We are where?
As the first member of airline staff you encounter whenever you disembark a plane at Athens International Airport is contractually obliged to say to you, “Welcome to Greece.”
I know what you are thinking. What happened to all the “Tromsø have a title to defend!” patter from the last post? I thought our ever-improving German manager Robert Vonsen was just settling in after winning the league in Norway in his first full season in charge?
is was true. There weren’t any decent jobs available in the leagues with a higher reputation than Norway’s top division in the save (Croatia, Greece, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ukraine or Austria), so I was all set for another year in the Eliteserien. Bryan Fiabema and Markus Eiane on fire up top. Sigurd Grønli as the creative spark at 10, and the couple of Icelandic undrabörn just breaking through. Have a look at the series so far to chart our journey from Romania to Norway.
By the way, apparently ‘undrabörn‘ is Icelandic for ‘child prodigies,’ i.e. ‘wonderkids.’ If it isn’t, blame Google Translate.
That was until a massive club from one of those nations suddenly sacked their manager with 15 games of their domestic season remaining. A club who were sat in 7th in the Greek Super League Interwetten, when they’ve actually won the thing 20 times and finished 3rd and 4th each year since the save begun, prior to this one.
It’s Panathinaikos, and they are going through a rough patch.
I did have to think about it. What if we’d managed to get Tromsø into the UEFA Champions League group stage? We could potentially have gone on to be a real force in Norwegian football.
I made this handy graphic to compare the clubs side-by-side. It took tens of seconds to make, but was very worthwhile in helping me decide.
At Tromsø I had signed one new player before the out-of-the-blue interview invitation popped into our inbox. Solid midfielder Vajebah Sakor arrived on a free transfer, and a few fringe players from Tromsø 2 left at the end of their contracts.
When one demented Tromsø fan claimed that the entire support were upset at manager Robert Vonsen for releasing someone who “started regularly,” when in fact he only started for the reserve team and never the first, my decision was sealed.
So what have we got ourselves in for?
Everyone knows Panathinaikos. The Greek giants were 1971’s UEFA Champions League runners up and they are 20-time winners of Greece’s top division.
The team I inherited though, needed a bit of a fresh start.
The chances of a decent campaign were snake’s belly low, but we had 5 games to at least salvage a ‘Championship Group’ finish in the top 6 before the split. That was an absolute must.
After the 5 games, I am pleased to say that we had snuck into 6th, and I had the remaining 10 games to give me a strong understanding of how much work needed done in the summer ahead of our first full Greek campaign.
I surpassed my own original expectations as we won 7, drew 5 and lost just 3 of the remaining 15 games, finishing 3rd in the table.
We also got to the domestic cup final, where we were unfortunately battered by the all-conquering Olympiakos. 1-0 suggests a tight game, but we never really looked like scoring.
A few existing players did catch my eye as ones to build around, and there were a few others to definitely keep in the squad, surviving the much-needed squad cull and refresh.
First to be safe was Uruguayan striker Antony Alonso, who loves a fight with opposition defenders along with a penchant for a neat finish.
Next its Portuguese left-back Rafael Rodrigues who also looked a must-keep.
Playmaker and Panathinaikos player since the age of 15, Giannis Bouzoukis has to be the key creative force, so he must stay.
Last but not least, former manager Dimitris Spanos had kindly left me a wonderful parting gift. A gift in the shape of an already signed pre-contract agreement for a 6 foot 5 Brazilian centre-back, with astonishing attributes for a player who is/was due to arrive on a free in the summer, just days after turning 18 years old.
So who left in the summer?
That’s a great question. Thank you for asking it.
Some players had to leave. BATE Borisov gladly paid the £1.5million I asked for to sign Adrián Colombino, a good but not great Uruguayan midfielder. He would have done a job for me, no problem, but with non-EU slots at a premium (a maximum of 5 in the match-day squad), I really need any non-EU players to be very much worthy of taking the spot.
Curiously, BATE paid the £1.5million in full, only to loan the 30-year old back to the Greek league immediately, to our rivals Aris. Strange behaviour. He’ll be pushing 32 before he gets his first appearance in a BATE shirt, if he ever does.
Ex-Manchester United ‘wonderkid’ Kiko Macheda, now 33, left for Crotone in his native Italy for £725k, and a few other fringe players left either for free or for fees < £100k.
Now for the sexy bit
Not Scarlett Johansson. I mean the new players we signed ahead of the 24/25 campaign. Obviously.
Alongside the aforementioned Brazilian behemoth Andrade, three other players arrived that were of my doing; already earmarked to slot straight into the starting eleven. Click the image to actually see them with your eyes.
Tomas Chory is 6 foot 6. He isn’t slow, can finish and provides more than you’d expect from a typical ‘target man.’ Chory will partner Alonso in a two-man attack.
I’ve been tracking Ekanit Panya since our days in Romania. I continued following him while in Norway, and finally managed to bring him in now we’ve arrived in Greece. A pint-sized attacking midfielder, Panya will play mainly on the right in my system, but I expect him to regularly drift inside as more of a playmaker than an out-and-out winger.
Panathinaikos already had the very serviceable all-round keeper Sokratis Dioudis on the books between the sticks; but having had previous #GIFsave hero Jacob Karlstrøm at Tromsø, I really had to bring him to Greece with me, given the opportunity. A £500k investment later, and the towering stopper arrived in Athens.
He has already proved to be worth the outlay, as the below #GIFsave suggests.
Three more players arrived to fill the gaps in the squad. One player you may be familiar with (even though his face is now different, courtesy of FM Rensie‘s fantastic suggestion of pivoting to a different newgen facepack solution). Again, click below for a closeup.
Vaclav Jemelka may have an undesirable sub-10 Work Rate, but the Czech centre back is physically well-rounded, brave and determined, as well as a good tackler with strong positional sense and is a brilliant man marker. A good pickup for free as back up to the two giant first-choice CBs, Andrade and Pedro.
Mathias Kristensen, 27, had played his entire career at Esbjerg in Norway. I signed him on a free transfer mainly for his positional versatility. A determined and unselfish player with decent technique, dribbling and corner delivery, he could prove to be the ultimate utility man from the bench this year.
Omar Zeregaber you may remember as being a 17-year old prospect I signed for Tromsø last year from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s Vålerenga. I had high hopes for him, but didn’t push him too hard and let him develop over last season at his own pace. Since I left for Greece, my replacement (more on this in a minute) clearly didn’t think he was ready either, so dropped him to Tromsø 2, the reserve/development team. I had a sniff around him as I still fancy his potential as a future elite poacher, but couldn’t believe when they let him follow me to Greece for just £130k.
The pre-season friendlies went well, and sneaking into 3rd place allowed us a chance at UEFA Europa Conference League qualification. It’s UEFA’s third most prestigious continental competition, we had to have a proper go at it!
Getting past Zorya and Dundee United is perhaps to be expected, but drawing Everton was a sore one to be pitted against for the final qualifier.
Luckily our two away goals in the draw on Merseyside set us up for a more comfortable return leg at home than I was expecting. Although the beautiful Karlstrøm save from the gif earlier in the blog prevented what would have been a first-leg defeat.
Group stage draw time…
The above would be a relatively challenging group for the Europa League, never mind the next continental competition down from it. Braga and Gent will be no walks in the park, especially away from home. Other clichés are available.
We will shortly be kicking off the 24/25 league campaign. The system that has been working for me with the new-look line up is a 4-4-2 diamond. Ultra direct but relatively low frills, it has everything I like in a formation.
Two strikers, a creative number 10, tricky wingers, a ‘destroyer’ at 5 (or ‘8’ in this case) and full-backs who’s primary responsibility is to defend. The only thing I plan to initially switch between is the passing length and tempo, depending on the opposition.
Oh, I almost forgot. We managed to bag the Continental A Licence (finally), and started work on the Pro. Soon, the sky will be the limit for Robert Vonsen. Well, within the confines of the leagues I have selected as playable in this save universe, which doesn’t include any of the biggest European ones. Red Bull Salzburg or Shakhtar Donetsk is still the dream end goal here.
I also made reference earlier to my replacement at Tromsø, saying I’d tell you more “in a minute,” but then lied to you as I wrote loads of other stuff first. If that upsets you, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. On second thoughts, don’t do that, the email address is made up, and I don’t care.
Anyway, taking my old job was none other than the Championship Manager legend himself, Tommy Svindal Larsen.
In other news, our other former employers U Craiova 1948 have since collapsed. Instead of “doing a Tromsø” and hiring a Champ Manager legend to take the hotseat and carry on the momentum (maybe Marc Emmers or Kennedy Bakircioglü?), they hired some other guy and went from Romanian champions to relegated within 12 or so months.
Although I only managed Panathinaikos for the final 15 league games of last season (plus those last couple of domestic cup matches), here is the end of season review as usual anyway.
It didn’t give me huge insights into “my” Panathinaikos side, but it did give me some food for thought, going forward.
End of season (3.5ish – complicated due to the Norwegian league calendar) review
Thanks for reading.