Friday, 16 May 2014

Mitroglu - By Accident or Design?

Konstantinos Mitroglu, a 26 year old striker born in Kavala, a coastal town in the North of Greece.  His family moved to Germany when he was young and his professional career began at MSV Duisburg.  After four seasons he moved to Borussia Monchengladbach and in their under-19 team he scored 5 goals in a match against Duisburg.  14 goals in 10 matches built his reputation.  He enhanced it further with his performance in the under-19 European Championship.  This caught the eye of Olympiakos.  He played a part in their league title in 2008.

He had a couple of loan spells away from Olympiakos yet his record for the club stands at 41 goals in 92 appearances.  In the transfer window in January 2014, Fulham decided he was the man to score the goals to keep them in the Premiership, as they splashed out a record fee of £12m.  At the time Fulham was managed by Rene Meulensteen who had also identified Clint Dempsey and Lewis Holtby as valuable additions as the club attempted to climb out of the bottom three.

In the Greek league, Mitroglu had scored 14 goals in 8 starts and 2 substitute appearances.  In September, he scored back-to-back hat-tricks against Levadiakos and Skoda Xanthi, with a further treble a month later against PAE Veria.  The three goals against Levadiakos were all the more remarkable when you consider he came on as a substitute with just 25 minutes to play.  In the Champions League he scored a hat-trick against Anderlecht and played in 5 of their 6 matches.  He picked up a knee injury at the beginning of December and missed 6 matches, including the final group game against Anderlecht.

The hat-trick he scored against Anderlecht in October made him the first Greek player to score a hat-trick in the Champions League.  He is also his country’s most prolific scorer in the competition with 9 goals.

When Fulham bought him he wasn’t fully fit with the knee injury still troubling him.  He turned out for the under-21 side on 12th February at Aston Villa, where he scored twice in a 5-3 win.  Five days later he appeared for them again at home to Leicester.  He made his first team debut for the club on 22nd February when he came on as a substitute against West Brom, at The Hawthorns.  By this time Meulensteen had been replaced at Craven Cottage by German coach, Felix Magath.  Three days after his debut, Olympiakos played the 1st leg of the knockout stage of the Champions League where they famously beat Manchester United, 2-0.  8th March and Mitroglu makes his first start for Fulham away against Cardiff City.  Fulham lost 1-3 and Mitroglu failed to score.

On 19th March Olympiakos visited Old Trafford dreaming of a place in the Champions League Quarter-Finals.  The club has only ever reached that far once, in 1999 where they were knocked out by Juventus, who went onto meet Manchester United in the Semi-Finals.  Olympiakos were beaten 0-3 and criticised (or praised, depending on which way you look at it) in some quarters for their willingness to attack.  They missed a host of chances which you would’ve thought a player of Mitroglu’s instincts would’ve converted.  They had 14 chances to United’s 12 and without Saviola & Mitroglu they just couldn’t score the one goal which may have decided the game.

For Mitroglu, we can only wonder what he thought of it all, back in South London.  Fulham were still in the bottom three and still losing games.  They also weren’t scoring goals as their most expensive player sat things out.  Mitroglu finally got his chance at Stoke City, coming on as a second half substitute in a 1-4 defeat, a result which sealed the club’s fate and confirmed relegation to The Championship.  Mitroglu was named on the bench for the final match of the season at home to Crystal Palace but didn’t make it on the pitch.

What are we to make of all this?

If Mitroglu had stayed at Olympiakos he could conceivably have played in either, or both of their Champions League matches against Manchester United.  He may well have inspired them to victory where they would’ve met Bayern Munich, the holders, in the Quarter-Finals.  It would seem unlikely they could’ve progressed further than that, but it would’ve been a fantastic achievement for the club and for the player.

In November, he scored twice for his country when Greece beat Romania, 3-1 in the 1st leg of the World Cup play-offs.  When they drew 1-1 in the return leg in Bucharest, Mitroglu was again on the scoresheet.  In fact, from 28 games in all competitions this season, he has scored 24 goals.  You can see why Fulham paid the money but why did they not play the player?

In November, Olympiakos admitted he could quit the club, and in December Arsenal emerged as favourites to sign him.  But then he signed a new contract keeping him in Greece until 2017.  Barely a month later and he was off to Fulham.

It would appear he was a victim of Felix Magath’s methods and possibly unlucky to find his new club under new management.  Magath would often claim the club’s record signing was ‘not fit’, going onto explain he was ‘not used to a relegation fight’, which is an interesting observation from a manager very proud of his record of ‘never having experienced relegation before’.  Magath’s point was that Mitroglu scored heaps of goals in Greece as he was playing for a club so utterly dominant, whereas in the Premier League he was going to be in a scrap every week.

And what will happen to him now?  And what, for that matter, will happen to his manager, Magath?  Despite his recent assertions, I cannot see Magath staying in England.  His CV has been blemished by the Fulham experience and although he may say he is up for the fight to put things right and come straight back up, I wonder if he would be more tempted by another job elsewhere in Europe, especially Germany.

For Mitroglu, surely he is too valuable for The Championship?  He has been called in the 30-man provisional Greek squad for the World Cup and if he puts in a good performance in Brazil, then there are likely to be bids made for him.  He could return to Greece and Olympiakos, who have just won their 41st League title and so will have Champions League football again next season.

Was It Worth It?

So was it all worth it in the end?  Well, that all depends on whether it was his decision to move or not.  It may have been a decision made for him by his agent & Olympiakos when £12m is a decent fee to receive for an injured player.  His agent is Sports Connection which mainly has Greek players on their books, or which Mitroglu is one of the most valuable.  If the player decided to make the move and he doesn’t make the World Cup squad, he may just have ruined his chance of stardom in his football career.  There is no guarantee Greece will make the finals in Russia in four years’ time when Mitroglu will be 30.  We don’t know if he would’ve played in the Champions League at Old Trafford, but it’s probably more likely the club who knew him best, Olympiakos, would’ve done all they could to ensure he was fit, whereas his new club, and especially his new manager, always seemed suspicious of him.

Having said that, if Olympiakos were expecting him to move then this may highlight the player believed he was better than they did, which would suggest they may be reluctant to take him back.  Unless another club comes in for him, he may remain an enigma.

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