SPORTS

Nikopolidis looks for new club

Panathinaikos goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis confirmed yesterday that his career with the team is over and he refused to exclude playing for Panathinaikos’s archrival Olympiakos. «I am working with my agent to find a team for the next two or three years. When we make a decision, I will be in a position to tell you more. I don’t want to discuss now where I will be (next season). What I am interested in is finding a team so that I can go with the national team to (the European Championship in) Portugal with peace of mind. I think there is no chance of me staying with Panathinaikos,» Nikopolidis said in a radio interview. The 33-year-old goalie’s relationship with his current club, for which he has played throughout his long professional career, reached a nadir last Saturday, when he was excluded from the squad that took part in the Greek Cup final against Olympiakos. The starting goalkeeper with the national team was not even deemed worthy of a seat on the bench, as a reserve. Nikopolidis refused to attend the final as a spectator. Nikopolidis’s estrangement from his team began early in the season, when the team summoned him to negotiate his next contract. Nikopolidis asked for an annual salary of 600,000 euros, but the team would offer no more than 400,000. This was clearly on the low side for a goalkeeper who is the mainstay of the national team and has become well known abroad as a result of Panathinaikos’s appearances in the Champions League and Greece’s unexpected qualification for the Euro 2004 finals. Last year, he was placed 13th among the world’s best keepers by the International Federation of Football Statistics and History. Understandably, Nikopolidis felt insulted by the offer, especially when Panathinaikos has offered some foreign players of dubious quality upward of 1 million euros per year. Greek soccer, however, is going through a revenue crisis and even Panathinaikos, one of the very few financially healthy teams, is cutting its budget. Nikopolidis’s refusal to accept the offer eventually led to management ordering coach Yitzhak Shum not to play Nikopolidis. He dutifully obliged and Nikopolidis has not played for his club since late March. According to sources, Nikopolidis is close to an agreement with English club Fulham.