Inside Lines: Why 'Zorba of Greek football' has eyes on Premier League

 

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The Independent Online

Greece's economy may be as much in ruins as the Acropolis, but one of its wealthiest citizens still has more than enough euros to buy a Premier League football club should one become available.

Evangelos Marinakis, president of top Greek side Olympiacos, who beat Arsenal in the Champions' League in Athens last week, is keen to join the foreign legion of owners of clubs here. The 45-year-old shipping tycoon is eyeing an opportunity to break into English football, relishing a fresh challenge after turning around the fortunes of Olympiacos, the club he has supported since boyhood, who were €90 million (£72m) in debt when he took over.

The problem, he admits, is that Uefa rules prohibit dual ownership of Champions' League clubs, so he might have to relinquish control of Olympiacos, who have won 14 of the past 15 Greek league titles and are 10 points clear in the current campaign.

Big, bearded and flamboyant – the former sports minister George Lianis describes him as "the Zorba of Greek football" – Marinakis turned down a recent offer to buy Glasgow Rangers and a share of Milan. Son of a former New Democracy MP, he is a graduate of London's City University, has a house in Hampstead and is very much an Anglophile and ardent Liverpool supporter.

So it seems likely he will soon move to join Abramovich and Co in the Premier League, though I understand he would not rule out a Championship team with which Olympiacos could forge a working relationship. Meantime he has the more pressing matter of today's away match against Panathinaikos, a fixture known as the Derby of the Eternal Enemies.

No Olympiacos fans will be allowed into the Olympic Stadium following riots after their previous meeting. Pockets may be empty in Athens but there is no shortage of passion.

Boris needs a foothold

A visit to Athens last week confirmed the view that the future of London's Olympic Stadium must involve a football club. Without it the Spiridon Louis stadium which gloriously hosted the Olympic Games of 2004 would now resemble a relic of Ancient Greece.

Shabby and run-down it may be, but it is in regular use, Greek Super League clubs Panathinaikos and AEK playing on alternate weekends. Without football it would be as much a white elephant as other, now derelict, venues that helped produce a memorable Games eight years ago. This is why London's mayor is wrong when he declares "the stadium will have a future in any event" should the fresh deal with West Ham not work out.

Oh no it won't, Boris.

Setting them alight

Expect Freddie Flintoff to accept the urging of his fistic mentor Barry McGuigan and retire relatively unhurt. "He's done what he wanted, he can't cap that," McGuigan tells us.

The ubiquitous former world champion now switches his attention to the new pro-style World Series Boxing tournament, which he is firmly backing to succeed. "It's the future of the sport," he says.

Next up for the high-riding British Lionhearts is an attractive home fixture against the German Eagles at Earls Court on Friday (www.britishlionhearts.com/tickets). So far the Olympic super-heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua hasn't signed up, but McGuigan feels he should: "It will make him a much more rounded fighter. He can practise all the things he needs for when he turns pro."

Joshua could also learn by watching a real pro, Scotland's world lightweight champion Ricky Burns, go to work in a title defence against Filipino Jose Ocampo at London's ExCeL – where Joshua and other British Olympians excelled – on Saturday. Burns gets better with every fight yet, unusually for a boxer, is publicity-shy. So much so that he declined an invitation to turn on the Christmas lights in hometown Glasgow "because it just isn't me".

Likely to be lights out for Ocampo, though.

Burns v Ocampo is live on BoxNation (Sky 437/Virgin 546)

a.hubbard@independent.co.uk

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