I Am Not A Demon. I Am A Lizard. A Shark. A Heat-Seeking Panther. I Want To Be Bob Denver On Acid Playing The Accordion.

Panathinaikos AO – June 2023

I love pressure.  I eat it for breakfast.

Well…not literally.  It’s a metaphor, see.  And a quote from the greatest movie of all time, The Rock.

Truth be told, I much prefer prodigious quantities of the finest Nordic grapefruit in the morning, with a bucket of coffee on the side. There’s no such thing as too much coffee.

After all, you don’t get to manage the Brøndby U18s at the age of 20 – and the reserves at 22 – if you don’t have ****ing tiger blood coursing through your veins, coupled with encyclopedic knowledge of Telleusian tactics.  No.  No, no you don’t.

Then again, Sofie probably wouldn’t have run off with FC København’s reserve keeper if I’d spent a little less time studying Oostende’s groundbreaking utilization of an underlapping, inverted regista…  Yes, it was her birthday. But in my defense, we were still waiting for the food to arrive, so I really don’t see what the problem was.  More to the point, Nando’s was a night out on the town, just like she wanted.  Again, I fail to see the problem.

When I later asked why she’d run off with Kristof in the first place, she also gave me a bunch of crap about not listening to her enough, or something. I dunno, I wasn’t really paying attention.

Anyways… “C’est la brie,” as the French say. It just wasn’t meant to be.

You were always destined to be the Liam to my Noel Gallagher, Sofie.  The Christian Slater to my Christian Bale.  The Fat Ronaldo to my Cristiano. The Rebekah Vardy to my Colleen Rooney.

It was time for a fresh start, regardless.  Time for a change of both pace and scenery.  Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to take charge of the fortunes at a historic club…one down on its luck and willing to take a chance on me.  Our goal is nothing less than to avenge the Trifýlli’s loss to Ajax in ’71.  The semifinals in ‘85 and ‘96, the quarterfinals in ‘92 and ‘02… Triumphs for a little club like ours in the modern era, but not enough.  Never enough.  Second place is nothing more than first loser, after all.

The echoes of past glory can be heard throughout Athens, if only you stop to listen.  But it is a new dawn at the Spyros Louis.  A new era. 

The Nikolaj Bur era.

Welcome to Nicolaj, Athens.

Yes, that’s right. We start our journey in Greece this year, with Bur and his merry band attempting to bring Champions League glory to Panathinaikos AO, one of the most successful clubs in Greek footballing history.

Panathinaikos Overview, June 2023
Nicolaj Bur has been accused of being far too young a man to be in such a big hurry to get to the top…among other things.

Founded in 1908, Panathinaikos AO (“All-Athenian Athletic Club”) have claimed 20 Greek top flight titles, 18 Greek Cups and 3 Greek Super Cups. Panathinaikos have never been relegated from the top flight, and are one of only 2 clubs to claim the title undefeated, accomplishing the feat in the 1963-64 season. Suck on that, Arsene.

An iconic (colorized) picture of the sides walking out for the 1970-71 European Cup Final at Wembley.

Panathinaikos are also the most successful Greek club in the Champions League by a large distance, having reached the 1970/71 European Cup final at Wembley, where they lost 2-nil to Johan Cruyff’s Ajax.

A semifinal appearance in 1984/85 ended with a 5-nil aggregate loss to Joe Fagan’s Liverpool.

No one asked you, Niki.

More recently, Panathinaikos reached the Group Stage of the last European Cup tournament of the pre-Champions League era, in 1991/92, finishing 4th behind Sampdoria, Red Star and Anderlecht.

In 1995/96, Panathinaikos reached the Champions League semifinals, falling 3-1 (aggregate) to Louis Van Gaal’s Ajax after a 1-nil win in the first leg in Athens.

Panathinaikos would also reach the 2001/02 Champions League quarterfinals, finishing ahead of Sparta Prague and Jose Mourinho’s Porto in the Group Stage, before being eliminated by Carles Rexach’s Barcelona (2-3, on aggregate) after a one-nil win in the first leg in Athens.

Olympic Stadium, panorama
Athens’ Olympic Stadium, aka the “Spyros Louis,” named for the first modern Olympic marathon gold medalist, in 1896.
Nikolaj gives the club photographer his best “Blue Steel” face.

There’s no question that we have work to do in Athens. The squad is bloated, but should be good enough to compete domestically.

To compete in Europe, we’ve got some serious work to do. The youth aren’t good enough. And the “established” players will only get us so far.

A detailed squad review will follow in due course. For now, let’s just all assume that no one is safe. Not even Federico “Feddy Macs” Macheda.

We’ll be playing PM Krigsherre and PM Laenket, the strikerless tactics I developed during the beta which are detailed here: I Want to Take His Face…Off. I’m also tinkering with a version of the tactics that is more deliberate when in possession. Once I get it right, I’ll post them on the blog.

Getting this revised tactic sorted may be an important early step, as the club vision includes a “preference” for playing a possession-based style (a description that no one in their right minds would ever use for PM Krigsherre and PM Laenket).

Pana club vision
The Board doesn’t seem to be expecting much of young Nicolaj.

If it’s all the same to you, lads, I’d rather not learn any of your names. Not now, at least. Pretending that we have some sort of “bond” or were “bros” … Really, that would just make it hurt more when I trade you next week for a cup of coffee and bag of magic beans.

If you’ve stumbled upon this post and are finding yourself a bit confused… Don’t worry.  The basic concept behind the Nearly Men save is explained here.  Just need to catch up? Each installment in Nicolaj Bur’s story can be accessed through the Nearly Men Archive.

And if you just can’t get enough…join us for The Ballad of Toothless Bob, a series that explores the world of Nicolaj Bur, away from the pitch. What is Project Arcturus? What lies beyond the twisted redstone door, deep in the bowels of the Santiago Bernabéu?


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