Season Review – The transition of PAOK U20s
Defending their champion status was an obvious and attainable goal. But it was not the main objective of a team whose prime concern is to prep the players and get them promoted to the seniors. The roster underwent significant changes and the season eventually became a transitional one.
As stated by Vladan Ivić during the season, “we could have held on our last season’s roster and won the league again. But that would be of no use for the club or the guys”. PAOK Youth and Development sections function with the objective of the players’ evolution, not the titles.
Radical restructuring with many new faces
PAOK administration and the U20 technical staff decided to promote players that had completed their spell at U20s and had to take the next step in their careers. Polyzos, Qose and Papadopoulos were given on loan, while Savvidis, Pozoglou, Koulouris, Deligiannidis and Pougouras were promoted to the senior side. Their void was covered by U17 players and a few transfers. As a result, the new team consisted of players who were not ready yet, physically and technically, to follow on their predecessors’ footsteps.
Participation in the renowned “Lev Yashin”
Hard work began in the middle of the summer. After the completion of phase one of preseason training, U20s travelled to Moscow to participate in the “Lev Yashin” tournament. In just 15 days of preparation, they acquired cohesion and consistency and held their own against rivals older by two-three years. They were treated to cruel defeats against PFC CSKA Moscow and FC Dynamo Moscow, conceding goals in the dying minutes of the encounters. Overall however it was a positive effort and they returned to Thessaloniki armed with valuable experience.
Ups and downs in the beginning of the season
Before the opening day of the league, PAOK U20s played five strong friendly games and kept working in high-intensity training sessions. The technical staff wanted to create a fast team with good physical condition and bring together all pieces of the puzzle, old ones and newcomers.
In the first matchdays, PAOK had many ups and downs. They were competing without Pozoglou, Koulouris, Deligiannidis and Κ.Savvidis, who trained and competed with the seniors. They defeated Platanias away (3-0) and thrashed AEL Kalloni (5-1), but lost to Atromitos and were held to a draw by OFI at Nea Mesimvria.
The continous suspensions of the league didn’t allow for competitive rhythm. When the elders joined the team and gave the team a boost of quality, PAOK U20s stepped on the throttle and recorded six wins from late November until early February, setting their sights higher.
Back-to-back derbies and a strong finish
On 7 February, PAOK U20s faced league leaders Olympiacos in a crucial game for the final standings. Our team was deprived of luck, having the wind against us and, despite an impressive performance, defeat was unavoidable and dreams of reaching the top were shattered. Draws in the away encounters against Atromitos and Veria kept Olympiacos away from second place as well.
PAOK began their fight back at Nea Mesimvria. They embarked on a series of good performances and victories –some of them impressive, others professional- allowing the “Double-Headed Eagle” to bounce back and go after third place. However consistency was of the essence – and Ivić’s troops were found wanting.
Home defeat to PAS Giannina delivered a huge mental blow to the players. The technical staff, in cooperation with the club administration, spoke to the youngsters and boosted their morale.
After a tough battle and two entertaining encounters against Panionios, PAOK collected four points and managed a third-place finish. A tough season ended in smiles and optimism, having provided the players with high-level experience.
The best in numbers
Several players stood out in PAOK U20s’ run this season and are expected to knock on the seniors’ door shortly. Goalkeeper and team captain Rafail-Savvas Soilemezoglou was the one with more minutes played, a total of 2.277. The young keeper worked a lot throughout the season, managed a string of impressive performances, proved a keen spot-kick stopper and took part in numerous training sessions of the senior side. Patralis, Toumanidis and Kushta played in more games (27) than the rest.
Whenever called to help, Stelios Pozoglou was pivotal and managed to score 10 goals and provide 6 assists in 12 encounters. He completed the season topping PAOK charts in both statistical categories.
Three newcomers in the U20s, all of them born in 1997, had a stellar season. Kristian Kushta netted 9 goals and provided 4 assists, spearheading his team’s attack. Nikolaos Syrakos scored six goals and served one assist, keeping the pace from his U17 spell. As for Giorgos Kakko, he completed a very successful season with 3 goals and 6 assists, earning also a call in the national team.
Quote of the season
After PAOK U20s’ 4-3 victory over Asteras Tripolis in a spectacular match, Vladan Ivić unveiled the philosophy behind the choices for the club’s second team.
Watch the corresponding video on PAOK TV
Blunder of the season
At Rachia, near Veria, the local team were facing the “Double-Headed Eagle” for the Super League U20. The ground was covered by fog and it seemed unlikely that the match would go ahead. However, unbelievable referee Mertzanidis decided to start the encounter offering some ridiculous scenes –before of course changing his mind and suspending the encounter. PAOK TV was there and compiled an entertaining video.
Biggest achievement of the season
As stated at the beginning of this article, U20s function with the objective of the players’ evolution and education, prepping them up for a higher level. Last year, Pozoglou, Koulouris and Κ.Savvidis crossed the seniors’ threshold, they made their debut and have made a positive impression. All three worked a lot in order to establish themselves and were given plenty of opportunities. Two more youngsters got green-lighted for the seniors during the season. Achilleas Pougouras and Panagiotis Deligiannidis made their debut and put on the black-and-white shirt as first-team members.
Let us not forget that several members of the U20 side were often called to the training sessions of the seniors and collected very useful experience.
A long a tough season drew to a close. Overall it was a positive one and it will hopefully serve as a starting point for the future of these youngsters who are prepped to eventually play with the senior side in Greece and Europe.