. Olympiakos, the front runner and defending champion, yesterday parted ways with Dimitris Eleftheropoulos, its first-choice keeper who has been marred by inconsistency and persisting injury problems. At Panathinaikos, the club and its international goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis need to bridge a 200-million-euro difference before renewing the respected player’s contract. Nikopolidis, a consistent, loyal and long-serving team member who sat patiently as the club’s No. 2 choice for several seasons while Polish international keeper Joszef Wandzik served at the club, is demanding a 600-million-euro-per-annum fee. The team’s administration has set a 400-million-euro offer as its maximum with a pledge to permit the player to transfer abroad should he receive a more satisfactory offer after June this year. Both sides agree on a three-year term. According to sources, the financial gap, neither immense or small, is likely to be bridged at the halfway mark. Responding laconically to reporters’ questions yesterday, the Panathinaikos goalkeeper’s manager, Nikos Lyrakis, noted, «All differences are bridged.» At rival Olympiakos, it appears that the club had no further patience for the ups and downs of Eleftheropoulos. The club’s vice president, Giorgos Louvaris, yesterday met with the player to inform him of his contract’s termination. It was scheduled to expire in the summer of 2005. Eleftheropoulos established himself as the club’s top-priority goalkeeper early in the 1996-97 season during which he notched up 31 appearances. The following season, injury restricted him to three games, but Eleftheropoulos rebounded for solid showings in the next two seasons. Since 2000-2001, however, Eleftheropoulos has struggled for fitness and form, which has severely restricted his appearances. This season, the club’s Ukranian coach Oleg Protasov selected Eleftheropoulos on just four occasions with a clearer preference for the relative newcomer Fanis Kateryiannakis, who shared the goalkeeping responsibilities with Eleftheropoulos last year. Even so, Protasov, who has employed four goalkeepers so far this season, appears unsatisfied with the position’s available talent. In the longer term, Olympiakos, winner of the last seven league titles, has shown chronic dissatisfaction with the abilities of its keepers. Indicative of this, a total of 10 goalkeepers, all formerly of Olympiakos, are currently playing with other clubs in Greece’s first, second, and third divisions.