Coach Santos calls it a day at AEK

Portuguese coach Fernando Santos resigned as coach of current Greek league leaders AEK Athens yesterday. Club officials were unavailable for comment. Local media say Santos informed AEK’s players of his decision following training yesterday, citing disagreements with management over transfers. Just recently, Santos publicly expressed dissatisfaction over AEK’s decision to sign on Serb striker Ilia Ivic from Aris, a move which he called the management’s, not his. Radio reports said AEK club officials may try to persuade Santos to stay at least until the end of the season. He signed a two-year contract last July worth about $750,000. After making an unsuccessful attempt to acquire the Portuguese coach last summer, defending champion Olympiakos, whose coach Takis Lemonis, a former player for the club, is believed to be on shaky ground, is reportedly still interested in handing Santos the team’s reins as a result of his impressive run at the AEK club. The former Porto manager, 47, arrived at AEK in August to replace coaching duo Toni Savevski and Eugen Gerrards. Despite a limited transfer budget, the experienced Santos shaped a team able to win nine of their 10 league fixtures prior to the winter break. AEK are top of the league with a five-point lead over Olympiakos, who they play on January 20. The club’s «strongman,» Makis Psomiadis, had insisted on January 4 that an agreement was in place to keep Santos at AEK next season. The Athens club faces Italian giants Inter Milan in the fourth round of the UEFA Cup on February 21. According to sources, Olympiakos President Socrates Kokkalis had considered signing on Santos as the club’s coach after it was thrashed 4-2 by PAOK in the Greek Cup final last summer. In reaction, club scouts had apparently sought an agreement with a renowned foreign coach in place of actual coach Takis Lemonis and had settled on two alternatives, either Santos or German Otto Rehhagel. The fee that Santos had demanded from Olympiakos for his services – reportedly far more than the figure AEK could afford to pay – led to the transfer’s debacle after Kokkalis deemed it too expensive an option. Rehhagel ended up signing with Greece’s national team. When the Olympiakos president found out about the financial discrepancies of Santos’s dealings with the two Greek clubs, sources said, he decided to keep Lemonis and apply a wait-and-see policy for the Portuguese coach. Now the question is if Santos will finally accept the Piraeus club’s offer, one now confirmed by the Portuguese press, or return to his homeland and take over at Benfica which has been in hot pursuit of the coach’s services in recent weeks.(Combined reports)

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