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The AEK Athens Challenge | The Rise of an Empire Introduction | 1 July 2016 And so, I have arrived in Athens. One of the oldest cities in the world. This beautiful cosmopolitan metropolis has been home to AEK Athens F.C. since the clubs formation in 1942. The city is home to 25,000 Athenians and now it is home to me, Oliver Jensen, a Norwegian-born manager from Kristiansand. AEK Athens are rebuilding following their bankruptcy and relegation out of the football league in 2013. Notable fans and former players now own the club under the Union Friends of AEK group. The Union holds a majority stake in the club. AEK returned to the Superleague last year and finished an impressive third in their first season back in the AEK returned to the Superleague last year and finished an impressive third in their first season back in the top-flight. The Melissanidis era begins. It is 1 July 2016. Dimitris Melissanidis, the club owner, has handed me a one-year contract to become the new manager of AEK Athens following the unexpected resignation of Jose Morais just a few weeks before pre-season was due to commence. I am told that there are no club philosophies in place. The only expectation of me is that we finish around the top of the league. Given the league is formed of 16 teams, I'm assuming this is top four. And so it will be from these four walls—my office at the Athletic Centre of Spata—where I will write about both my tactical analysis and progression with the club. That is, however, until we move to the Agia Sofia in 2018. So we begin. Day one. We have no money for transfers and we have no room for movement in the wage budget, but I have the brilliant Baltemar Brito at my side who once worked alongside Jose Mourinho at Chelsea. The Challenge | What I want to achieve Despite the one-year contract, and the club setting straightforward, short-sighted goals for me, I do have my own personal goals for the club, which I will review at the end of every season: I. Improve the facilities. Having great facilities in place will help us bring in exciting youth products. Will help us develop the players to the levels we will need them to be at if we're to achieve our objectives. Corporate: Average Training: Good Youth: Good Junior Coaching: Good Youth Recruitment: Above Average II. Improve the squad personality and determination levels. At the moment the first team squad only possess six fairly professional players, one professional and one spirited player. In order to develop the youth players to levels where they can come into the first team, we need first team players who can tutor them and help them reach their potential. As the squad personality rises as does the personality of the youth players coming through the team. Squad Personality: Ambitious The below shows the current squad personalities. As you can see, we're primarily balanced. III. Break up the dominance enjoyed by our fierce rivals, Olympiakos. They have won the league 18 of the past 20 seasons. We have won it 11 times in our history, lastly as part of the great 1993/94 season. IV. Increase the number of Greek youth products promoted to the first team. This might not be immediately possible, given the facilities at the moment and lack of good prospects in the under 20s, but it’s an objective we can start work on now by improving our coaching setup and scouting network. I don't want to be hamstrung by only signing and playing Greek players at this time, but it is an aim to be self-sufficient. The Plan | How I aim to achieve it First and foremost, we must be successful on the pitch. If not, then this story ends quickly. If we can be successful on the pitch in the short term, we buy ourselves time to be successful off the pitch long term. To do this, we need a sound tactical footing. I have reviewed the competition we are up against, a quick browse through the default tactics for all 16 teams in the Superleague, the Greek top division. Nine are set to 4-2-3-1, five to 4-3-3 and there is an odd asymmetric 4-2-2-2 for good measure. All teams are playing with attacking wingers and a lone striker. The media believe we are good enough for a third-placed finish. Behind Panathinaikos and the favourites Olympiakos. Not bad considering two years ago we were out of the football league. So, as we expect to be favourites for most games this season. We should look to take advantage of this. I have a team report offered by Baltemar, we have an aggressive and committed squad. We are hardworking and physical. There is an impressive standard of passing and technical ability and amongst the players, showing excellent first touch. The squad has good depth, but overall I do not think we have the quality to compete with Olympiakos just yet. I decide to go for a 5-4-1 Diamond WB | Standard | Very Fluid Given that we are excellent at passing (I know this because Baltemar said so), we will play shorter passes and aim to keep possession. I want us to play out of the box, and to work the ball into the opposition box. The idea is that we recycle possession at the back, feeding the ball through the diamond midfield and into the advanced positions. Given most of our opposition have four players out wide, reducing their central players, I should get some joy here. Moreover, we need to be able to exploit the space our wide when their attacking wingers are out of position. My attacking wing-backs will have some work to do. They also need to keep the play stretched to allow us the space infield to play. My two key roles are at the top and bottom of the midfield diamond, my defensive midfielder, and my attacking midfielder. The positions, roles, and duties Goalkeeper. Initially, we'll work with a sweeper keeper to keep him close with the defence to ensure there's no big gap between him and the players ahead of him. Central defence. I will use a flat back three. I do not want to give away possession so quickly after we recover the ball from deep, so defenders instructed to play shorter passes. I will ask my central defender of the three to cover. Wing-backs. Their primary objective for me is to stretch play and offer an outlet if the middle of the pitch becomes too congested. I also need them to exploit any space vacated by attacking wingers. My defensive midfielder. He will be the protector of the defence. We will have three at the back, so he will give some stability in the middle when the defenders split. With a defensive duty, he needs to hold his position and recycle possession when we win it back. I also instruct him to collect the ball from my keeper when restarting play. My central midfielders. These two are important as we need them to offer both defensive stability and attacking support. I want them positioned asymmetrically in the middle, creating a diamond where a passing option must always be available in three directions: ahead, to the left/right and behind. I have a central midfielder who I will ask to attack, he will be the main attacking support, alongside a box to box midfielder who will be in and around the opposition area. Attacking midfielder. I like the advanced playmaker role here. Given that we are very fluid, he is my sole specialist role. He is the pivot for which all play will build around. I expect him to be high in goals and assists. I expect him to have a lot of touches, good movement, receive and make a lot of passes. This role is key for me. Striker. We have three strikers who can all play Target Man, which is an undervalued role I find. He is a great outlet when short passing options are limited. He can bring in others when we are building play. And more importantly, he will make the space for my advanced playmaker and other players to move into. Final Words I will not be making too many off the field changes. I do not want to completely overhaul the club just yet. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day and this empire will be built the right way. For the next six months, we will work on the tactical side of things and by January I should have us up and running as I need. I may see if I can get a loan or two in before the end of the window. I will also start scouting the Greek leagues to look for players for potential summer transfers. I will set up training for the first team and under 20s to ensure everyone is training for the positions I need them to play in. It is imperative that we get everyone up to speed on their new roles and positions as quickly as possible. I will report back on 1 January 2017. Where I will cover how we have adapted tactically, review our strengths and weaknesses and review any back office changes, should I decide to make any. Oliver Jensen