SPORTS

Bajevic bids AEK farewell

The resignation of Dusan Bajevic from his club on Sunday is bound to generate further havoc on the team. During his reign, the Serb-Greek coach, one of the most respected and successful figures in Greek soccer, fought stubbornly to keep AEK intact amid the club’s financial straits which led to several rounds of threatened walkouts by players over unpaid fees. Bajevic, supported by his heavy clout, managed to persuade most players to stay on. But without Bajevic, the club’s stability and cohesion is now severely endangered. Already, a day after Bajevic abandoned his team early during its 4-0 thrashing of Iraklis in reaction to insulting personal remarks from a section of fans in the stands for the umpteenth time, four administrative associates have resigned as an act of solidarity. Certain players are likely to follow, while legal action, which many players came close to taking against their own club over unpaid fees, is now more likely. «Bajevic was the only reason we didn’t file lawsuits,» Vassilis Tsiartas, one of the club’s leading players said following yesterday’s training session. «Bajevic kept the club standing in the summer. Now there are no obligations. Anybody can take legal action whenever,» he added following yesterday’s session. Despite Sunday’s walkout, Bajevic headed the training session for one last time and then explained to players, during a half-hour meeting in the dressing rooms, his reasons for leaving. «He said it’s a moral issue, and cannot carry on further,» said Tsiartas. A small percentage of AEK’s more zealous fans, who call themselves «Original,» have not forgiven Bajevic for abandoning AEK during a first tenure that produced four league titles. He switched to rival club Olympiakos in 1996 for several more league titles, and then transferred to Thessaloniki club PAOK for a Greek Cup title before returning to AEK two years ago. Bajevic had also enjoyed a successful playing career before taking on the team’s coaching duties. As part of their repertoire of ongoing verbal abuse, AEK’s «Original» fan club often called Bajevic a «traitor» during games and also sent the message across on large banners. Last Sunday’s insults, however, went a step further and also included remarks about his wife. Following his resignation, Bajevic said that he was «bidding farewell not to end up in jail.» Tension between «Original» fans and Bajevic had been brewing long before Sunday’s outbreak. Club officials had repeatedly promised Bajevic that the problem would be solved, to no avail. Board members are likely to think twice about not having taken strict action against a bunch of hard-headed thugs now that the man who held the troubled club together is gone. AEK, like most other Greek clubs, was hit hard by the financial collapse of a pay-TV station over a year ago that consequently deprived the club of anticipated budget funds. Star player Vassilis Lakis, one of the team’s leading players who had filed legal action against AEK over unpaid fees before Sunday’s crisis, is awaiting a court verdict expected today. 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. AEK was fancied as a pre-season league title favorite by numerous pundits, but is currently placed fourth in the 16-team Greek first division, nine points behind front runner Olympiakos, a little over the season’s halfway mark.