There are no two characters more diverse than the Olympiacos head coach, Míchel, and the team's serial scorer of hat-tricks, Kostas Mitroglou. Yet between them they have changed the course of Olympiacos's season in the last 40 days.
Míchel is a master communicator, at ease when in front of the camera or talking to strangers. He has a way with words and gets his message across with diplomacy and good manners. Mitroglou on the other hand does not like the spotlight.
Self-conscious when faced with a camera or a microphone, he provides candid yet laconic answers and cannot wait for the 'ordeal' to be over, so he can rush back to his 'habitat', the team and his team-mates. That is where this 25-year-old Greek striker – whose role model is not another forward but Zinédine Zidane – feels totally at ease, where he can relax.
What these two contrasting characters have in common right now, though, is the smile on their faces, the satisfaction felt when things are going well for the team.
It was touch and go for a while, mind you. In early September, Olympiacos were winning in the league, but their performances were not entirely convincing. It was obvious that Míchel was still pondering his tactics, trying out several variations in his quest to field a team that plays attractive, attacking football.
There was also the issue of Javier Saviola and Mitroglou: the former being Olympiacos's star signing and the latter banging on the door with his eye-catching form for club and country. How could he fit them together in his preferred formation that features a lone forward?
The turning point of a really tough period for Míchel was the opening UEFA Champions League encounter at home against Paris Saint-Germain FC, his coaching debut in the competition. Olympiacos lost 4-1 but the team's performance in the first half was simply outstanding. They could not keep up the same rhythm after the interval, made some schoolboy errors and paid for it, but it was obvious that the Spanish coach was on the right path. The applause of the Olympiacos faithful afterwards showed their appreciation. They knew it was just a matter of time.
Two weeks later in Brussels, the outcome was different. Mitroglou benefited from Saviola's position in a playmaking role behind him and displayed his killer instincts with a hat-trick against RSC Anderlecht. Míchel had his first UEFA Champions League victory, assisted also by a penalty save from compatriot Roberto (the 'para-pénaltis', as the Spanish press dub the goalkeeper).
Olympiacos enter now the most crucial 30 days of their season, with back-to-back encounters with SL Benfica in Group C and domestic matches against Panathinaikos FC and PAOK FC. They will attempt to make it to the UEFA Champions League knockout phase for the first time since 2009/10, while at the same time strengthening their position at the top of the Greek Super League. And, judging by the upbeat mood in the Olympiacos camp these days, they will not settle for anything less.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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