By Graham Wood
ATHENS, July 10 (Reuters) – New AEK Athens owner Dimitris Melissanidis pledged on Wednesday to restore the club’s tarnished reputation following relegation and bankruptcy as it prepares to start afresh in Greece’s third tier.
AEK, the country’s third biggest club behind Olympiakos Piraeus and Panathinaikos, were relegated from the Super League last season for the first time since their foundation in 1924.
“This is a day we celebrate a new and difficult start from scratch,” Melissanidis, who previously served twice as president of AEK between 1992 and 1995, told his first official news conference since taking control of the new set-up on June 7.
“It is a new era with AEK starting in the third division so on one hand there is bitterness, but those who will participate the most in this new start are the fans.”
Oil magnate Melissanidis, 61, said his two main goals were to rely on Greek players to drive the team’s success and to rebuild the club’s stadium which was demolished in 2003 after sustaining serious damage in the 1999 Athens earthquake.
“We want to build a club that relies on its supporter base and not any single person or player, this is something that does not exist at any other club in the country,” added Melissanidis, who is nicknamed ‘The Tiger’.
“AEK is more than a football club, it is an idea – and that is why we have to succeed.”
He has brought in a coaching and technical team with strong ties to the club and with a solid local flavour.
Former AEK and Greece defender Traianos Dellas, who was part of the country’s triumphant Euro 2004 squad, will continue as head coach, supported by Dusan Bajevic, one of Greek soccer’s most decorated coaches, as technical director.
Other former AEK and Greece players involved in the new coaching set-up are midfielder Akis Zikos – who was the first Greek to appear in a Champions League final with Monaco in 2004 – and striker Nikos Liberopoulos.
Melissanidis said he was in the final stages of obtaining the relevant approvals from the state to begin work on the new stadium.
“It will be a palace for sport, history and culture, something to be proud of after recent difficult times,” he said.
The club, which declared bankruptcy and was reported to owe 170 million euros ($219 million) in taxes, will start the 2013/14 campaign in the Football League 2, the country’s third division, and Melissanidis said promotion could take some time.
“Of course, although I want to believe that in two years we will be back in the top flight, if it takes six years then what can we do?” he said.
“Our aim is to proceed by building a team with young players who can grow with us in our new endeavours and the stadium. The point is to focus on laying a solid foundation for the new team.” ($1 = 0.7778 euros) (Reporting by Graham Wood; Editing by Sonia Oxley)