SPORTS

PAOK gets UEFA Cup reprieve

PAOK soccer club, a qualifier for the upcoming season’s UEFA Cup and Thessaloniki’s biggest club in terms of popularity and success, was given an extension until this coming Monday by the competition’s organizer to restore financial order before being eligible to take part in the European club-level event. Following an ambitious and optimistic start to the previous domestic season, underlined by the acquisitions of key players such as Greece captain Theodoris Zagorakis, the Thessaloniki club’s finances began deteriorating as the team failed to live up to expectations. PAOK’s organized fans, disappointed by their team’s performances, even boycotted some of their club’s home games. Most notably, many organized fans did not attend the Thessaloniki team’s home clash against archrival Olympiakos, the season’s eventual champion. PAOK, however, managed to end sixth in the Greek league’s standings, enough to earn the club a UEFA Cup spot. But UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, does not accept teams that fail to meet its rigidly imposed regulations for its club-level competitions, the Champions League and the less prestigious UEFA Cup. Yesterday’s reprieve for PAOK, granted by UEFA chief Sepp Blatter during a meeting at the association’s Zurich headquarters with the Greek soccer federation’s chief, Vassilis Gagatsis, and the Greek government’s top sporting official, Giorgos Orfanos, was a positive development for the Thessaloniki team. But it still has a long way to go before acquiring the financial stability necessary for participation in both European club-level competition and the domestic league. PAOK, along with one other first division club, Cretan team OFI, have yet to be given the green light for entry into the upcoming season’s Greek first division. Over the past few days, there had been hope at PAOK of a takeover by one of the country’s more powerful entrepreneurs, Theodoros Angelopoulos. But the businessman yesterday declared that he was not interested in taking over the cash-strapped club, while underlining that he was not interested in such an investment at any point. «I was never interested in [acquiring] PAOK. I was informed of this via a third party,» Angelopoulos said yesterday. It is believed that the businessman gave the prospect some consideration before eventually withdrawing after realizing the extent of the club’s poor finances. His remarks yesterday, removing him even from any speculation of a takeover, were interpreted as an attempt to keep a safe distance from the Thessaloniki team’s fiery and notorious supporters. Earlier this month, a group of PAOK supporters occupied the club’s headquarters to protest against the current administration’s handling of the team. Should the club not meet Monday’s UEFA deadline, and consequently be excluded from the UEFA Cup, organized PAOK fans can be expected to cause an uproar. The precise state of the club’s financial details has not been made public. Players are reportedly owed fees. Nigerian defender Ifeani Udeze, reports said yesterday, is preparing to abandon the club should it not pay some of the cash owed to him. If so, others can be expected to follow suit.