Maccabi Tel Aviv named Giorgos Donis as their new head coach this week replacing Vladimir Ivic who was at the helm of the yellow-and-blue for two seasons in which he won a pair championships. The Greek bench boss arrives in Israel with together with his professional staff just in time for the Champions League first round qualification match against Riga next week. Donis will look to guide the club back to the continent’s top competition for the first time since the 2015/16 season when coach Slavisa Jokanovic turned the trick.
The 50-year old most recently managed Panathinaikos in Greece, the team that he once starred for as a midfielder in the 1980’s and 90’s and was also the first Greek to feature in the English Premier League when he played for Blackburn Rovers in 1996/97. In addition, Donis has coached a number of other teams in Greece including AEK Athens, PAOK Thessaloniki and Larissa and has plied his trade in Cyrus with APOEL Nicosia while also making stops in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The Jerusalem Post spoke to a pair of Greek journalists, Sotiris Milios from SDNA and Christos Giannoulis from On Sports to get the lowdown on Giorgos Donis and what Israeli soccer fans can expect on and off the field from Maccabi’s new head coach.
“Donis has a strong personality,” began Giannoulis. “He is honest and isn’t afraid to speak the truth as he prefers to be honest with both the fans and players. He will tell them what he really believes about the team and about the game in general and likes his team to have discipline, based on respect between him and the players.”
Milios echoed his colleague’s thoughts, “Giorgos Donis is one of the most ambitious coaches I’ve ever met. He is very well spoken, educated and knows how to speak.”
As a tactician, Donis seems to be able to use a variety of formations and styles with the ability to make in game changes when deemed necessary but thrives on controlling the ball Giannoulis continued, “He wants his team to have ball possession and prefers a build-up from the defense and likes his team to pass a lot in order to find the gap between the opponents lines to create chances. He uses 4-3-2-1 or 4-3-3 formations but if the opponent has a very strong offensive line and mentality, or are a better quality team he may use 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-1 under those circumstances.”
“He doesn’t have any preferred tactic or formation and can adapt easily in any situation,” Milios said. “He is influenced by English football and his spell at Blackburn totally changed his mentality about football. He loves possession and his teams are always very well organized although some times their football is a bit boring.”
The fact that Donis was a star player in his own right is definitely a help according to Giannoulis, “He can easily understand how a player thinks and can speak the same language. Moreover, his playing experience in England gave him a lot of new ideas, about coaching, working as a professional and made him think a lot about tactics and modern ways of coaching a team.”
Milios felt that the skills he has obtained over the years has helped him as a coach which he has been doing since 2002 when he took his first job at Ilisiakos, “He is a very good teacher and can help players improve. As a very hard-working person, he loves coaching, training and just loves to teach football.”
Giannoulis remarked that Donis has evolved which has been the key to his success,“I believe that he has been successful because he is continuously evolving. He began his career in the lower divisions with very small teams and helped them grow just as he did with Larissa where he won the Greek Cup and was able to play in Europe. At Panathinaikos he wasn’t able to bring in quality players through transfers so he used younger players from the Under-20 team that fought with dignity for the club’s name and history and were able to play solid football.
“At APOEL and at Hilal and Sharjah he did a better job and won championships in Cyprus and some trophies at Saudi Arabia while being able to present good teams at the Asian Champions League and the UEFA Champions League.”
Milios was a bit more skeptical about Donis’s showing as a coach to date, “Twice he had the opportunity to coach teams with a title worthy roster in PAOK and AEK but he didn’t manage to finish the season. I would say that in a strange way, when the expectations are high, he doesn’t manage to fulfill them. Look at his titles as a manager, only a few.
However, Donis has earned an excellent reputation with his players explained Giannoulis, “He wants his players be professionals and disciplined. You will see him shouting at his players, but he will also say some good words when they do well in the pitch. Donis tries to build his squad like a family, with himself in the role of the leader. He manages a pleasant lockerroom and is very good working with youngsters and has helped them grow. Most of the younger players at Panathinaikos have said that Donis is like a second father for them.”
The Greek maestro has a way with the supporters who seem to adore him said Milios, “The fans love him because he knows how to treat them and he is a great speaker, like a lawyer who can be very persuasive.”
Giannoulis also spoke about how influential Donis has been specifically with the Panathinaikos supporters, “The fans love him because he was once one of their own players during the club’s golden era and he took over the team as a manager during very difficult times. I think that the majority of the fans in Greece believe that Donis is a good coach and probably the best Greek coach of this era.”
How does Milios think Donis will do at Maccabi? “Going to Maccabi is a good step for him, because they have helped several coaches build up their reputation over the past decade in order to move forward. I believe that Maccabi is a good fit for him and that he will try to bring one or two new signings who will be accustomed to his philosophy as he always does.”
“In 2018 Donis decided to take a step back by going to Panathinaikos, because he loves the club and he wanted to help them in a difficult situation,” expressed Giannoulis. “I believe that he is now back on the path to return to the high level that he was on before. Donis is ambitious and Maccabi can offer him a chance to win titles again as well as the opportunity to qualify for the UEFA Champions League. If Donis and Maccabi can achieve their goals the step in Israel will be good for both of them.”