Major day for deals at Panathinaikos

It was a day of major developments for Panathinaikos yesterday on two fronts, with the historic Athens club, one of Greece’s two biggest, signing respective deals for a new stadium and new coach. The club’s professional and amateur divisions signed agreements with the City of Athens that essentially give formal City Hall approval for the ground and construction work to begin for a complex to house Panathinaikos’s soccer, basketball and volleyball clubs. The project, to be located in the downtown district of Votanikos, just over a kilometer from Omonia Square, is, however, expected to prompt some resistance from enterprises currently operating within the prospective sports complex’s envisaged grounds. The club hopes that construction will have been completed on time for Panathinaikos’s centennial year celebrations in 2008. Work is expected to begin by the end of this year. Some reservations about the target date were expressed at a news conference following yesterday’s agreement. Thanassis Yiannakopoulos, president of Panathinaikos’s amateur division, which administers all of the club’s factions except for soccer and basketball, warned that hard work will be needed if the club’s centennial bash is to be thrown at Votanikos. «I truly would like to believe that the soccer ground will be ready within 2008. However, I expect this will be difficult to achieve and call on the Panathinaikos family to be patient so that this project can be completed,» said Yiannakopoulos. Yiannis Vardinoyiannis, chief of the club’s soccer division, appeared confident that completion would be achieved by the desired date. «I am confident that the outcome will be positive for everyone, and that the project will be completed within the given time frame,» said Vardinoyiannis. At present, Panathinaikos hosts its games at the Athens Olympic Stadium. Government and municipal officials have pledged that the club’s traditional home base, the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium, commonly referred to as Leoforos Alexandras after the avenue it is adjacent to, will be transformed into a municipal park. It is situated in the downtown Ambelokipi district, one of the capital’s most congested areas. «I am certain that the next municipal administration and entire City Council will work with absolute dedication to ensure that this project, the biggest undertaken in post-Olympic Athens, comes to fruition,» noted Athens Mayor Theodoros Behrakis, following yesterday’s agreements, just days ahead of this weekend’s local elections around the country. Panathinaikos had originally expressed interest in developing parkland in the Goudi region, within the vicinity of central Athens to the northeast, for its complex. But the idea stumbled after stern resistance due to residential and environmental concerns. During her previous public tenure as Athens mayor, current Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis had tabled the Votanikos site as an alternative. «I would like to thank Mrs Bakoyannis, who had the idea and brought us together to discuss the proposal a number of months before the time came to sign the agreement with the City of Athens,» Vardinoyiannis said. «I would also like to thank the Panathinaikos amateur division, because this is where the club started. I think today marks the end of Panathinaikos’s travels throughout greater Athens,» he added. Returning to the soccer division’s more immediate competition concerns, Panathinaikos yesterday reached a deal with a new coach, Victor Munoz, the first ever Spaniard to lead the club, as a replacement for the recently fired Swede Hans Backe. He was one of countless coaches that have come and gone over the past decade or so, a barren period in terms of titles for the proud club. Late last night, the Athens club announced that a deal had been reached with Munoz for the remainder of this season. According to local reports, the agreement, worth 600,000 euros, includes a clause enabling an extension should Panathinaikos win the league title. Munoz has led several Spanish clubs, the most recent being Real Zaragoza. As a player, Munoz was capped 59 times and played club-level soccer with Barcelona and Real Zaragoza.