A sad goodbye to Paolo Sousa, the star who rarely played for his team

Confirming the widespread rumors of recent days, Panathinaikos and its star Portuguese signup Paolo Sousa, who had generally failed to live up to the club’s expectations since transferring in the summer of 2000, yesterday mutually agreed to terminate a three-year contract binding the player to the Greek team. It still had one-and-a-half years to run. Under the agreement, Panathinaikos will be obliged to continue paying the midfielder until the end of next season, unless Sousa transfers to another club before then. Media reports said that he may join Portugal’s Benfica. This season, Sousa played a total of 563 minutes in Champions League games and 590 minutes in league and Greek cup matches. Sousa, whose transfer deal ranks as one of Greek soccer’s most lucrative in recent years, had come close to losing his job during his first season with Panathinaikos. Angered by the player’s inconsistent form, the team’s coach at the time, Angelos Anastasiadis, had angrily told administration that he no longer wanted Sousa on his squad. The coach, one of the country’s more controversial, ended up going first, but his replacement, Yiannis Kyrastas, who, until recently, was riding high after leading Panathinaikos into the Champions League’s second phase in commanding fashion, also departed last weekend. Kyrastas lodged his resignation immediately after last weekend’s 2-1 home loss against PAOK, a defeat that put the club further behind in the domestic competition’s title race. With just a draw to boast from two games in the Champions League second phase, Panathinaikos also faces an uphill battle if the team is to qualify for a quarter-final berth. Another of the team’s foreign signings, Polish national Emmanuel Olisadebe, is also set to go, but not because Panathinaikos does not want him. According to reports, Italian giant Juventus has restarted an effort to acquire the player after negotiations with his former club, Polonia, broke down. The Polish team’s 4.5-billion-drachma price tag had been deemed too lofty by the Italians. However, Olisadebe’s solid form with both his national team and Panathinaikos, a boost for the player’s market value, has nevertheless prompted Juventus to rethink its decision. In an official club statement released yesterday, Panathinaikos has denied any involvement in negotiations with the Italian club, but added it would consider the right offer at the right time. For the time being, the statement noted, Panathinaikos will need to focus its efforts on finding a new coach. Earlier, an Italian sports website quoted the player’s Italian manager, Antonio Calento, as saying that negotiations between the two clubs were presently in progress and that Juventus had been keeping a close watch on Olisadebe since last season. My client, Calento noted, may go to Italy next January.

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