Star striker wanted back

Besides committing himself to taking last season’s soccer league runner-up to the very top, AEK’s recently reappointed Serb-Greek coach, Dusan Bajevic, seems intent on keeping star striker Demis Nikolaidis with the club. Nikolaidis, last season’s top scorer who has been idolized by AEK fans for years, has, to their dismay, remained secretive over his plans for the new season. Extending Nikolaidis’s contract with AEK would come as a major bonus for Bajevic, Greece’s most successful coach over the past 15 years. The coach’s return to the club, which he led to a string of league titles before abandoning it for Olympiakos in the mid-1990s, was jeered by a small cluster of AEK fans. «I don’t want Demis Nikolaidis to leave AEK. The club’s administration and coach want him as much as the fans do,» Bajevic told Thessaloniki radio station Sport FM yesterday. According to reports, Bajevic has yet to come into direct contact with the player. Nikolaidis also abandoned the national team but was persuaded to return by German coach Otto Rehhagel soon after he assumed his post last summer. Bajevic, who held a press conference last week to clear the air over his return, told the station that fans would not fully embrace his return. He has been called a traitor by some. «The bond I had with fans will never be the same again. But I want the people to support my efforts. Fans must look at the team’s overall well-being and stand by it,» Bajevic said. «I really feel like working with all who are part of the team. I love AEK and want the team to do very well,» he added. After retiring from AEK as a player, Bajevic took over as coach and led the team to four titles between 1988 and 1994. He then left under vague circumstances – Bajevic told last week’s press conference that he should have been more candid – for Olympiakos to win three consecutive titles between 1997 and 1999 before moving to PAOK.