Lemonis gets deal extension

Olympiakos coach Takis Lemonis, who recently caused a stir by abandoning the ambitious provincial club Xanthi just weeks into his contract to return to his team of old on what was believed to be an interim deal until the summer, has signed for an additional two years, the Piraeus club announced yesterday. The 47-year-old Lemonis, a former player and coach at Olympiakos, returned after the club parted ways, midseason, with Norwegian coach Trond Sollied as a result of the ambitious Greek team’s latest European debacle. Olympiakos was ousted from the Champions League after ending last in its group. Despite dominating domestic play over the past decade, Olympiakos has failed to make impact on the prestigious European club-level competition. Olympiakos’s administration was expected to see the current season out with Lemonis at the helm before deciding whether to extend his contract. Yesterday’s announcement of a two-and-a-half-year deal until the end of the 2009 season was highly unanticipated. Inner circles had assumed that the club’s president, the powerful entrepreneur Socrates Kokkalis, would go scouting abroad for a replacement once the season ended. Though Lemonis has reached a lengthy deal with Olympiakos, it can be taken for granted that his fate at the club will be determined by the team’s performance in Europe next season. Following last weekend’s 3-3 away draw against challenger AEK, Olympiakos lies eight points clear in first place 20 rounds into the 16-team Super League. Though club officials and players have refrained from describing this year’s title race as over, Olympiakos rates as the firm favorite, meaning that plans for the team’s participation in next season’s Champions League are probably already under way. «I’d like to thank the president of Olympiakos, Mr Kokkalis, for the honor and I will work with total commitment to justify his decision,» Lemonis said yesterday. Meanwhile, Thessaloniki club Iraklis, now in the Super League’s relegation zone, also signed a former coach yesterday, Ivan Jovanovic, for a one-and-a-half year deal. Jovanovic, who had served a previous four-month tenure at Iraklis in 2002, is the club’s third coach this season.