Last big game for Fernando Santos with AEK

Just a day ahead of the Greek Cup final, in which his team will do battle with defending champion Olympiakos, AEK coach Fernando Santos announced he would depart at the end of this season. Besides today’s cup final, AEK has just one more game to play, at home against Xanthi on Sunday. A win would assure the Athens club of a Champions League berth. AEK lies second, two points ahead of Panathinaikos. «About 20 minutes ago I told my players that these will be my last two games as coach of AEK,» Santos told yesterday’s pre-match news conference. Insiders yesterday appeared split about the reason – or reasons – behind Santos’s imminent departure. Some pundits attributed the news to personal reasons, saying the Portuguese coach wanted to return home. Others indicated that the club’s administration may have been behind the decision. There were also reports that Santos may have acted pre-emptively by resigning before being fired. Commenting following the news, the club’s captain, Costas Katsouranis praised Santos for a plentiful contribution at AEK. «He offered a great deal to AEK. We’ll also play for him in the cup final. I wish him good luck with whatever he does next,» he said. Local radio reports yesterday said Portuguese club Sporting Braga, one of the Mediterranean country’s more formidable clubs, was interested in signing Santos for its coaching job. This was Santos’s second tenure at AEK, which began in the summer of 2004, shortly after the team’s former star player Demis Nikolaidis spearheaded a team of investors to take over and help rescue AEK from looming bankruptcy. Santos had his first run at AEK several years ago before moving to Panathinaikos for a short stint and then returning to Portugal to coach Sporting Lisbon. Pundits who attributed Santos’s departure to personal reasons pointed to Santos’s healthy ties with Nikolaidis. Returning to today’s cup final, at Crete’s Pankritio Stadium, security concerns have dominated the encounter’s lead-up. The match had originally been scheduled for May 6, but was postponed for today after the head of police in Iraklion, Crete, said a major anti-globalism event scheduled in Athens at the same time had affected police plans for the cup final. The Iraklion police chief warned the soccer federation that, with about two-thirds of the reinforcements demanded for the security effort on Crete stranded in Athens, an effective security plan for the Cup Final could not be assured.