The financial crisis in Greece as Greek clubs relying on domestic talent and eschewing high-priced imports, which is a welcome change for the Super League.
Financial crisis forces Greek clubs to mine homegrown talent
ATHENS // The days of high-profile foreign players joining Greek clubs are over because of the economic crisis and a new era of relying on domestic talent is taking over, which is a welcome change for the 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 country's austerity measures have left them in a daily battle for survival.
Super League clubs have almost halved their spending on player contracts this season with even the bigger clubs such as AEK Athens and PAOK Thessaloniki making huge cuts to stay afloat.
The champions Olympiakos, despite being backed by the financial clout of the shipping magnate Vangelis Marinakis, have reduced spending on player contracts by 21.7 per cent this term.
Their outlay of €18 million (Dh81m) still dwarfs the spending of other Greek clubs, however, with Panathinaikos the second biggest spenders on €8.8m with Keykra on the tightest budget of just €600,000.
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. 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," Moralis said.
"The basic and most interesting prospect for Greek football is that we can focus on financial stability and the development of Greek players. 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 per cent of players were Greek compared with 50 per cent last season, while there has been a 27 per cent 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 appearance of the Under 19s 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," Moralis said. "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 he welcomes the fact the days of overspending on high-profile foreign players such as Rivaldo, Djibril Cisse, Gilberto Silva and Eidur Gudjohnsen are over.
"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.
"The country is going through such a serious crisis, not only in football and sport but in every aspect of daily life.
"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."
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