After the bitter disappointment of finishing runners up in both the league and cup last season it was both elation and relief when we exacted revenge on Panathinaikos, last years Superleague champions. A stunning hatrick from Ilias Gourtsas, a bright young graduate from our academy, secured a comfortable victory in the Greek Cup final and our first piece of silverware since lifting the Greek National B League title (2nd division). Even a second half red card and an injury enforced debut for 18 year old goalkeeper Dimitris Beniskos couldn’t stop our momentum in front of 69,618 fans.
With many young up-and-coming talents in the squad this could be a pivotal moment. Breeding a winning mentality will help us to push on for more titles in the coming seasons, I hope.
We improved on last seasons points tally with a further six points in the league. It wasn’t quite enough to secure the title though as AEK Athens reemerged to reclaim their throne for the first time since 93/94. They won it by one point, a comparable finish to last season when Panathinaikos edged us out in similar fashion.
Ultimately, our away form let us down. I’ll be adding a more attacking and adventurous tactic for use next season, in a bid to convert some of those draws into victories. I’ve added my 4-2-3-1 Counter Pressing formation as our third tactic.
A solid run in the Euro Places Playoffs saw us top the group and secure a place in the third qualifying phase of the Champions League. This is potentially huge for us. If we can somehow break our way into the group stages proper we’ll secure our finances for years to come, and open up a whole new pool of potential transfer targets. We’ve been handed a tough draw against a superior Club Brugge side (runners up in last season Belgian Pro League A) and even if we can eliminate them we’ll have another round to overcome.
Our progress was put in jeopardy when the chairman sanctioned a £1.8M transfer of our star striker, Nikos Vergos, to FC Sochaux-Montbéliard during the January transfer window. It’s not a transfer I would have allowed, certainly not for such a measly fee. But, up stepped Mauro Tissera to fill the void – recalled from loan the young Argentine striker had a sensational impact on his return with 18 goals from 18 starts. He’ll continue to lead the line going into the new season.
Another key player was lost at the end of the season. With much interest in our star defender, Matías Godoy, his head was turned and he requested a transfer. Unable to convince him otherwise we ultimately succumbed to a bid of £6.5M from Malaga (potentially rising to £9.5M). It’s a decent fee and I was able to sign Senegal international Kara on a free transfer as his replacement, so at least we made a healthy profit.
The biggest plus for me has been the sudden emergence of Ilias Gourtsas, a young playmaker who has made his way up from the academy. He’s my first youth player to break through and make an impact on the senior team. Whilst keeping the now retired Wayne Rooney out of the side he made a huge contribution to our season with 9 goals and 7 assists, as well as a staring role in the Greek Cup final. Now a Greek international, he’s become an integral member of the first team and one of the first names on the team sheet.
July/August 2019 (pre season)
Marque signings: 33 year old Wayne Rooney (free), Will Keane (free), Micah Richards (free), Jason Puncheon (free).
Awarded £2.23M for qualifying for the group stages of the Europa League knocking out Başakşehir (Turkey) and Ludogorets (Bulgaria).
Failed to qualify from the group stages of the Europa League but accumulated a credible 7 points total.
Completed the signings of young starlets (and regens) Jorge Alvarez (AML, Paraguayan) and Irish duo Paddy Marshall (AMC) and Stuart Blair (RB) from Derry City.
Stefanos Kapino (GK) leaves for Red Bull Salzburg for £1.2M (+ 40% of next transfer) and the return (free) transfer of stopper Sokratis Dioudis is arranged for next season – who left us a couple of season ago for around £500K.
The chairman sanctions the sale of our Greek star striker Nikos Vergos to FC Sochaux-Montbéliard for £1.8M – young Argentine striker Mauro Tissera is recalled from his loan spell at Stuttgart to replace him.
Aris record number of assists in a season is broken by Moha El Ouariachi (13).
Finished 2nd in the Greek Superleague and qualified for the Greek Superleague Euro Places Playoff.
Secured a Champions League place by winning the Greek Superleague Euro Places Playoff.
Construction work begins on upgrading the youth and training facilities (£3.3M).
Aris move up 82 places to 143rd in the European club rankings.
Followers of the series will be aware that I’m also managing the Greek national side. This series is very much focused on domestic challenges with Aris though, so I’ll only touch on this briefly. Essentially my role with Greece has given me opportunities to try to enhance the nations reputation, improve my scouting range and blood several home grown talents from my Aris squad, including the likes of Ilias Gourtsas and Michalis Chatzidimitriou (previously uncapped Greek Player of the Year winners).
My first major competition came with Euro 2020, which pitted us against Norway, France and Portugal (holders). We bettered expectations by qualifying from the group stages with 4 points, including a stunning 1-0 win over the holders, Portugal. We drew 2-2 with Russia in the second round but went out on penalties. Our next fixtures will be in the European International League Division B, alongside Croatia and Serbia.