Ex-AEK star closer to deal

The owner of AEK soccer club, British firm ENIC, and a group of investors led by the Greek first division team’s former star striker Demis Nikolaidis have signed a preliminary takeover agreement, the player’s official website reported yesterday. The deal, which entails an immediate investment of 5 million euros in the cash-strapped club by the new owner, remains subject to an assessment of the team’s legal and financial standing, as well as settlement of various issues with AEK’s minority shareholder, Netmed, the website’s report noted. The process is expected to be completed within the next four weeks approximately, before a final deal is signed, the report added. Majority shareholder ENIC recently boosted its stake in the club to 72 percent with the objective of financially restructuring the club and then selling out. According to the website report, the 30-year-old Nikolaidis, who transferred to Spanish club Atletico de Madrid last summer but remains an icon among AEK fans, will retain the right to appoint the new board’s majority for a five-year period. The news of a likely deal comes as hope of a brighter future for AEK following all the disarray at the club in recent times. Like many other Greek soccer clubs, AEK has been severely hampered by financial woes, prompted mostly by a recent bankruptcy of a pay-TV channel that deprived the team of anticipated broadcast revenues. AEK has also had to weather the effects of mismanaged funds by a previous administration. Just weeks ago, the club lost its respected coach Dusan Bajevic, who applied his clout to keep intact a frustrated roster of players who were owed considerable sums by the administration. Bajevic resigned in response to a long series of disturbing public remarks made by a relative handful of zealous fans who refused to forgive him for abandoning AEK during a previous tenure that produced four league titles with the club. He then switched to rival Olympiakos in 1996 for several more titles, before moving to PAOK for a Greek Cup title, and and finally returning to AEK two years ago. AEK had been tipped as a pre-season favorite for this year’s league title, but has fallen 15 points behind front runner Olympiakos with 10 rounds of play remaining in Greece’s 16-team first division. AEK’s chances of a berth in next season’s Champions League, guaranteed by a top-three placing in the domestic competition, also appear slim. AEK currently lies eight points behind third-placed PAOK.