Posted on: 28/Mar/2011
WE want to rebuild Olympiakos and make the supporters proud of their team again,” said Ernesto Valverde on returning to the Olympiakos dugout back in August 2010.
Perhaps not even he imagined that he would complete the task before the first day of the following spring.
Believe or not, that is just what the 46-year-old coach has done. And how he has done it.
The 6-0 hammering of AEK Athens at a bouncing Karaiskaki stadium on March 20 saw the Reds collect their 38th domestic league title in emphatic style with three matches to spare. Moreover, the victory - which was their 13th home success in a row - saw the club maintain a 100 per cent record at the Karaiskaki. Two more wins in Piraeus will see them create a new club record of going unbeaten on home turf for an entire season.
The jubilant scenes at the Karaiskaki at the final whistle were a far cry from the pitch invasion which marred the controversial derby encounter with Panathinaikos in February. For once this season, the footballing masterclass handed out by Olympiakos to their jaded-looking rivals was the talking point and not the thugs who have so often ruined Greek football.
But back to Valverde and his remarkable achievement in reviving the Reds after the club seemed to be lurching from one crisis to the next.
It all began with Valverde’s acrimonious departure from Piraeus at the end of a double-winning season in 2008/09 when he left under a cloud following a fallout with then owner Socrates Kokkalis.
Olympiakos went through a succession of coaches including Temuri Ketsbaia, Bozidar Bandovic, Brazilian Zico and Bandovic again as they finished fifth following the end of season playoffs - a disaster for a club of their stature.
German Ewald Lienen was appointed in the summer but Olympiakos went out of European competition in August for the first time in 19 years with a Europa League defeat by Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Lienen was duly jettisoned after just four games with the club in chaos and new owner Vangelis Marinakis pulled off a masterstroke by persuading Valverde, who had ensured a difficult year at Villarreal, to return to a club where the man himself admitted to having “unfinished business”.
Valverde was not given much in the way of transfer funds as the club had already spent heavily on a clutch of players, including former Liverpool winger Albert Riera and Argentine playmaker Ariel Ibagaza. His signing of unheralded Spanish midfielder David Fuster from old club Villarreal proved a roaring success.
The 28-year-old netted some vital goals in several 1-0 victories grinded out by the Reds en route to their 13th title in 15 seasons. Fuster has amassed nine goals in 28 matches for the Reds.
While the contributions of players such as Fuster and top scorer Kevin Mirallas have provided the platform for the Reds, it is Valverde’s ability to form a well-organised, attacking team out of a seemingly disjointed set of individuals which in the end made the difference.
And the demolition of AEK, who had gone into the game tired on the back of their midweek victory over Paok in the Greek Cup semifinal, was the icing on the cake of what has been an impressive display of consistency this season from Olympiakos.
“We are worthy champions,” Valverde said in the post-match news conference. “I don’t think you saw a different Olympiakos than in previous home matches. We play attacking football and the only difference today was that we converted more of our chances.”
“It were clear when I arrived that this was not a team that had been organised by me,” he continued. “I knew some players from my first spell but this success is down to the players themselves. My first team were probably tougher but this group are a lot more attacking, even if I prefer to have both elements in my teams.”
Valverde’s men, who have 67 points from 27 matches, maintain a 10-point lead over Panathinaikos, who defeated Kerkyra 2-1 on March 20, while AEK remain third place with 43 points.
In what has been a turbulent season for the Greens, their fans did have something to cheer on March 20 when star striker Djibril Cisse netted his 50th goal for the club. They will be hoping he will reverse his decision to quit Greece at the end of the season.
The fallout from AEK’s loss saw the club take the unusual step of publishing a statement of apology to their fans on the official website.
“AEK feels the need to apologise to all of its fans for today’s black night which, unfortunately, will remain as one of the worst moments in the club’s history,” the statement said.
“The responsibilities lie with everyone and the defeat must not distract us from our target of winning a trophy after nine years and the battle for the second Champions League place via the playoffs.”
At the bottom, Panserraikos were relegated following a 3-1 defeat by Aris, while second-bottom Larisa were denied victory over Ergotelis when a stoppage-time strike by Maris Verpakovskis levelled the match at 3-3.
Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC cause the biggest upset of the Uefa Europa League third qualifying round by knocking out Olympiakos on the away goals rule following a 1-0 second-leg win at the Bloomfield stadium. The result prompted the end of Ewald Lienen’s short reign.
Ernesto Valverde is finally appointed after a high-profile media campaign by club owner Vangelis Marinakis to get the Spaniard to return to the club after a one-year absence on a two-year contract.
Despite looking well organised and going 1-0 up through a Kostas Mitroglou goal, Olympiakos lose 2-1 at Iraklis in the first game of the season. It proves a wakeup call with the club going on to win the next six matches in a row before a 2-1 derby defeat to Panathinaikos at OAKA.
A 2-0 win at Ergotelis in Crete combined with Panathinaikos’ 1-1 home draw with Larisa sees Olympiakos put some clear daylight between themselves and the Greens for the first time in the form of a three-point lead after 10 matches.
Olympiakos open up a five-point lead after a 1-0 away win at Larisa while Panathinaikos players are chased off their OAKA pitch by angry fans as they are beaten 1-0 at home by Olympiakos Volos - arguably the most pivotal moment in the campaign psychologically.
A brace and a stellar display from Yiorgios Yiorgiadis of Panserraikos cannot prevent a 4-2 come-from-behind win for Olympiakos as they maintain their leadership and their 100 percent home record.
A controversial 2-1 win over Panathinaikos at the Karaiskaki stadium in what has been dubbed the “derby of shame” for the ugly pitch invasion by home fans sees the Reds extend their lead to 10 points, prompting the media to insist the title race is over.
Olympiakos wrap up their 38th league title with three matches to spare in style with a 6-0 win over a tired-looking AEK Athens side in front of their fans in Piraeus.
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