SPORTS

Panathinaikos hunt for new coach is all but completed

Panathinaikos’s hunt for a new coach appeared all but complete last night as Italian Alberto Malesani was reportedly set to sign with the Athens club. Malesani, who had led Parma to a UEFA Cup triumph several seasons ago, and, most recently, had worked with Modena, is expected to be watching Panathinaikos from the club’s stands tonight for its third-round, first-leg UEFA Cup clash against Spanish team Seville. Reports last night said minor details regarding the deal were still being discussed and that its finalization was likely later in the evening or early today. Malesani was believed to be negotiating a one-and-a-half-year deal worth just under 700,000 euros per annum. The amount is considerably less than the reported 1.2-million-euro deal that was apparently offered, just days ago, to Trond Sollied, coach of Belgian frontrunner Brugge. Sollied, whose contract with Brugge expires in 2007, denied any contact with the Greek club. But talks, reports at the time insisted, did take place here in Athens. Early yesterday, Malesani, too, denied talking with Panathinaikos about a possible deal, but it was reported that he flew to Athens later in the day to discuss finer details. Highlighting the fickle nature of local administrations, Panathinaikos has made 11 coaching changes over the past four-and-a-half years. The Athens club’s last coach, Czech Zdenek Scasny, who spent a brief four-month tenure with Panathinaikos, had replaced Itzhak Shum after the Israeli led the club to last year’s double – Greek league title and cup. Last weekend, Panathinaikos moved up to second place in the Greek first division, five points behind Olympiakos, with a 5-1 home win over Apollon Kalamaria. Panathinaikos’s recent third-round exit from the Greek Cup prompted the administration’s decision to part ways with Scasny. The team is currently being led by interim coach Totis Fylakouris, a veteran player with the club, who will be laying out the club’s strategies against Seville tonight. «If we play with passion, power and soul, then we will achieve the desired result against Seville. We’re not anxious. I’m not anxious. So the team shouldn’t feel uptight,» Fylakouris, a member of the historic Panathinaikos team that reached the European Cup final against Ajax at Wembley Stadium in 1971, told a news conference yesterday. «Our task is difficult. We both fear and don’t fear Seville. I believe we will win [tonight’s] game. If we play the way we did last Saturday, we will have the upper hand,» he contended. Seville currently lies third in the formidable Spanish first division, 13 points behind runaway leader Barcelona, and nine behind challenger Real Madrid.