God of War 7 – Not Since 1946

It’s been a barren run for Aris Thessaloniki, a club who hadn’t won the Greek Cup since 1970 or the Greek Superleague since 1946, not until recent (Football Manager) times anyway.

Lifting the Greek Cup last season was a major turning point and the discontinuation of that unwelcome trend. Season 5 saw us continue our revival with a historic Superleague title, our first since 1946. We are the champions of Greece! For once, we won’t have the extra burden of fixtures (6) that come with the Greek Superleague Euro Places Playoff, as we go into the Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round.

We won the league in comfortable fashion with 5 games remaining and were unbeaten at that point. I took the opportunity to play and develop some of our youngest hot prospects for those remaining games, which saw us lose our unbeaten record, but those players performed well overall and garnered some valuable experience. I have no regrets with that. In 1995 Alan Hansen famously said:

You can’t win anything with kids.

What a load of twoddle. He’s been proven wrong many times since and once again now. Our championship winning squad secured the title with an average age of just 23. We have plenty of young stars in the squad and many of them are now maturing into very talented first choice players. 19 year old Gourtsas was again colossal in an advanced playmaker role just behind the striker. His 14 goals and 7 assists saw him justly claim the Talent of the Year award and Greek Player of the Year award (for the second year running).

Greek Superleague Table (season 5, 2020/21)


Champions League

Last season’s victory in the Euro Places Playoff gave us a fantastic platform and opportunity to qualify for the group stages of the Champions league, with a place in the qualifying rounds. The Best Placed 3rd Qualifier pitted us against Belgium favourites Club Brugge. In a two-legged David vs Goliath clash we stunned them 5-4 on aggregate. This setup an even bigger test against French giants Olympique de Marseille. Another stunning away performance followed and a 6-1 victory over the two legs:

  • Club Brugge 2–4 Aris
  • Aris 1-2 Club Brugge
  • OM 1-5 Aris
  • Aris 1-0 OM

My tactical approach, to attack away from home, paid dividends with 9 away goals over the two qualifiers. With the damage done a solid defensive performance in our home leg saw us through both ties. Financially, it was a massive moment for us.

The draw put us alongside Chelsea, Monaco and Anderlecht in Group B. With nothing to lose, I was just happy to be involved in the greatest domestic competition in football. Our aim was simply to be competitive, which we managed on the whole:

Champions League Group B (season 5, 2020/21)

  • Aris 0-0 Anderlecht
  • Monaco 1-1 Aris
  • Chelsea 3-0 Aris
  • Aris 0-0 Chelsea
  • Anderlecht 1-3 Aris
  • Aris 0-3 Monaco

A third placed finish with 6 points saw us drop to the 1st knockout round of the Europa League, where we were knocked out by Leverkusen 5-1 over two legs. The focus now shifts back to qualifying for the group stages again, with the opportunity to bolster our financial position further.


Player Awards

  • Fans Player of the Season: Mason Bennett (9 goals, 5 assists in 21 starts)
  • Goal of the Season: Ilias Gourtsas (14 goals, 7 assists)
  • Signing of the Season: Kara
  • Young Player of the Season: Mauro Tissera (22 goals in 31 starts)
  • Greek Superleague Talent of the Year: Ilias Gourtsas
  • Greek Superleague Team of the Year: Ilias Gourtsas, Felipe Gedoz, Manolis Fazos
  • Greek Superleague Foreign Player of the Year: Felipe Gedoz
  • Greek Supereague Greek Player of the Year: Ilias Gourtsas

Transfers

Young Chilean winger José Ormeño was sold to OM for £7M (rising to £11.5M with add-ons), who was purchased during the January transfer window on a free. As a non-European, we hadn’t been able to register him for the Greek Superleague, so this was a good piece of business and a record sale.

New striker Richairo Zivkovic is signed for £700K to replace Will Keane who moves to Birmingham for £1.8M. We’ve made a healthy profit there and brought in a striker who’s 4 years younger. Zivkovic has slightly better attributes and can operate as an inside forward on the left as well.

I’m delighted to have signed Charalabos Lykogiannis from Sturm Gratz for £1.2M. He’s one of my preferred players for the Greek national team and can play anywhere on the left. With Moha El Ouariachi on loan at Helsingborgs for £100,000 a month until Christmas, he’s practically a free transfer. In having Josh Tymons at left back for the last four seasons on loan we’ve finally got a permanent home grown left-back, and with wonderkid winger, Jorge Alvarez, off to Celta Vigo (after they triggered his £15M release clause) we’ve got a ready replacement. I didn’t want to lose Alvarez but at least it frees up one of our non-EU places and brings in a healthy sum, which doubles our bank balance to £30M.

Kasper Schmeichel and Daniel Sturridge come in as experienced backup players. We’ve been in need of a decent stopper as backup while our younger Greek goalkeepers develop. Sturridge gives us an experienced finisher in those games when first choice Tissera needs a rest. The remainder of our transfers are young hot prospects who will either go out on loan or develop in the under 20s over the next few seasons.


Strategy for Future Seasons

Next season (and beyond) I want to continue challenging for the Greek Superleague with the aim of remaining in the Champions League, our biggest source of income. Our improving finances (around £30M at this time) are something I want to use wisely; I don’t want to flutter it away on big name signings and jumped-up wages. We’ll continue to develop Greek nationals from our academy and sign young talent on long contracts for small fees or free transfers, selling the occasional player for a profit. Where opportunity arises, we’ll look to improve our training and youth facilities and increase our development and scouting budgets. It’s a model that’s worked well for us this season in particular and remains true to my plans at the start of the series.


Timeline (season 5)

  • August 2020 (pre season)

    Qualified the Champions’ League group stages.

  • December 2020

    Finished 3rd in Group B of the Champions League with 6 points.

  • February 2021

    Knocked out of Europa League 1st knockout round to Leverkusen, 5-1 over two legs.

  • March 2021

    Qualified for the Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round by winning the Greek Superleague (first time since 1946), with 5 games to spare.

    New assist record: Felipe Gedoz (14).

  • April 2021

    Knocked out of Greek Cup Semi Final 3-1 on aggregate to Atromitos.

  • June 2021

    Given £4M for Champions League TV revenue.

    Club record sale of José Ormeño to OM for £7M (rising to £11.5M with add-ons).

  • July 2021

    New club and Greek record sale of Jorge Alvarez to Celta Vigo for £15M.


Comments