By Peter Staunton
Olympiakos will win the Greek Super League at a canter again this season, despite selling Kostas Mitroglou to Fulham. The sale of the striker earned Olympiakos around €15 million. Given the current financial climate around Greek football, that is like winning the lottery.
Olympiakos, though, have as good as surrendered before their Champions League last 16 tie against Manchester United. They would have been a high price before the transfer window. They are rank outsiders now. Still, they will earn more from their winter sales than they could from continued progress in the Champions League. It worked out.
For their €15m, Fulham have acquired the services of one of Europe's hottest properties of the season. While Cristiano Ronaldo was busy putting Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his Sweden cohorts to the sword in the World Cup play-offs, away from the spotlight, Mitroglou was doing the same to Romania. Three of Greece's four goals over the two legs were scored by the forward as a safe passage was granted to the Greeks for Brazil 2014.
"MITROGLYCERIN" screamed Marca alongside a photo of Mitroglou conducting his now familiar Pistolero celebration. Over the course of those two games, Mitroglou continued the sort of form that has brought him widespread acclaim. Fourteen goals in 12 Superleague matches, crucial strikes in the World Cup qualification programme and an outstanding Champions League hat-trick against Anderlecht - the first-ever by a Greek - mean Mitroglou was the name on everyone's lips and on all the back pages.
The problem with having a prolific frontman in any team of a relatively modest calibre is that he stands out like a sore thumb. Emerging goalscorers do not stay off the radar for long and it is inevitable that the club in possession of the player will be fending off enquiry after enquiry. That is the situation in which Olympiakos found themselves over Mitroglou. The price went up to, realistically, twice what Olympiakos would have taken for him, and they cashed out at the right time.
OLYMPIAKOS & GREECE
But Fulham should not expect the kind of relentless consistency that Mitroglou showcased at the start of the season. It was a tough slog for Mitroglou to make his name. Inconsistency, disputes with coaches and loan spells all plagued the striker's game before things clicked this term. It was very much evolution which brought plaudits - a slow climb to the top of his game.
Changes in the player's own attitude as well as the conditions around him at his club brought Mitroglou into the form of his career. "He has improved his physical conditioning and his reading of the game," his Olympiakos coach Michel told Spanish radio before the winter break. The Borussia Monchengladbach youth product was allowed to flourish under Michel's new regime at Piraeus.
Rafik Djebbour and last year's player of the year Djamel Abdoun departed meaning coach Michel has finally got around to creating his own side with Mitroglou as the spearhead. "We did not get another player in his place because we were confident that he [Mitroglou] would justify our choice," said sporting director Pierre Issa over the decision not to replace Djebbour. "He has vindicated himself and his talent."
The likes of Vladimir Weiss, sold to Lekhwiya this week, Joel Campbell and, crucially, Javier Saviola, helped to give Olympiakos a new dynamism and threat going forward with the ideas of the Spanish coach now coming across.
"We understand the philosophy of the coach," Mitroglou told Uefa in October. "With new players who came in the summer we play more attacking football. This is I believe our strength." No doubt, Mitroglou himself is an improved player this season. "Before, his goals came almost entirely from inside the box but now come in other ways," his coach said. "He is a player who, at any time, is dangerous to the opposition wherever he is on the pitch."
Mitroglou has hit a goldmine with his move with Greek media reporting that he will earn around €2.5m per season with Fulham - over four times the money he was making with Olympiakos. But he will be made to work for it. He is taking a steep step in the quality of football he will be playing and, with a Fulham club-record fee, comes no small degree of pressure.
He will score goals but will take time to adapt. But that's not a luxury Rene Meulensteen's side have at this point of the season.