SPORTS

Alberto Malesani given temporary reprieve

All that occurred at the Olympic Stadium in Athens on Sunday night during the Panathinaikos-Iraklis encounter’s post-match news conference has bolstered coach Alberto Malesani’s position at Panathinaikos. As paradoxical as it may seem following the harsh behavior displayed by a considerable number of fans – mostly organized – against their club’s Italian coach, Malesani’s explosive criticism in front of TV cameras has managed to overturn the overall negative climate against him and prompt a more favorable opinion of the Italian in the eyes of numerous Panathinaikos fans. It is not so much that Malesani was assessed and found capable of carrying the responsibility of sailing his team to calmer waters. What worked favorably for him was the sense that certain limits were overstepped, which prompted a heated and unprofessional response from Malesani. This appears to have touched the sensibility of a large portion of fans who had previously doubted their team’s coach. This is, perhaps, the most logical explanation for the acceptance of words and behavior that, under different, even milder circumstances, would have provoked developments contrary to the prevailing ones. The administration’s position reflects that the club’s fans are accepting of Malesani. The extent of the verbal abuse pelted at him by the majority of the club’s organized fans during Sunday’s 2-2 draw at home against Iraklis – a result that sent the ambitious and powerful club’s title hopes reeling further – not only failed to undermine the board’s decision to support its choice of the Italian coach until the very end, but, on the contrary, strengthened it. Club boss Yiannis Vardinoyiannis does not consider his insistence to be a matter of ego. The administrator contends that he should not act under the heat of the moment. Instead, Vardinoyiannis is determined to allow Malesani to complete his task before being judged on the basis of what he has achieved, or failed to achieve. Vardinoyiannis does not want to repeat administrative errors of previous years, when coaches came and went, one after another, and ultimately, led to nothing. (Archrival Olympiakos has won eight of the last nine Greek league titles. Panathinaikos broke the run two seasons ago, but this season lies a distant third from top spot; it was eliminated by second-division Ergotelis from the Greek Cup. Last week, it bowed out of European competition early following a 5-1 Champions League thrashing against Werder Bremen in Germany.) As painful as the Greek club’s results may be in the weeks and months to come, Vardinoyiannis will insist that Malesani remain as coach, even if Panathinaikos’s campaign for the league title – the only merit still within reach for the club this season – drifts further way. Following last weekend’s ordeal, Malesani has also emerged rebaptized in the eyes of his players. Ties had been affected during recent days following various press reports about matters at the club’s headquarters. But the coach’s decision to support his players against questioning fans has drawn the squad closer.