The strong Portuguese-Greek connection in football
Yet another Portuguese player makes the trip to Greece, as Ruben Semedo joins Greek giants Olympiakos.
It continues what is an emerging trend, as a striking relationship between the two countries continues to evolve in the sport.
Indeed, in total there were 15 Portuguese players plying their trade in the Greek top flight last season, Simoes captaining his AEK Athens side a couple of times in that last campaign as he also played against Benfica once in the Champions League, while teammate and compatriot Helder Lopes had his game time severely limited last season thanks to a long-term ruptured cruciate ligament injury which he is only just returning from.
And there are other high-profile Portuguese players currently based in Greece; giants Olympiakos, for example, have goalkeeper Jose Sa on their books, the shot-stopper becoming their undisputed number one last season and impressing, earning a call-up to the Portugal Nations League squad. Winger Daniel Podence also impressed, playing all but 3 of their league games last campaign as he scored 5 and assisted 8.
Fellow winger Gil Dias and centreback Roderick Miranda were also on loan at the club last season, giving Olympiakos a quartet of Portuguese players - not to mention the fact that their manager, Pedro Martins, also happens to be Portuguese too.
Eventual Greek champions PAOK also had 2 Portuguese players on their books. In fact, their captain and player of the season was - and is - Portuguese - Vieirinha. A Euro 2016 winner and a name fans across the continent will know about, he was instrumental to his side as they went unbeaten to lift the title for the first time in 35 years. Fellow Portugal international Sergio Oliveira was also loaned into the club from Porto for the second half of last season, and scored 3 goals in the process.
And that’s still not the end of the story. Throughout the league you see Portuguese players featuring for a variety of clubs; Aris, for example, have both Bruno Gama and Hugo Sousa. Panetolikos then have a trio of Portuguese players of their own in Guga, Frederico Duarte and Pedro Amaral, while OFI then boast Ricardo Vez and Xanthi possess Dinis Almeida.
It really is a special relationship between the two countries. To compare with some other European heavyweights, while Portugal had 15 players based in the Greek top flight last season, Germany had 3, as did The Netherlands, while Italy had 2, England 2, and Belgium 1. Even France and Spain, despite being larger in size than Portugal and having more active footballers in football overall, didn’t have as many players in the Greek Superleague last season, France having 10 and Spain having 13.
But where did this exceptional relationship between Greece and Portugal originate? Why is there this strong connection between the two nations?
Perhaps this all started from the work done by Fernando Santos that began back in 2001; taking over at AEK Athens, he led his side to Greek Cup glory in his first season in Greece, and also led them to 2nd in the league, finishing level on points with Olympiakos in 1st and only behind by virtue of head-to-head record.
He then returned to AEK Athens in 2004, staying for 3 seasons and leading them to top 3 finishes in each of those years having finished 4th the year before he arrived - and was even voted as manager of the year in that 2004-05 season.
He then returned to Greece again in 2007, and in the 2008-09 season, led PAOK to a 2nd place finish in the normal league season - their highest position since 1984-85 - and led them to the same position in the play-offs in the 2009-10 season too.
He then went on to manage the Greek national team, furthering his deep connection with the country and, with it, Portugal’s overall connection with Greek football.
And he only had further success; overseeing two major tournaments in his time at the helm, he guided Greece to the finals in each of them, getting to the quarter finals in Euro 2012 and to the World Cup knockout stages for the first time in their history in 2014, only going out on penalties to Costa Rica.
Fernando Santos’ prolonged success in Greece is likely what triggered a sustained and flourishing relationship with Greek football; since then, we’ve seen many Portuguese players - and managers - pass through Greece.
Take Olympiakos as a prime example. Likely seeing the success Fernando Santos brought, they went down the Portuguese route themselves. They appointed Leonardo Jardim in 2012; he proved highly successful even if he did only last 6 months in the hot-seat, surprisingly sacked despite the fact that he had the team leading in the league table by 10 points at the time.
They then turned to Vitor Pereira, Marco Silva and Paulo Bento, the first two having significant success as they Pereira did the domestic double, lifting both the Superleague and Greek Cup titles during his season in charge, while Silva oversaw Olympiakos win 28 of their 30 league games as they retained the league title.
And then, after a season of struggle, they returned to Portuguese roots, turning to Pedro Martins in 2018, who has had a strong debut season at the helm.
Constantly over the years, Portuguese players and managers in Greece have proven successful - and it has proven an exceptional combination.