SPORTS

As the new soccer season nears kickoff, where have all the Greek coaches gone?

Animal rights campaigners beware: One more species is threatened with extinction, as the number of Greek coaches in soccer’s Super League is in dangerous decline. It is the first time in the history of Greek football there are so few Greek managers in the top flight, as more than two-thirds of Super League coaches are foreigners ahead of the 2009-10 season, which starts this weekend. No fewer than 11 out of the 16 Super League teams have opted for foreign-born coaches, including all of the country’s major clubs. All top clubs in Athens and Thessaloniki are entering the new season with foreign coaches as Olympiakos has brought in Georgian Temuri Ketsbaia, Panathinaikos is continuing with Dutchman Henk ten Cate for the second year as is AEK with Dusan Bajevic from Serbia. PAOK has Portuguese Fernando Santos for the third year in succession, Aris is sticking with Brazilian Iomar Mazinho, Panionios has head-hunted Belgian Emilio Ferrera from Panthrakikos and Iraklis has opted for Ukrainian Oleg Protasov. From last year’s top five teams, the only one to have a Greek on its bench is Larissa, where Marinos Ouzounidis will be in charge for the second year in a row. Therefore Larissa heads a short list of five Super League teams with a Greek coach, three of which are the clubs to have just earned promotion from the second division «B Ethniki»: Atromitos has hired Giorgos Donis, PAS Yiannina brought in Giorgos Paraschos and Kavala is continuing with Yiannis Papacostas. The only other Super League club with a Greek manager is Ergotelis, whose confidence in Nikos Karageorgiou remains strong for the third year in succession. The other clubs in the first division have again opted for foreigners. Xanthi has taken on German Wolfgang Wolf, Panthrakikos chose Romanian Ilie Dumitrescu, Asteras Tripolis is introducing Portuguese Mario Gomez and Levadiakos is holding on to Montenegrin Momcilo Vukotic. So why don’t Greek clubs trust the country’s coaches? The older generation of Greek coaches, including such names as Alketas Panagoulias, who led Greece to the 1994 World Cup and the 1980 European Nations Cup, Vassilis Daniil, Miltos Papapostolou, Christos Archontidis (all former Greece managers), and many others have left a gap with their retirement that was never really filled by new blood. Moreover, two of the most prominent coaches of the 1990s, Yiannis Kyrastas and Yiannis Pathiakakis, died before reaching their prime. The younger generation of Greek coaches, such as Donis and Ouzounidis, have not yet proven they can take the pressure of managing a big club although their high ambitions come at a relatively high price for the employers who want to use their services. The lack of confidence in Greek coaches is illustrated by the fact that neither of the two locally born managers whose clubs were relegated last season (Yiannis Matzourakis with OFI Crete and Vangelis Tsiolis with Thrasyvoulos) has yet found a job in the top flight. This dearth of quality homegrown coaches was after all what led the national federation to opt for a foreign manager in 2001 when it appointed German Otto Rehhagel, after a string of Greek coaches in the national team. So frustrated are some Greek managers that they have even opted to work in Cyprus, such as former Olympiakos manager Takis Lemonis who now sits on the Omonia Nicosia bench. Worse still, there is a growing number of second-division clubs looking abroad for a manager, in a division where the rate at which coaches are sacked is mind-boggling, dwarfing that of the Super League. Although statistics show that every year more than half the Super League clubs sack their managers during the season, there is no guarantee that they will choose a local manager. Many clubs seem to feel that Greeks are more susceptible to criticism from fans and the press and find it harder to impose themselves on the players. Another reason is the increasing number of foreign players now plying their trade at clubs in Greece, which means a Greek coach may well find he can hardly communicate with his players without a group of interpreters being close at hand. This is why the majority of Super League clubs opt for foreign coaches who have some experience with Greek football. Of the 11 foreign-born coaches this season, only Gomez of Asteras and Wolf of Xanthi are having their first ever contact with the sport in Greece. The only real prospect among Greek coaches of the new generation goes by the name of Nikos Nioplias. The coach of the Greece Under-21 team has done a great job with the federation’s younger teams and it only seems a matter of time before he signs a contract with one of the country’s biggest clubs.