Season 2025 / 2026
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” That is usually a resignation that despite improvements, events inevitably lead to the same disappointing result. In this case however, I mean it as a massive positive.
Loads of changes have occurred at Panathinaikos, but we carry on winning.
Now a fully-fledged holder of the coveted Continental Pro Licence and having already won the Super League Interwetten in his/my first full season in charge, Robert Vonsen has transformed Panathinaikos and his managerial career with it. (U Craiova 1948 -> Tromsø -> Panathinaikos)
Last season we won the Greek league title with 88 points, and guess what? We did it again. Exactly 88 points bagged again, and a trophy raised into the Athens air. This time by the 20-year old Brazilian Andrade, The Green‘s new captain. Half of Europe’s elite have been chasing the towering defender, but I’ve managed to keep him here so far.
We also won the Greek domestic cup! The ghost of losing the final to Olympiakos two years ago is finally exhumed. An even game as far as possession and xG are concerned but decided by two early first half strikes from the beautiful strike pairing of Markus Eiane and Tomas Chory. More on these two later.
What about Robert Vonsen‘s first foray into the UEFA Champions League, how did that go?
Despite putting 13 goals past Cork City, defeating Kazakh champions Astana and Danish champions FC København to qualify, the group stage which followed unfortunately ended in a 4th place finish.
A 4-2 home win against the mighty Lyon was a highlight, as was scoring twice against Juventus away and managing a 2-2 draw against Shakhtar, but four defeats meant our European campaign was over. It was good for the bank balance, great for the fans and a valuable experience for the players, but I hope for better luck next year.
Especially now that UEFA have allowed the Greek champions to slot straight into the group stage from now on, based on improved coefficients.
How did the players perform?
Let’s start with that strike force. The 2024/25 European Golden Shoe winner Tomas Chory, and one of my many signings from former club Tromsø, Markus Eiane.
Tomas Chory continued his absurd form from his first season and scored 49 goals in 47 appearances from 37.3 xG. 2.68 shots on target and 2.26 successful headers per 90. He just continues to shine. His league-only record is now 67 goals in 67 games.
When I signed Markus Eiane from my former employers for £2.4million; I had hoped that 1) he could make the step up required to play in Greece and 2) that he could complement Chory instead of getting in his way.
It worked. Eiane bagged 39 goals in 47 appearances from 29.6 xG. 2.85 shots on target and 2.69 successful headers per 90. Interestingly, Eiane also completed the third highest key passes in the squad per 90 (passes that result in the immediate receiver shooting at goal), with 2.22 per 90. Without reviewing the vault of video footage, I can guarantee that almost all of these were headed knock-downs or flick-ons for the prolific Chory.
I compared these two to their striking rivals across the division, and there was really no competition.
Chory is now 31 and Eiane is 25 but neither have ever been called up for Czech Republic or Norway respectively, despite their incredible form. A nice touch was realising that that was about to change.
Just like last year, Giannis Bouzoukis, now in his 13th season at Panathinaikos, continued to be our main creator of chances. This season, our deep-lying playmaker managed 35 assists in 46(1) appearances. He averaged an astonishing 8.95 key passes per 90 minutes played. I don’t think I’ve worked with a playmaker before who so regularly creates scoring opportunities. A 7.79 average rating across almost 50 games. There have been 75 assists in 3 seasons from the 28-year old, who is the crucial heartbeat of the team who have just won back-to-back titles. He still hasn’t been capped. I’m not sure what else he has to do to get into the Greece team.
I created the below to compare all ‘creative midfielders’ in the Superleague, and it was no surprise who came out as the most impressive. By a huge margin.
Special mention has to go to Sigurd Grønli (signed from Tromsø for £1.2million), who despite 19 of his 49 appearances this season coming from the bench, and adjusting to being primarily deployed on the right flank instead of the central playmaker role he played for me in Norway, he has performed really well.
His 19 assists was the second highest in the squad (after Bouzoukis of course), as was his 3.77 key passes per 90 minutes. In spite of the gaps in his defensive attributes and five foot seven frame, he also managed 1.89 successful tackles per 90 and bagged five goals himself.
We stuck with the flat 4-4-2 that had served us well last year, I just made a few changes to pivot to a more Cruyffian approach.
I adjusted the passing directness to ‘much shorter,’ asked the goalkeeper to distribute to our centre backs (one of whom I asked to take fewer risks), and changed our width to open and close like an accordion, narrow defensively but as wide as possible when attacking.
Despite my recruitment policy leading me to the two centre backs and two centre forwards all being six foot five at the shortest, the short passing system really worked, and was a joy to see in action.
Apart from Markus Eiane (10/10) and Sigurd Grønli (9/10), our other signings worked out quite nicely too.
Falcão is our natural Chory replacement when that fateful day eventually comes. Strong, good in the air, brave and hardworking but a great dribbler too, the Portuguese has something special. 11 goals from 8.5 xG in his (mostly substitute) appearances serves as a suggestion of what to expect in future. 7/10.
Jambor played as a ball-carrying shuttler in central midfield this year, but next year I plan to use him as a left-sided winger. Mentally very well-rounded and a powerful force in the air, his passing and work rate impressed me most. 7.04 average rating from 49 appearances. Mr Consistent. 7/10.
With Pedro torn from me last year for his £7.25million release clause by Barcelona, I needed someone steady and no frills as a centre-back option. Pasalidis arrived and provided exactly that. Making 32 appearances in all competitions, he was an unassuming but integral squad player. 6/10.
It was never my intention to sign and recycle Zivkovic and Świderski within six months of their arrival. The former is an FM favourite of old from his time at Benfica, and is still a very, very capable player. We just didn’t get on. If Zivkovic wasn’t complaining about training, he was performing badly in it. If he played, he was upset about every shout from the touchline or team talk delivery. If he didn’t play, he kicked up a fuss about that too. Personality – balanced…really?
Zivkovic notched 4 goals and provided 5 assists in his 21 appearances in a Panathinaikos shirt, but it was a mismatch that would never last. I was happy to get in excess of £4million for him in January 2026 after originally signing him for free. 2/10.
Świderski is a solid striker. The Polish forward always impressed against me whether playing for PAOK, or in his loan spell at Asteras. I signed the two-footed 29-year old on a free with a genuine view to rotating him into the team, but Eiane and Chory were performing so well that Antony Alonso barely got a look-in, never mind this newcomer who sat as 4th choice. Off he went to the Czech Republic after just two sub appearances in the green of Panathinaikos. Nice profit though, as he moved on for a flat and up-front £2.5million. 1/10.
CJ Egan-Riley also signed on a free from Manchester City as a bit of a utility man. His profile labels him as “the next Nobby Stiles.” I like the Englishman, but I don’t think he’ll ever be a first choice pick for us. 4/10.
Remember Pedro? One half of my first-choice centre back pairing alongside (now) club captain Andrade, Pedro was taken from us last year when Barcelona met his £7.25million release clause. His first 12 months in Catalonia were spent with the B team, before being listed for loan. In January 2026, I jumped to bring him back to Panathinaikos on an 18-month loan deal with no fees, just covering his £8.75k per week wages. I couldn’t be happier. Pedro slotted straight back in alongside Andrade, and with any luck, with only a year left on his Barcelona deal when his lengthy loan deal here expires, we can tempt him back permanently, perhaps at a cut price. 8/10.
Another exit to note, but one without a fairytale return to Athens, was South Korean winger Gwangin Lee. One of our most impressive performers had headed into the final year of his contract, but there had been no signs to suggest that a renewal wasn’t imminent. He had scored 14 goals and created 18 assists the season before, and was a mainstay in that left midfield role. Unfortunately his head was turned when Sporting Lisbon showed an interest, and it was a case of selling him before we had to lose him on a free, as he wouldn’t renew. A fee rising to £5.25million is a decent return for a player who was in the last year of his deal, but a big loss to the starting 11 that I had to adjust to accept.
Lastly, one of my beloved Icelandic gems also moved on, but alas, I replaced him with another!
Júlí Arnþórsson, like many young Icelandic players, has a name that makes me thankful for the copy and paste keyboard shortcuts. He also has bags of potential and looked set to break into the Panathinaikos midfield. That said, when PSG come sniffing around, we all know they tend to eventually get their man. I had signed Arnþórsson for just £150k, and in the end, the French wonderkid smugglers parted with an up-front £7million plus 50% of any future sale fee. I was sad to lose him, but that clause could prove transformative for us if he continues to develop and moves on later in his career.
The young Icelandic midfielder needed replaced. Not necessarily with another young Icelandic midfielder, but that’s exactly what I did. Einar Pétursson was a key defensive screen for me at Tromsø, and I do like to sign players that 1) I have already scouted and directly worked with and 2) give me #narrative vibes when we are reunited.
^ Point 2 was a joke. I hope you enjoyed it.
Although technically lacking in a few areas, his mental attributes and physical profile make Einar a solid addition. I gave my former club £3.5million for him, and spent the leftover profit from the other deal on takeaway food and books I’ll never read.
What else? Is there more?
Yes there is.
We have seriously improved Panathinaikos‘ facilities and their stature in European football. We also eventually broke into the top 10 list of playable teams in this save universe, by club rating / reputation.
If the Red Bull Salzburg or Shakhtar jobs don’t come up (neither are looking likely), I’ll be happy for Panathinaikos to be Robert Vonsen‘s final job in this journey. We started in the second tier in Romania then moved to Norway, but we really have settled here in Greece. A couple more big European nights in Athens and I might be happy to draw this story to a close.
On an entirely separate note, I look after all of my own training when I’m managing in FM; including individual focus, traits, roles and workload. To balance this effectively, you need a good custom squad view to keep track of everything.
A take-home tip that works for me is sticking to Normal Intensity for teenagers or players aged 32 or over, with everyone else on Double Intensity training permanently by default, for the top two conditions bandings.
I put my custom view up on Steam’s workshop and Tweeted out about it, and some people seemed to like it. Here it is, if it’s of any use to you. Download link in the Tweet comments.
So what about next season?
Can we make it three titles in a row? What about the UEFA Champions League group stage? Would we get a lucky group with some chance of making it out of it? Regardless, some new blood is required to refresh the team.
I’ve already covered Einar Pétursson, but the first three are exciting young signings. Especially for free. Valverde will be Bouzoukis’ playmaking understudy, Heric will slot straight in as our first choice right-back. Silva will rotate into that shuttler position in the centre of midfield. Have a click above, have a look. Which of the three is the best capture, do you reckon?
Lastly, a signed another young midfielder. This time a 20-year old Swiss player by the name of Lino Costa, from St.Gallen. I had been tracking him for a while, but the combination of being able to approach him for free and seeing the magnitude of the group of clubs chasing him, screamed out to me that my gut instinct about his potential must be right, and I had to swoop in. I couldn’t believe beating all of these teams to Costa’s signature.
Remember a few paragraphs ago when I was full of hope about our UEFA Champions League group draw? It turns out my optimism was seriously misplaced. Credit to Kristiansund for flying the flag for Norway in the competition though.
Although RB Salzburg and Shakhtar occupy the top two positions in the club rating table of all the playable teams in this save universe, there is another team above us in the rankings who would be a very tempting step up.
It became very hard not to apply for the role when the vacancy appeared. Dinamo Zagreb.
The Croatian side have won their title nine years in a row, and 20 times in the last 21 years. They have players on £70k+ a week, worth tens of millions of pounds. It was so very tempting to push the button to apply.
Then I thought of all the work Robert Vonsen has done in Greece, the massive improvements we have made to the facilities, secure financial position, Champions League glamour group, the new and exciting young midfield arrivals, and Tomas Chory.
I had to stay and see this out for at least one more year. I had to.
Could it be only one more year?
End of season (5ish – complicated due to the Norwegian league calendar) review
Thanks for reading.