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Dare To Panathinaikos


Panathinaikos AO – August 2024

All summer, Magnus, Merle and Taako have worked to eradicate the nest of venomous snakes at the training facility, to no avail.

Bozidar washed his hands of the entire affair almost immediately, refusing to accept responsibility or help the groundskeeping crew. The Board refuse to sack him, though, claiming that their hands are tied. I question whether they understand the meaning of the phrase, or if there is something else going on behind the scenes.

The first few weeks of training weren’t all that bad, as we used the situation as an excuse to hold a training camp in Italy. Jesse and I are pretty sure we saw George Clooney grabbing a coffee one day, but he ran away when Jesse ran after him, loudly demanding that he explain the plot to Oceans Eleven.

“It’s a complicated film,” he complained after George scampered away. “It really isn’t,” I tell him. But we’ve had this discussion before. More than once.

The heat of August had made the snakes angry, so we were forced to train in a local park. Rondo takes on a whole new level of difficulty when you’re dealing with loose dogs and 12 year-olds chucking frisbees around.

The updates from Magnus, Merle and Taako were not giving us any cause for hope, either. Merle had barely escaped their last encounter, having to smash one snake over the head with his Extreme Teen Bible…which only made the snake even more mad

And, just when all hope seemed to be lost, I got a text from Taako saying that the facility was open again, the snakes were…gone. I wrote back in disbelief, and received silence in return. There was nothing to do but hop on the moped with Jesse, turn on Night Ranger’s Greatest Hits, and get out to Koropi as soon as possible.

When we arrived, it all became clear.

There he was at the front gate. Standing, arms aloft in his trademark pose, shirt and pants ripped like he was the frontman in an 80’s hair band…snake bites puncturing every visible inch of his skin.

“The Zlatan is not impressed. Is only snakes, is tickling competition. Snakes lose, because the Zlatan’s blood is poison to any but the Zlatan. You should feel shame, because now the Zlatan is bored.”

Word has spread throughout the club, and on social media. A crowd has gathered, even if no one dares venture inside. No one knows why Zlatan is here, but now that he is there’s only one thing to do…invite him to speak to the lads. Maybe take a training session or two. It’s only polite. Frankly, it would be rude not to.

Looking down at his tattered, destroyed clothes, Zlatan nods. “Yes. This would be not the boring, like snake fight. The Zlatan will need clothes, though, and weekly paycheck.”

We don’t hesitate to agree. There’s much a player of his caliber can teach our young squad.

Jesse begins to lead Zlatan inside, as I head to the Chairman’s office. I hear Zlatan assuring Jesse that his pay demands will be modest. “Paycheck for now. Statute of the Zlatan, later.” Jesse just nods amiably.

I think I’ll wait to tell the Chairman about the statue. We’ve got a Europa Conference League match to prepare for.

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Yes, you read that correctly. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has joined the coaching staff at Panathinaikos. The last time he was on my coaching staff, he eventually renounced his Swedish citizenship (in favor of Denmark) before running for Prime Minister. So, yeah…to say that I’m excited about this doesn’t even begin to describe how I’m feeling. (When I started the save, I said to myself I wouldn’t hire him…but I couldn’t help myself. He brings so much joyful madness to the narrative side of the save. Just don’t play Rock, Paper Scissors with him.)

We’ve started the season strong, with a 4-1 aggregate win over Zurich to see us through to the Europa Conference League Fourth Qualifying Round. The youth movement continues, as we shipped out some older players (and youth prospects who were never going to make it), leaving a 23-man squad for the campaign. We made four big signings during the summer window, with no additional signings planned for now: Tomas Masek, Tarmo Bragin, Marko Botic, and Dionysis Moukidis.

That could change if Sourdis keeps moaning about not being allow to move (I auto-rejected an $8M bid from Brighton, inclusive of incentives). I can’t stand players who moan – he’s not good enough to be such a ****.

Before we move on to the season proper…let’s take a quick look at the 2024 European Championships in Germany, where Marco Giampaolo’s Italy defeated Juande Ramos’ Spain on penalties.

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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