Everywhere Else – 7 – Panathinaikos

“I love him. I hope he never leaves.”

Season 2024 / 2025

I’m going to dive straight in.

Robert Vonsen‘s first full season in charge of Panathinaikos was a success. We won the league, albeit by a single point on the final day, our travelling manager finally nabbed the Continental Pro Licence, and one signing in particular became an instant FM21 favourite. More on him, later.

That’s 4 league titles in as many full seasons in management for our beloved German. Romanian 2nd tier, Romanian 1st tier, Norwegian 1st tier and now Greek 1st tier.

For reasons I could not fathom, there was no trophy lift animation at the final whistle on the last day, so you’ll have to make do with a boring league table screenshot instead, I’m afraid.

The usually all-conquering Olympiakos pushed us to the final day.
Breaking the rule of Olympiakos over Greek football.

Turkish giants Fenerbahce ejected us from the UEFA Europa Conference League knockout stage (4-2 on aggregate) but they went on to win it; and if you believe football pundits, for some reason that always somehow completely justifies being put out by them.

“No shame” in losing to the eventual winners. Or so they say.

The ‘ECL’ group stage was an interesting one, pitting Panathinaikos against Braga, Gent and CSKA-Sofia.

Braga beat us twice and topped the group, but we finished 2nd. Our opener at home against Gent was an outrageous match, as we came back to beat the Belgians 9-1 after initially going a goal down after just 3 and a half minutes.

A memorable group opener.

We were also put out of the domestic cup at the 6th round stage over a ridiculous two legs resulting in an 8-1 aggregate defeat to PAOK.

From one extreme to the other, I guess.

How did you win things etc?

Through hard work and determination. Nah, just kidding. We pivoted between the wide 4-4-2 diamond I waxed lyrical about in the last post, and a more functional flat 4-4-2. A few of the players were outrageous. Let’s talk about a few of them now.

Playmaker Giannis Bouzoukis casually made more than double the number of key passes of any other player in the Greek top division. That’s substantially more than Olympiakos‘ £17m-rated “second coming of Christ” Esteban Sánchez (below), who after the league season ended was immediately linked with moves to Barcelona and Milan. Bouzoukis played as an Advanced Playmaker when deployed in the 10 role, also tasked with holding up the ball. In the flat system, he was a Deep-Lying Playmaker, but unusually (and beautifully) much more keen to play precise through-passes to create goal-scoring opportunities than he was to recycle possession and look for diagonals out to the wingers.

Our player is better than him. Statistically.

When I signed Tomas Chory from Viktoria Plzeň I thought I knew what I was getting. A big target man who had a decent strike in him. When FM Rensie told me how vilified he was in the Czech league for his flying elbows and vicious attitude that frankly makes Diego Costa seem like a more affable Stephen Fry, it made me like him even more.

He only cost us £55k, but what happened next surprised even me. <- Nice Buzzfeed headline, that.

What?

It’s true. Tomas Chory is the single most lethal finisher in European football. For £55k.

37 goals in 36 league games. 47 goals in 52 appearances overall. I love him. I hope he never leaves. I played him as an Advanced Forward with Antony Alonso alongside him, mainly as a Pressing Forward on Attack. Alonso didn’t do too badly either, bagging 34 goals in 49 games overall, but Chory’s record is obscene this season.

Quite simply, he got into good positions with an alarming regularity (high xG), took an incredible number of attempts at goal (350 in 52 games) and converted those good quality chances at a solid rate.

Lots of shots from positions of high goal-scoring potential.
Absurd.

When you have a playmaker putting the ball into dangerous areas twice as often as anyone else in the league and a pair of strikers in hot scoring form (one even more than the other), finishing near the top is a certainty.

That being said, Olympiakos only lost out on being champions by a single point, losing one game more that we drew. Our +59 goal difference and 27 wins from 36 games on paper sound like ‘waltzing to victory’ form, but Olympiakos also won 27 times, and actually ended on +62 goals.

Lady luck was shini….you get the idea.

What about the other signings?

Ekanit Panya ended up a brilliant free signing. 14 goals and 11 assists from the right side of midfield, the Thai international was a constant danger on the flank, and often wormed his way to the byline inside the penalty area, regularly cutting the ball back for someone (usually Giannis Bouzoukis) to lay on the assist for the big strikers. A regular provider of ‘secondary assists.’ if you will. A solid 8/10 signing.

Andrade, the Brazilian teenage mountain, was a colossus at the back. 6 foot 5 tall with a tackling attribute of 18 meant that he governed the Panathinaikos box with the ease of a much more experienced stopper. Clichés aside, he was excellent. His job was made harder when his settled centre back partner Pedro had his £7.25million release clause triggered by Barcelona and exited in the January 2025 window (bastards). From January until the title was finally lifted in mid May, Andrade remained consistent (he too is an 8/10 signing), whether alongside veteran Czech defender Vaclav Jemelka (6/10. Solid but unspectacular, bit of a moaner too), ex-Tromsø centre back Markus Nakkim (5/10) or even the emergency 5-month free signing of former FM ‘wonderkid,’ Kyriakos Papadopoulos (1/10. 2 appearances, 1 red card, retiring in the summer).

Destined for bigger and better things I imagine.
Always a shame when one of your star players only drops into the ‘B’ team of the giants who tear them away from you.

Other signings included the functional winger Mathias Kristensen who made 33 sub appearances, but 0 starts, Probably 3/10 for performances but 6/10 for being utilitarian. Full back Andreas Vindheim, our solid first choice right back who slotted straight in but didn’t stand out for any notable good or bad reasons, 6/10.

Lastly, first choice goalkeeper Jacob Karlstrøm who I had to bring in from Tromsø, managed 15 clean sheets and an average rating of 7.03. Over 7, for a goalkeeper. Wild horses. An 8/10 signing.

What else?

So we won the league (just), had a decent Europa Conference League campaign and were dumped out of the cup when we should have at least got to the final like we did last year. We created a partnership between one of the most creative playmakers I’ve used this year (Bouzoukis) and a deadly striker (Chory). We achieved the final coaching badge and overall had a great campaign.

Before I forget, I made some more visual analysis about the finished campaign, to accompany all this reading. Here it is for your eyes to consume, now.

Bouzoukis and Chory out in front statistically, confirming what their performances suggested. Wingers Lee and Panya impressive both offensively and defensively.
Useful insight x3. 1) We knew Juan Ramón couldn’t defend, but he didn’t attack effectively either. 2) Nika Shelia deserves more of a chance next season. 3) Although captain Kourbelis is solid, we could probably improve in central midfield.

We were also approached for takeover, typically with the included temporary transfer embargo which threatened to derail our January 2025 plans. Luckily our own chairman couldn’t figure out how to buy the club himself (or another complicated boardroom coup situation) and things went back to normal.

I feel that a successful takeover is inevitable at some stage though. I can feel it.

The goal next year is ideally to fight our way through the painful UEFA Champions League qualification process, despite UEFA’s news item telling me that the Greek league winners will automatically qualify for the group stage going forward.

Starting next year, of course.

I’d of course love to win the league again next season, not just for guaranteed Champions League revenue.

Despite the success in Greece so far, one constant criticism of Robert Vonsen‘s tenure in the club vision has been a refusal to play possession football, opting for direct and aggressive approaches instead. Next season, I am planning to pivot to a more Cruyffian short-passing system, for the enjoyable challenge if nothing else. I’ll definitely stick with 4-4-2 to begin with (whether diamond or flat) and ‘get stuck in’ will still be selected as a strategic tenet , because although I may tactically flex; I like brave, aggressive teams with two strikers, and for Panathinaikos, I doubt that will change.

The manager has had quite a journey, from Romania to Greece via Norway. The end goal is still ideally the Red Bull Salzburg or Shakhtar job, but unfortunately their respective original managers are still in charge. Both clubs have basically been destroying all those around them domestically for 5 years and counting.

That said, with Robert Vonsen now fully qualified, the possibility of a UEFA Champions League group stage and a team hopefully strong enough to dominate domestically within the next few seasons, we may be nearing our ceiling.

Up to 65% reputation. Vonsen has matured into a solid manager.
26 losses in 203 games. A great record across three clubs.

Anything else?

Yes, there is.

Moving into the 25/26 season, a couple of players wanted out and there were targets out there I really wanted in. Some I got, some I didn’t. As we head towards kicking a competitive ball in anger (I think I hate that expression), the summer business is done and dusted and the squad is settled.

I will cover the new signings and the new-look Panathinaikos on the next post, which will be probably be written up in 2026 at the end of the forthcoming campaign.

In the meantime, here’s a graphic I put together, presenting Vonsen’s current group of players. It was fun to make.

End of season (4ish – complicated due to the Norwegian league calendar) review

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

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