Euro 2004 hero outlines why Greek football needs an overhaul after ‘very bad’ football

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Ask any tourist what Greece is famous for, and they will probably say either the gorgeous scenery, or the ancient ruins. Unfortunately for supporters of Greek football, it is the latter that is more reflective of the state of domestic football. Much like the ancient times, greed, infighting and poor management has seen surrounding nations overtake them on the field when it comes to quality of football.

Off the pitch too, it is surrounded by controversy; whether it be club Presidents on the pitch with

guns [2018], prison sentences handed out for alleged match fixing [2011], and most recently violation of the Greek football federation’s own statutes, it is clear that Greek football on the whole is in a bad way.

But why is this? Express Sport sat down with Euro 2004 winner and legendary Greek forward Angelos Charisteas to find out.

Having netted the winning goal to secure the greatest sporting triumph in recent Greek history, he knows a thing or two about football in his home country. And when quizzed on the matter, he pointed the finger right to the very top, claiming that the bigger, more power-hungry clubs were the problem, while urging UEFA to take strong action against wrongdoers and to re-calibrate the future of Greek football.

Speaking to Express Sport, Charisteas suggested that more direct involvement from UEFA was the only way that Greek football could overcome its seemingly insurmountable problems.

These problems, according to the former Greek forward, began months ago, with the Football federation’s presidential election.

“The EPO [The Hellenic Football Federation], elected a new president, my teammate in the national team in 2004, Mr [Theodoros] Zagorakis,” he said.

“Almost 99 per cent of the voters chose him and wanted him to lead football in Greece, and everybody was hoping to have changes under UEFA and FIFA instructions.

“But almost six months later, Zagorakis has chosen to leave the Greek Football Federation.”

The change has left many high and dry, and many with no hope of improvement, including Charisteas.

“Now we are again in the same position as before,” he added. “The same situation in that two, three, maybe four clubs in Greece are at a very good level and the rest are trying to survive financially.“

In fact, in places “now things are worse than before [the] elections”, with the Greek revealing that in some cases, clubs cannot even sign players due to financial issues.

So why did Theodoros, who spent all but three years of his professional career in the Greek leagues, decide to leave the Greek footballing setup in such a bad way?

His former teammate believes that his inability to be granted the freedom to make decisions played a part, saying “He didn’t make any free choices. I think that was one of the reasons to say ‘goodbye, I don’t want to be part of this”.

Explaining what he meant by this, the former Werder Bremen and Ajax forward revealed that there was “a lot of pressure from big clubs”, to do things a certain way.

In terms of success, Greek football has typically been dominated by three clubs, with Olympiacos, AEK Athens and Panathinaikos having claimed a combined 78 top-flight titles since it was introduced 96 years ago.

With such a one-sided skew when it comes to success, it is perhaps unsurprising to hear of attempts to wield more influence over the direction of the division, given their importance in it.

So, are the top clubs the ones with much of the blame?

“Some big clubs try to control everything, and that’s why we didn’t focus to create good teams and to develop players, young players, etc,” he explained. “We are, you know, thinking more how to control the referees, how to control everything around football [rather than on the football].”

This can be seen on presidential level too, with Charisteas claiming: “Some clubs decide who is going to be the president and also the people around him, and the other clubs are there just to watch the movie.”

The Greek FA were contacted for comment on this, and other allegations made by Charisteas, but did not respond.

In what is famed as the home of democracy, such blatant alleged oligarchy is perhaps surprising.

But with such a clear emphasis on off-the-pitch goings on as opposed to focusing on the 90 minutes at hand, why would the Federation not want more football-savvy people alongside them? It is a question to which Charisteas doesn’t have the answer.

He said: “To be honest, I don’t know. I worked in one of the biggest clubs in Greece, Aris Thessaloniki with success.

“Some of the other players worked in Panathinaikos, in AEK, in PAOK and they also have success. And I don’t understand why they didn’t give the opportunity for one or more of us to lead EPO.”

It is not just Theodoros that has struggled as an ex-player trying to make a difference in Greece either, Charisteas reveals. Other European Championship winners have tried and failed too, including as many as 5 from their odds-defying Euro 2004 victory.

“In the last elections, five ex-players from the Euro 2004 squad were supporting Zagorakis publicly,” he said. 

“We were candidates for the Greek FA ExCo in the last elections but we didn’t get the votes to be elected in the Greek Football Federation.

“So, why was an exception made for Theodoros at the highest level of Greek football, but not for the other former players at lower levels? The 88 times capped Greek striker had an idea:

“They just wanted to put a big name as a president without any authority to make rules or put his ideas in the federation.

“I think that from the beginning, everybody understood that they didn’t want to give Zagorakis power.”

Most recently, three former top EPO members, namely Panagiotis Dimitriou, Stergios Antoniou and Klearchos Tzaferis, have been accused of violating the statutes of the Greek Football Federation itself, which has thrown more controversy onto Greek football at the very highest level.

Asked if European footballing federation UEFA should intervene, Charisteas goes further, suggesting that this is the only way that Greek football can progress.

“I think UEFA should press and put their own people and rules in Greek football”, he outlined, “otherwise we will never change, we will never improve the level of Greek football.”

“Sometimes you need people who not only know and respect the rules, but they also know the game” he continued, “But UEFA need clear people with good communication to bring the Greek football in a better level.”

It is a situation that, as per the former Greek star, is only getting worse: “It’s complicated, but at the same time, it’s also very clear that the last years, the same situation is getting worse and worse,” Charisteas claimed. “So only the international federations can radically change this by intervening.”

But how bad is the level of football? Olympiacos are in the group stage of the Europa League.

Two seasons ago, they were the side that knocked Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal out of the competition.

Meanwhile, PAOK are representing Greece in the Europa Conference League, at the same level as Tottenham, and sit atop their group after half distance.

Despite this, Charisteas still thinks that they are well behind their European competitors.

“At the biggest clubs in Greece, the level is very bad.”

“If you compare with other countries like Holland or Portugal, and big countries like Germany, Italy or France, then it’s shameful. I think Greece are steps behind”, the former target man claimed.

It is at the very top where the root of the problems lie, however, claims Charisteas, who outlined to Express Sport what his steps to fixing Greek football would be had he been afforded the opportunity to affect change.

“My proposition is very clear,” he began. “I already say openly in Greece that we need to change the whole structure.

“The election format does not work. 50 people or 100 people without any football background deciding the future of Greek football is crazy and the way we elect the president is bad too.

“First of all, we need to change the rules, how we elect the new president, and then to try to build something new.”

With the gap at the top of the Greek League a mammoth 26 points last season and 18 the season before however, there is lots to be done between simply electing a new president and fixing Greek football, especially if that president is, as alleged, chosen by the top clubs.

UEFA intervention, should it arrive, could prove a catalyst for change in Greece. For the nation’s most famous player, however, this remains a hope rather than an expectation.

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