Supporters won’t let Santos go

A last-ditch effort by a group of supporters of the current league front runner AEK seems to have averted Portuguese coach Fernando Santos’s decision to quit the club over disagreements with management over transfers. However, talks between the coach and the club had not yielded any concrete results by late last night because of Santos’s insistence that AEK strongman Makis Psomiadis stop interfering with his work. On Monday, Santos, who was hired by the Greek club last summer, announced his departure as a result of AEK’s decision to sign on Serb striker Ilia Ivic from Aris, a move which the Portuguese coach called the management’s, not his. About 150 members of the «Original» fan club weathered the heavy snowfall of recent days to turn up outside Santos’s home in Kifissia, northern Athens, around midnight on Monday to plead for his return. Among the group was a wheelchair-bound fan, Nikos Xyrokostas, who incurred his injury at an AEK game. An astonished Santos allowed a small group of fans into his home for further discussions, during which they made clear how cherished the Portuguese coach was among the team’s fans. Despite a limited transfer budget, the experienced Santos, 47, arrived to replace coaching duo Toni Savevski and Eugen Gerrards before reshaping the beleaguered side into a mighty force that has won nine of its 10 league fixtures. Moved by the fans’ efforts, Santos told them that he was experiencing one of his career’s most emotional moments, would reconsider his decision to quit, and that the next day may hold a pleasant surprise for them. Though it was late by the end of his encounter with the fans, Santos met, at 2.30 a.m., with Psomiadis, who runs the club without any official title – the result of a conviction for slander, which, by law, bars him from holding a position of authority in any sporting club – for marathon, all-night talks. The meeting, at a Kifissia hotel, did not produce a final decision, but the two men said they would meet again yesterday. Early yesterday morning, Santos, upon leaving his home, became aware of a car shadowing him. Convinced it was Psomiadis’s people – Santos realized he had been followed over the past few days – he sped away and managed to evade his pursuers, who proved to be TV journalists. Santos did not show up at AEK’s morning training session, where he was expected, nor did he follow the team on a flight to Thessaloniki for a Cup game to be played today. After several hours, Santos was found at his lawyer’s office and has only since spoken to a Portuguese journalist. He is said to be conducting negotiations with AEK through his lawyer. The talks are not about money, but over the conditions under which he will work.

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