As Olympiakos celebrates, AEK disintegrates

They finished with the same number of points, but their fate could not have been more different. While Olympiakos fans and players celebrated their sixth successive championship with the same fervor as if it were their first, AEK fans were learning that their successful coach is quitting and that their star player is also likely to move on as a result. After the 26 rounds of the Greek first division, Olympiakos and AEK had 58 points each, three ahead of Panathinaikos. Olympiakos, however, won the title, since it had won both matches between the two. That is what the rules decreed; a few years ago, the championship would have been decided in a playoff. Wednesday night was one long revel for Olympiakos players and fans. It was not without incident: About 8,000 enthusuastic fans headed for Athens Airport, where they ripped out fencing and stormed the runway instead of waiting for their idols to disembark. The vastly outnumbered policemen were pelted with stones and other objects and had to use tear gas to restore a modicum of order. There were 15 arrests. The team’s bus had to wait two and a half hours to leave, as fans’ cars were blocking its way. The celebrations in Piraeus were thankfully free of incident. Upon their arrival at the town hall, the players were treated to a reception by Mayor Christos Agrapidis. Then they went out on the balcony to acknowledge the cheers of adoring fans. The intensity of the celebrations was due to two factors: First, it was the most difficult and exciting of Olympiakos’s six championships by far. While in the past they had been pursued by just one rival, this year three other teams, AEK, Panathinaikos and PAOK, were in the running for the title until the closing stages. AEK remained a contender until the end. Second, much has been said about Olympiakos being favored by shady operators within Greek soccer, who have allegedly made certain that the Piraeus team gets preferential treatment by referees. But this year’s championship is said to have been the «cleanest» in years. Olympiakos coach Takis Lemonis, players and fans disagree: «We deserved each one of our titles; we were the best,» said Lemonis. Meanwhile, at AEK, things look gloomy. Coach Fernando Santos, who earned the respect of players and the club’s notoriously difficult-to-please fans, announced yesterday he would not renew his contract. «There is no agreement with the club’s administration for me to continue,» Santos told reporters. The «administration» is Makis Psomiadis, a controversial figure who cannot hold the title of president as he has been convicted on a libel case unrelated to his present duties. Santos never felt comfortable with Psomiadis’s heavy-handed and unpredictable management, and threatened to resign earlier this year. It took a midnight visit to his house by team captain Demis Nikolaidis, other players and some fans to persuade him to stay. Santos’s departure will reportedly cause Nikolaidis, the club’s top scorer and the idol of the fans, to depart. French club Monaco is interested in acquiring him.

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