By Lefteris Charalampopoulos
December 29 – They claim to be extremely wealthy. They are owners of football clubs and controversial businessmen. Dimitris Melissanidis, owner of AEK Athens, and Giannis Alafouzos (pictured) of Panathinaikos, have money but they have failed to meet their payment obligations to their players and coaches.
Melissanidis’s business activities range from shipping to port waste management to to oil products distribution. He is also a major shareholder in OPAP, the gambling corporation that has a monopoly in lottery gambling in Greece and also the greater part of the Greek football betting market.
OPAP’s privatisation in 2013 was for many a scandal because the price was considered very low for a profitable company with a monopoly position in many sectors of the gambling market in Greece. Melissanidis is also well known to be politically connected and in position to have good relations with all recent governments.
For many years associated with the management of AEK, he made an impressive comeback in recent years with promises that he will save the team and build the new stadium (the old AEK FC stadium was demolished and the project for the new one is facing problems because the local municipality and many inhabitants of the area around the stadium –most of them AEK supporters – oppose these plans on the basis of environmental and quality of life reasons). Yet it seems that he is not actually willing to pay the cost for this.
Alafouzos also comes from the shipping industry and a family of ship-owners. He is also the owner of Skai TV, a TV station with a national broadcasting license, specialising in news with a strong neoliberal bias. He became involved with Panathinaikos after the decision of the Vardinogiannis family, active in shipping and owners of a big oil refinery, to exit the management of Panathinaikos.
Yet, despite their wealth, both Melissanidis and Alafouzos, seem to find difficult to pay players and coaches what they owe them.
Temur Ketsbaia, a former AEK player who also played at Newcastle United, Dundee and Wolverhampton Wanderers, made the mistake of trusting Melissanidis when he took on the position of coaching AEK. Dismissed by the club two months ago, he has not received the compensation he is entitled to, nor even communication from the club
Ketsbaia, disgruntled at the way he was treated, told Contra.gr: “We call them and they ignore us. The issue is moral, not economic. We were treated badly. Nothing has changed in AEK in the last 22 years”.
The relations between AEK and Ketsbaia have hit rock bottom with the obligations to fulfill Ketsbaia’s contract outstanding. The Georgian coach has sent legal letters to AEK claiming damages, however, as he said to Contra.gr the issue is not economic but moral, since from the Union [this is how AEK supporters usually refer to it] … they have forgot him and his associates.
“Two months! For two months we have been trying to contact them and they ignore us! Never have I witnessed such behavior in my life. From the very beginning we told them to come to a compromise. Without dramas and stories. In fact, in terms of payment, we did not ask even for half the sum they owed us”
“Everything is up in the air. We never got an answer. For two months we are struggling to find a solution and we are being ignored. They do not even pick up their phones. They don’t even serve coffee, without first talking to the “boss”… The issue is moral, since we have been treated treated badly, beyond the permissible limits. It is sad, because I have played for AEK and I realise that 22 years later nothing has changed in the club. They are lagging in every aspect.”
Asked whether there were any doubts over the job he was doing during this time, Ketsbaia replied: “This is all funny stuff. I’ve seen articles full of speculations that target me. We left AEK two points off the top of the league table. Where is the team now? We did a great job, as usual, but now we are blamed for everything! And I understand, they want to end our cooperation. These things happen. But not in this way. With what we had, we did our best. If you want to have a great team you have to invest millions. Unfortunately, in Greece and in Cyprus, there is football cannibalism.”
Ketsbaia was not the only person to exit AEK. Joleon Lesott, former England defender, was also obliged to terminate his contract.
“We are talking about a player with a tremendous career who did not need AEK to become known. Even, that case was handled wrong. Lescott should have been the image of AEK. A football player with 10 years of experience in the Premier League, a Champion, an international,” said Ketsbaia.
“It is sad to see players of such magnitude to come to AEK and leave this way. What will they say if they are asked about the team? I have played for the club and I care about the club but with such behavior unfortunately there is no future. We were treated badly and they do not even talk to us anymore. I hope a solution can be found”.
Lescott, who has played for Everton, Manchester City and Aston Villa, joined AEK in the summer as he trusted Ketsbaia with whom he had played at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Lescott left AEK after less than three months, stating to the English media that since Ketsbaia has parted company with the club, he had no reason to stay.
AEK is not the only club reportedly failing to meet its financial obligations. South American club Argentinos Juniors are to appeal to FIFA because Panathinaikos, who bought Lautaro Rinaldi this summer, have failed to meet payment obligations over the player’s purchases.
Ghanaian Michael Essien believed he would find the Promised Land in Athens and Panathinaikos following a successful career in Olympique Lyonnais and mainly in Chelsea. However, this December and after a long career in football, the 34-year-old player ended up in the Greek courts, looking for the compensation he is entitled to, based on the terms of his contract; yet the controversial Panathinaikos chairman Alafouzos refuses to pay him.
Essien is owed €650.000, whereas his manager is seeking €250.000. In total €900.000, a substantial amount, especially considering the circumstances and the order of the freezing of Alafouzos’ property and bank accounts from Greek Justice.
It is obvious that both Melissanidis and Alafouzos need the positive exposure and the publicity offered by owning a popular football club and also the possibility to take advantage of the political influence this carries along. However, they are not ready to actually pay the price for it.
Contact the writer of this story at moc.l1508443403labto1508443403ofdlr1508443403owedi1508443403sni@o1508443403fni1508443403