PAOK continues to nurture generations of undefeated champions
Stability and durability are the qualities which “place” you on the top shelf. It’s by no means an accidental condition, uncontrollable or symptomatic. There, on the top shelf of the trophy cabinet of the PAOK Academy at the Toumba, is the fourth consecutive league title trophy for PAOK’s Under-19 sides.
For PAOK’s academy this is the culmination, or a natural continuation if you like, of a continuous process that, if nothing else, performs and impresses in equal measure. An educational process, now imbued with a ‘refusal-to-lose’ mentality, which has extended to a period of three-and-a-half years now! Even if one of the most normal things in football is defeat – under normal circumstances it can happen – no one can ignore the impressive statistics. A total of 85 matches without defeat! It was December 10, 2017 when PAOK’s Under-19 side welcomed Panathinaikos for Matchday 14 of the Super League and suffered a 1-0 defeat. That was the last time PAOK allowed themselves to lose to this day. Panathinaikos threatened to end the remarkable run last Saturday, of course in the last last league match of the season in Souroti, but despite going behind twice, the Double-headed Eagle youngsters pulled it back to 3-3 and maintained their unfathomable record. And yes the heat was stifling, but everyone enjoyed the league title awards ceremony which took place immediately after the end of the match in what can only be described as an absolute family atmosphere.
The title race was a tough one in a difficult season, which in the end was split in two – due to the suspension of all action caused by the pandemic. The title was won one match before the final game, against Aris in Pylaia on June 19. It is the fourth consecutive league title for PAOK (2017-18, 2018-19, 2019-20, 2020-21). These title wins were preceded by the ones in seasons 2002-03, 2006-07 and 2013-14. A total of seven, then all in all. In the history of the trophy winners of this age category, PAOK leads, followed by Olympiacos with six, Xanthi with three, and then Panathinaikos and Aris each with two championships.
Another difficult season
It was another exhausting season. It began with the hope that things would return to normal, but unfortunately it was interrupted, with the last match before the break taking place against Olympiacos in Souroti. The coach at the time was Pablo Garcia and the team won 1-0. A lot has changed since then. The Under-19 side was taken over by Stelios Malezas, together with Apostolos Papavassiliou and Dimitris Taxidis, while the suspension seemed eternal. The UEFA Youth League, although announced in advance, was never held. The young players struggled with their stamina and time, until the final decision was made, and the league was completed eventually.
Even under these circumstances of course, the Double-headed Eagle was not intimidated. They refused to lose, playing a total of 13 games and conceding only two draws (with PAS Giannina and with Panathinaikos in Souroti). The rest of the matches all ended in victory, and with a deluge of goals. The numbers that accompany this team’s success, and all the youngsters who have played over the last four years are staggering. The record books say: 74 wins, 10 draws. 262 goals, ie about 65 per season on average, with only 54 goals conceded over the same time period. This latest tile success is the fourth in a row undefeated.
The Under-19s in the 2020-21 season
The first half of this strange and difficult season belongs to Pablo Garcia, Miroslav Scnauzner, and their collaborators Ioannis Ambatzidis, Theocharis Komsis, and Evangelos Babatsis, who are no longer part of the Under-19 setup. Obviously it should also be emphasized that the players themselves also have a fair share in the success, in particular Efstathios Tachatos, Petros Kaloutsikidis, Dimitris Panidis, Theodoros Pournaras and Dimitris Xifilinos. Champions once again and they, too.
Then Stelios Malezas took over, moving from the Under-17 side, along with Apostolos Papavassiliou, Dimitris Taxidis and Evangelos Alexopoulos.
The team was composed of essentially four generations of talented footballers. The generation of 2000, which had largely left its mark, left, while the generation of 2001, who also celebrated championships, remained until the end of 2000, Panidis, Giaxis, Tachatos, Kaloutsikidis, Pournaras and Xifilinos, while Vrakas, who returned, was added.
Those born in 2002 (Balomenos, Panagiotou, Aventisian, Grosdis, Karaberis, Tsopouroglou, Pipiliaris, Gorteziani, including the newcomers Zambou Ngoumetsiou and Arber Chani) are also champions in the Under-19 age group, but also in almost all categories, and all ages. The generation of 2003 was added (Tsiopsis, Koutentakis, Konstantelias, Darelas, Tsiakoumis, Kitsakis, Koulierakis, Manolioudis), who were champions with the Under-17a, some of which also took part in matches for last year’s Under-19s. Finally, also in the Under-19 team this season, some of the «little ones» took part, ( Koutsias also played in the Under-19 team last year), those who were born in 2004 and essentially when the year started they belonged to the Under-17s (Monastirlis, Koutsias, Smyrlis, Spyrakos, Tsikos, Koulouris , Tassiouras, Babouras, Iordanidis, Lipiridis, Rumiantsev, Sinanai, Zilo, Kedikoglou). There was a surprise with the participation of goalkeeper Spyros Angelidis, born in 2005.
It’s also worth noting that almost all of them are internationals, with a few distinctions, as well as the fact that many of them, – in addition to those who belong to the senior team squad – have been called for training with the senior side as well.
Goalkeepers: Konstantinos Balomenos, Alexandros Tsiopsis, Dimitrios Monastirlis
Defenders: Panagiotis Panagiotou, Aventis Aventisian, Konstantinos Koulierakis, Ioannis Manolioudis, Vassilios Kitsakis, Georgios Tsiakoumis, Arber Cani, Eleftherios Tassiouras
Midfielders: Vassilios Grosdis, Thomas Karaberis, Ioannis Konstandelias, Dimitrios Tsopouroglou, Kyriakos Giaxis, Titos Koutentakis, Argyrios Darelas, Georgios Koulouris, Zisis Tsikos, Georgios Vrakas
Forwards: Vassilios Gorteziani, Giorgos Koutsias, Ioannis Pipiliaris, Lambros Smyrlis, Nikolaos Spyrakos, Donandoni Zambou Ngoumetsiou, Marios Bambouras, Christos Iordanidis
Coach: Stelios Malezas
Assistant coach: Apostolos Papavassiliou
Second assistant coach, video analysis: Dimitrios Taxidis
Goalkeeping coach: Vassilios Petropoulos
Fitness coach: Evangelos Alexopoulos
Doctor: Argyris Karavelis
Physiotherapist: Stavros Terzanidis
Caregivers: Stavros Sachinidis, Stratos Arizanis
General manager: Konstantinos Iosisfidis