Greece turns to local talent in economic crisis
ATHENS (Reuters) - The days of high-profile foreign players joining Greek clubs are over due to the economic crisis and a new era of relying on domestic talent is taking over which is a welcome change for Super League president Giannis Moralis.
The majority of the country's top flight teams are facing severe hardship as the knock-on effects of the financial crisis have left them in a daily battle for survival.
Super League clubs have almost halved their spending on player contracts this season with even bigger clubs such as AEK Athens and PAOK Thessaloniki making huge cuts to stay afloat.
Champions Olympiakos Pireaus, despite being backed by the financial clout of shipping magnate Vangelis Marinakis, have reduced spending on player contracts by 21.7 percent this term.
Their outlay of 18 million euros ($23.04 million) still dwarfs the spending of other Greek clubs, however, with Panathinaikos the second biggest spenders on 8.8 million with Keykra on the tightest budget of just 600,000 euros.
The financial situation is so acute that only the combined intervention of the Super League and the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) at the last moment helped to avoid the postponement of the start of the season on August 25.
Moralis has the unenviable task of helping to lead the clubs out of the toughest year the league has faced but while he knows the problems are severe he also believes there is a clear chance for home-grown players to take centre stage and thrive.
"The crisis has exacerbated the problems for all clubs but I am a firm believer that it has brought us opportunities and the basic and most interesting prospect for Greek football is that we can focus on financial stability and the development of Greek players," Moralis told Reuters in an interview.
"Certainly this is the most difficult year in the history of the Super League, but from our side we will continue to try to find the best solutions for all 16 teams.
Greek clubs have had to give younger players a chance, with the average age of Super League squads for the 2012/13 season at an all-time low of 23.9 years.
On the first weekend of the season, 66 percent of players were Greek compared with 50 percent last season, while there has been a 27 percent reduction in foreign players overall.
For the first time since 1990, a match featured teams made up entirely of Greek players as financially-embattled Panionios played Aris Thessaloniki in their opening fixture.
But although the clubs face acute financial problems, the national team continues to thrive at all levels.
Greece reached the Euro 2012 quarter-finals and the under-19s' appearance in the European Championship final, where they lost narrowly to Spain, shows the potential.
"The national team at every level is not only healthy but is absolutely competitive with other European countries," said Moralis
"For such a small country with a population of only 11 million people, and with the economic and social problems we have faced, over the past decade Greece has achieved a lot.
"The Euro 2004 win, an appearance at the 2010 World Cup and the quarter-final place at Euro 2012 shows the talent is there."
Moralis said the days of overspending on high-profile foreign players like Rivaldo, Djibril Cisse, Gilberto Silva and Eidur Gudjohnsen are over which he welcomes.
"For 10 years the top flight teams have been spending beyond their means and I think the reduction of budgets as a start is an obligatory and correct response," he said.
"These kinds of transfers belong in the past and it is time for clubs to operate with a budget relative to their income. In the past we have seen clubs overspending on big names simply to keep fans happy.
"At this time we have to operate with an entirely different logic and supporters must get used to the fact that not now, and not perhaps for another five to eight years will we get close to the level of top European leagues.
"The country is going through such a serious crisis, not only in football and sport but in every aspect of daily life.
"Fans cannot expect to see those kinds of players in the Greek championship and for me it would also be a big mistake for owners to go down this road."
"We have to have patience, and take a look at the young Greek players coming through in order to ensure a positive future for the game."
Moralis is optimistic that the new financial reality means no teams will drop out of the Super league during the season.
"From here onwards the fate of the clubs is in their own hands," he said. "It will be exceptionally difficult for some teams... and it worries us but we'll do our utmost to make sure that since we started with 16 teams we'll see 16 teams finish."
($1 = 0.7812 euros)
(Reporting by Graham Wood; Editing by Mark Pangallo)
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