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Verdict on troubled AEK has been reached, FIFA warns

In the latest indication of how desperate football club AEK’s financial situation is, FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, yesterday notified the Greek soccer federation, EPO, that its tribunal had reached a decision on disciplinary consequences for outstanding fees to three former players. The FIFA decision, which the body said was reached at a meeting on April 16, would be announced two weeks from now. FIFA, however, said that the verdict would be nullified if a sum of 704,000 euros owed to three former players, Rodrigo Ferrugem, Davide Belotti and Antonio Folia, who took their cases to the governing body’s tribunal, was settled before that date. If not, as preliminary action AEK would be stripped of 24 points. This alone would send the club, now fifth in the Greek first division, just above the competition’s relegation zone. However, a combination of compounding FIFA penalties should the club’s finances remain unsettled, as well as Greek sports legislation that relegates professional clubs to the amateur fourth division should they be unable to handle financial matters, could spell the end of an era for the historic Greek team. The club’s majority shareholder, British firm ENIC, recently boosted its stake in the club to 72 percent with the aim of financially restructuring the troubled club before selling out. Negotiations with a group of investors led by former player Demis Nikolaidis have stagnated in more recent times. But Nikolaidis, currently playing with Atletico Madrid, re-emerged Monday to present the club’s current administration with a five-year rescue plan as part of his group’s takeover bid. ENIC has yet to comment. Following his meeting with AEK’s board, Nikolaidis, an immensely popular figure among AEK fans – he even sports a tattoo of the club’s insignia – warned that it was either his proposal or bankruptcy for the team. Nikolaidis told reporters that his latest proposal satisfied all negotiating parties. However, the former AEK player also noted that, following an examination of the club’s finances, total debt stood at 18.1 million euros, not 7.8 million as had been originally estimated. At a news conference yesterday, the team’s recently appointed coach, Ilie Dumitrescu, vowed to remain with the club even if it sank to the country’s lower divisions. «If AEK is relegated to the second or third division and I’m asked to stay,» said Dimitrescu, «I will in order to work and bring AEK back to the top league.»