SPORTS

Sudden exit sparks rumors

Yesterday’s session of fifth-round Greek Cup action was dominated by coach Takis Lemonis’s sudden departure from Xanthi, right after his team had beaten Panionios 1-0, away, to advance to the competition’s quarterfinals. The initiative prompted immediate rumors in the local online press that Lemonis, a former player and coach at Olympiakos, was preparing a return to the Piraeus club for a second coaching tenure. However, last night the prospect remained unconfirmed. Lemonis made no disclosures and offered no hints at yesterday’s post-match news conference, during which he was insistently asked by reporters whether his abrupt end at Xanthi meant a new start at Olympiakos. Disgruntled by the Greek league-and-cup champion’s latest early exit from European club-level competition, Olympiakos’s administration – it has been widely reported in recent days – was preparing to make changes. Ex-Brazil and Real Madrid coach Wanderley Luxemburgo, who led Brazilian club Santos to last season’s league title, was the first name to emerge in the Greek press as a possible candidate. Luxemburgo is believed to be on friendly terms with Olympiakos’s Brazilian star Rivaldo. Luxemburgo’s name was quickly followed, over the past few days, by rumors of a Greek coach for the job. The Piraeus club’s Norwegian coach, Trond Sollied, whose two-year contract expires next summer, is on his Christmas break back home. On Tuesday, following Olympiakos’s 3-1 cup win over second-division club Haidari, Sollied, responding to reports that his administration was seeking to replace him, noted: «I’m just a simple employee… Whatever the president [Socrates Kokkalis] and administration decide.» Sollied arrived at Olympiakos after his predecessor Dusan Bajevic was deemed incapable – by the administration and numerous fans – of leading the ambitious club in Europe. Bajevic had led Olympiakos to a string of league titles in Greece but the club fell short of its European objectives during his tenure. Under Sollied, Olympiakos won last season’s league and cup titles in the Norwegian’s first year. Now, midway through this season, Olympiakos is five points clear in league competition and through to the cup’s quarterfinals. But the Greek team suffered a dismal Champions League campaign, ending last in its group. Highlighting the topsy-turvy way of conducting business in Greek soccer, Lemonis had assumed his post at Xanthi just several weeks ago before announcing his departure at last night’s post-match news conference. Lemonis’s previous coaching tenure at Olympiakos lasted nearly two years. He arrived during the 2000-01 season, replacing Yiannis Mantzourakis following his failure in Europe. Olympiakos steamrolled domestic rivals for that season’s league title, 12 points ahead of its nearest rival, Panathinaikos. Lemonis led the club to the following season’s league title, too, this time in a neck-and-neck battle against AEK. However, his run ended at Olympiakos during the following season (2002-2003) amid Champions League group play after a series of poor early results. Now, judging by developments, Lemonis could be on his way back to Olympiakos, where he would be charged with the job of rectifying Sollied’s shortcomings in Europe, a task he failed the first time round. Returning to the cup action, in yesterday’s other fifth-round games, Panathinaikos was held to a scoreless draw at home by visiting Apollon Kalamaria. The pair are now scheduled to play a repeat match in Thessaloniki on January 10. Also yesterday, in a contest involving two second-division clubs, Ilissiakos beat host Niki Volos 1-0 to advance to the quarterfinals. Fifth-round competition is completed today with a further three games: Kerkyra-Ionikos, OFI-Larissa, and PAOK-Ergotelis.