In his first season in charge of the Double-headed Eagle, he witnessed what he his team achieved stolen from him in an unprecedented way via the courtroom. Many perhaps expected that he would dwell on the disappointment and lose his hunger to succeed. But he proved to be stubborn, learnt a very important lesson, and managed to turn all the negatives and difficulties into fuel for himself and his players.
The Romanian coach had an entire summer pre-season to work and build a team with his own personal stamp. The failure to reach the group stages of the Champions League after six tough matches was the first setback he had to negotiate, and he managed it with flying colors.
He worked hard every day to keep the squad united and in peak condition, prepared the players for each game as if it was a cup final, was fair across the board and used his unique charisma to get the best out of the players, as well as get them to toe the line and follow his instructions.
The season finale saw him completely vindicated for his work. Undefeated league champions and cup winners. The domestic double. As the architect, Razvan Lucescu put his signature on PAOK’s most successful season in the club’s history.
In May 2018 he made his dream come true by lifting the Greek Cup at the OAKA. It was the first trophy that he won with the team he loves so much. The foundations were laid, and his hunger for more silverware grew.
He compromised on the idea of playing at left back, putting his own personal wishes aside. After all, for him, the team was always above any one player. The first half of the season was low-key. He limited himself to his defensive duties, he was always there when the team needed him, and he enjoyed seeing other players claim the limelight.
In December, however, Prijovic left and there was concern on all sides among the squad. This was his time to shine. And he did not hide, just as he has never done so before in the past.
For around four months he seemed to do everything and be everywhere. Scoring incredible goals, providing great assists. He always seemed to find the answer and was always there when the team found itself at a dead end.
Then in April he experienced one of the most difficult moments in his career. Once again he tasted the bitter feeling of a serious injury. But nothing could affect his unspeakable joy.
In the game against Levadiakos he was there. Without a cruciate ligament maybe. But he was there. In the 88th minute, Razvan Lucescu brought him on as a symbolic gesture, and what took place at the Toumba on that night will remain forever deeply etched into his mind, as well as in the minds of all of us.
The Leader finished the 2018-19 season with 37 appearances, six goals and four assists, playing a total of 2,948 minutes.
He joined PAOK in the summer of 2018 from Arsenal and was full of dreams and ambitions. He was below the phenomenon that was Prijovic in the pecking order when he first arrived, and spent the first half of the season in the Serbian’s shadow, not getting much playing time.
But when the Serb left, Akpom found the opportunity he was looking for and did not hesitate. Such was the effect of his performances, that by the end of the season, nobody was even talking about his former striking colleague who left.
ΑΚ47 loaded his weapons, built his confidence levels, and worked as hard as he could out on the pitch, scoring some crucial goals, with the highlight being his stunning strike in the Greek Cup final win over AEK at the OAKA.
Overall, the English forward made 33 appearances, scored eight goals, contributed five assists, and played a total of 1.913 minutes.
They say that any successful team starts with its ace. Its goalkeeper. And judging by the way PAOK’s 2018-19 season panned out, and the performances of Alexandros Paschalakis, then they are probably right.
After winning the trust of the coach in the previous season, there followed an outburst of his competitive spirit as he played a leading role in the club’s undefeated run to the league title.
The Goldkeeper seemed invincible from the kick-off of the season, and the team’s opponents had to “kill” to be able to find a way to beat him. He produced a string of «mythical» displays, with his performance against Olympiacos at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium the pick of the bunch. He was one of the most consistent players in Lucescu’s team.
He made 49 appearances overall, and conceded just 40 goals, while he kept 22 clean sheets in total.
There are those players who seem to claim all the limelight. And there are others. Those players who are “anti-stars”, if you like. Jose Crespo is perhaps the most typical example of the latter in his role during the 2018-19 season.
Quiet and low-key, but always with a clear head and calm when needed, he is also passionate and is not afraid to raise his voice when the time calls for it. He was the ideal vice-captain beside skipper Andelino Vieirinha.
Alongside Fernando Varela, they comprised the best central defensive duo in the country, acting as bodyguards for Alexandros Paschalakis behind them, while also forming the very foundations for PAOK’s defence, which enjoyed an incredible campaign.
The Spanish stopper made 49 games appearances, scored one goal, and provided one assist. He also finished the season with just three yellow cards in all competitions and alongside his teammates managed to help keep 22 clean sheets.