Greek's playmaker Sortiris Ninis signed for Parma back in March, but Sir Alex is reportedly still tracking him. Should they act now or else risk losing out on one of the most exciting talents at Euro 2012?
Since their shock victory in Euro 2004 the Greek international team has become synonymous with playing rigid, defensive and ultimately boring football. This was exemplified in the knockout stages of that tournament, the Greeks having scored three almost identical headed goals and winning all their matches 1-0. Many feel that Greece remain a dull team.
Watching the Greek defence’s implosion against Czech Republic it is clear that they are no longer the dull defensive team they once were, they are instead now just not very good. Both of the Czech goals resulted from avoidable defensive errors and the second goal especially from poor keeping. The only players that remain from that cup winning team are Giorgios Karagounis and Kostas Katsouranis, veterans who cannot be expected to be the driving force behind the team at 35 and 32 respectively. If the Greeks can no longer rely on a water tight defence and adaptability, then perhaps it was time they started considering playing more attacking expansive football.
Indeed under Fernando Santos they have started making moves in this direction. But if this is to be the path for the Greeks, then one burning question must be; do they have the players available to play in such a way? Not many could name a single creative Greek player through recent history. However there are currently green shoots of creativity from the Aegean. Everton’s Apostolos Vellios is just one example of this but the current golden boy of Greek football is 22-year-old Sotiris Ninis.
Ninis has so far only played his football in Greece for Panathanaikos, the club whose youth system brought him through. In March of this year however he secured a lucrative move to Parma in Serie A where he looks sure to shine. Ninis primarily plays his football behind the striker in a deeper number 10 position, but he can also play as a right winger, the kind of winger-come-playmaker that has been so popular in recent years with the likes of Juan Mata and David Silva earning plaudits from the position. He first broke in to the Greens at the tender age of 16 and has been setting records ever since. He was the second youngest player ever to play in the Greek league (the youngest remarkably was only 15), the youngest Greek player in a domestic European match, selected by Uefa as MVP of the 2007 under 19 European Championships and was the youngest ever player to captain Panathanaikos at just 18 years of age. If all that was not enough he has also been given the same label that every young creative player gets these days, ‘the Greek Messi’ and can truly be considered a football manager legend.
he can also play as a right winger, the kind of winger-come-playmaker that has been so popular in recent years with the likes of Juan Mata and David Silva earning plaudits from the position.
However having played from such a young age looks to have started taking its toll on Ninis already. He has suffered some serious injuries, most recently ruling him out from September of last year till the end of March. Perhaps this is evidence of burnout and his star has somewhat fallen, once scouted by Manchester United and the two Milan clubs, he ended up at the less exalted Parma. This certainly could be the better option for him long-term, allowing him more first team opportunities in one of the great European leagues given that Sebastian Giovinco looks to be leaving Parma. It can also however be seen as evidence of how his career path has not quite gone to plan.
For Greece though he remains as hot a prospect as he was when he first broke through aged 16 all those years ago. Against the Czechs, Greece lacked the creativity that Ninis can offer, they certainly could have done with a few of his mazy dribbles and fantastic passing to help open up a Czech team that by the end of the match started to look defensively frail, ready to wilt under sustained pressure. Now while there is still a chance that Greece could go through with a win in their final group match, it is imperative that they start with more attacking intent in their next match. They almost certainly won’t reach the dizzying heights of 2004, but to make it to the next round with a team that normally starts with Georgios Samaras should be considered an achievement. Greece’s clash with Russia could be Ninis’ chance to make all those big European clubs regret writing him off.
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