There have been many players to wear the red-and-white jersey over the years, but some of them were a bit more special than the rest.
Considering the recent transfers of Oleg Reabciuk, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Kenny Lala made by Olympiacos, my mind couldn’t help but drift off down memory lane. To the great, COVID-free summer days when fans would anxiously wait to see what news there were about any transfer signings made by the club or even during the pre-internet era when they would rush everyday to the store and buy the newspaper to read up on any developments.
Then finally when any agreement regarding a major signing would be made official, fans would gather at the airport to anticipate the arrival of their club’s fancy new signing to see them up close and give them a taste of what it means to be an Olympiacos player.
There have been many such great transfers made over the years by the club. The following list contains the most significant among them, although for some readers there may be a few names missing or others that don’t deserve to be on this list. But to each their own.
…Or more commonly known as Alexandro Silva de Sousa, as was his original name, Dudu was a real warrior in the center of midfield who never gave up without a fight. Coming in from snowy Russia and CSKA Moscow back in 2008, Dudu helped Olympiacos win two championship titles and one cup (in the unforgettable final that ended on a 4–4 against AEK and went to a pentaly shoot-out,) while also going with them to the round of 16 of the Champions League in the 2011 season. Dudu was truly passionate about football and that attitude found a lot of supporters within the Olympiacos fanatics!
Possibly the only Italian of this list, Enzo Maresca’s passing from the port of Piraeus is quite forgettable. Some might even have trouble remembering he even played for the team. Yet he even helped them reach the round of 16 of the Champions League during his admittedly rather short tenure at the club. However it was the fact that he was there during a season of great turmoil that saw them lose the league to bitter rivals Panathinaikos, combined with his nonchalant attitude when selected to play that turned fans off. Still, he was a player of great quality who had won the ‘scudeto’ in previous years with Juventus and the UEFA Cup with Sevilla.
Giovanni Silva De Oliveira
What is there left to say about Giovanni that hasn’t already been said? A true virtuoso with the ball on his feet, a man who knew all the secrets of the ball and how to make it dance to his own rhythm. When Olympiacos announced his transfer from Barcelona in 1999, thousands of crazy fans gathered at the airport to get a glimpse of him. Yet in every single one of his performances — because truly, watching him play was like seeing art in motion — he made sure that people in the stands knew how much he appreciated their sentiment. Giovanni played six seasons for Olympiacos before returning to his beloved Santos but in those six years, he created a bond that will last over a lifetime.
Vitor Borba Ferreira Rivaldo
The latter of the two former Barcelona Brazilians to wear the Olympiacos jersey, Rivaldo was a much bigger deal than Giovanni as he had done a whole lot more in the football world. Winning the 2002 World Cup with Brazil and having a Ballon d’ Or attached to his name, it’s hard to believe that such a player ever agreed to sign for a team that participated in the Greek League. Yet it did happen in 2004 and for the short time he was there, Rivaldo gave Olympiacos fans many reasons to get up from their seats as a true latino artist. But despite winning three leagues and two cups with the club, he wasn’t able to lead them to success in Europe. Not only that but his departure was marked by a press conference in which he claimed that the club owed him money that they showed no intention of paying him. Rivaldo then moved to bitter rivals AEK, becoming a ‘public enemy’ for the fans.
But Rivaldo isn’t the only world champion to play for Olympiacos! A few years earlier, the club had managed to sign former Real Madrid midfielder and French world champion Christian Karembeu! Karembeu was known worldwide for his excellent pace and hard work in midfield, things that he demonstrated during his two seasons in Piraeus. He helped the club win the double for two consecutive seasons before leaving the team to play in Switzerland. He still maintains an active role at Olympiacos to this day as their strategy manager. His assistance has proven invaluable with many of their transfers, especially within the French market that he possesses a deep understanding of.
Georgatos is a bit of an exceptional case because he was a product of Olympiacos themselves. But after their stint to the quarter-finals of the Champions League in ’98, where they were barely disqualified by Juventus, Inter Milan came calling for the talented left-back. After a couple of years at the ‘San Siro’ during which he was feeding crosses to Ronaldo and Cristian Vieri however, Gregory got homesick and began to want to come home. The Italians were all too keen to make his wish come true and with the dawn of the new millennium, the red-and-whites had their “crazy baldy” back! Georgatos possessed a talented only few had seen back the day for a player on the left wing, having the energy to go up and down the flank for hours, while also being skilled enough to dribble past opposing defenders like it was another day at the beach. Many called him the “Greek Roberto Carlos” and if that’s not a testament to his worth, then I don’t know what is!
The Swedish giant is quite possibly one of the best central defenders to ever wear the red-and-white jersey. A transfer from Italian champions Juventus in 2009, Mellberg was such an experienced and tough-to-beat player that he hardly ever had any problems with dealing with opposition attackers, at least in the Greek League, while his profile and passionate attitude made him truly beloved to the fans. It was easy to see that this was a world class defender. He helped the team win two leagues and one cup during his short tenure at Piraeus and his departure left a whole that the club is struggling to fill to this day. Perhaps Sokratis may have what it takes to fill the void left by the Swede…
One of the most gifted right-wingers that ever played for Olympiacos, Luciano Galletti arrived from Spain and Atletico Madrid where he was mostly used as a substitute after some clever negotiating by then-general manager Ilija Ivic. He scored some very crucial goals for the team, especially in Europe, such as the ones against Lazio (home and away), Real Madrid and Benfica. His style of play was unique, he could really tire out the opposition on the left while he also knew how to position himself inside the area. He possessed a rare combination of skill and experience. Only Daniel Podence has ever come close to offering this level of quality in that position for the team.
There are strikers and then there are ‘killers’. And that’s exactly what Darko was. Inside the box, there was no stopping him. A transfer made in 2007 from Real Sociedad, Kovacevic managed to score 30 goals in 61 appearances for the club, most of which were as a substitute. Very few players possess that killer instinct that Kovacevic had which allowed him to always be at the right place at the right time and gave Olympiacos some very crucial victories such as the one in Bremen over Werder, the first ever away win in the club’s Champions League history. Sadly, the Serbian discovered he had a heart condition that would prove fatal if he continued to put himself under pressure and was forced into an early retirement in 2009. But he was still able to win two leagues and two cups with the team.
Along with Giovanni in 1999, Olympiacos made another major addition to their team: Zlatko Zahovic. The Slovenian had made a name for himself at Porto, a team that Olympiacos had faced in the last two seasons of the Champions League. Zahovic made impressive appearances against them so they decided to move in on him. Turns out, that wasn’t the wisest of choices. The Slovenian used Olympiacos as a stepping stone for his career, made trouble in the dressing rooms, called out his managers when they brought him off as a sub and generally did everything in his power to be released. He was transferred a year later to Valencia, where he didn’t really get much game time.
Continuing on with highly promising yet not-so-rewarding transfers made by Olympiacos, next up in our list is one of Copa Libertadores winners Boca Juniors greatest assets back then and the player that their entire back line was built around: Jorge Bermudez. The Colombian sweeper was brought in to become the player that would finally put some order into the disoriented Olympiacos defense, yet somehow all he did was make things worse. More used to a formation with three defenders in which he was a ‘sweeper’, the last man that would clean up anything left standing, Bermudez was now forced to play in a two-man defensive line, something he was clearly not able to do. He left at the end of the 2001 season.
Joined the team alongside Rivaldo in 2004, the Argentine defender was a really solid central defender. Having won the La Liga with Deportivo La Coruna and finished second with Real Sociedad, this was a truly experienced player that brought stability to the floppy Olympiacos defense. Additionally, he wasn’t shy in front of goal either, scoring a crucial goal for the team in their match against AS Monaco and handing them an important victory. Truly one of the greatest defenders to play for the club, alongside Mellberg and now Papastathopoulos.
No one could ever predict what sort of player Yaya Toure would grow to become when Olympiacos bought him in from Ukraine. The sad thing is that he joined the team during a time of great turmoil, when Giovanni had just left, Rivaldo and Djordjevic were on their way out and the only other noteworthy players on the team were Nery Castillo and the two Cypriots (Okkas and Konstantinou.) But despite all of that, Yaya Toure was still able to distinguish himself within a team plagued with issues and show his true talents. A rare gem that we will hardly ever see in the Greek fields again, the things he went on to accomplish after leaving the port of Piraeus speak for themselves, playing at teams such as Barcelona and Manchester City and becoming an integral part of their starting line-ups, as important as Messi, Iniesta or David Silva.
Sometimes it’s crazy to believe that some of these players were actually a part of the Olympiacos family but it’s true. That can be said about the crazy Serbian Marko Pantelic. Formerly a Golden Boot winner with Hertha Berlin for having scored the most goals in a single season in Europe, he was more than happy to join Olympiacos from Ajax since he is a proud Crvena Zvezda fan and the two clubs are known to have close ties with each other. Pantelic was usually used as a substitute since he came at a time when there were many other great strikers at the team (Mitroglou, Djebbour, Mirallas, etc.) yet despite all that he was still able to score 20 goals in 38 appearances, a testament of his innate scoring abilities. He didn’t stay too long, but in that short time, he created a true bond with the fans of the team.
One of the current members of the team, Matthieu Valbuena is the de facto leader, the one that inspires everyone else to push forward even when all seems lost. Despite his 35 years of age, his movement on the pitch make it look like he’s in his 20’s, yet another reason why coach Pedro Martins has a very hard time leaving him out of the starting lineup. Valbuena’s appearances last season in games against Tottenham and Arsenal and other European matches were nothing short of world class, as he provided crucial goals and assists for his teammates helping the club move forward. Hopefully he can continue to provide in the future as well.
This French international joined from Barcelona and helped the team earn some important victories in Europe against strong opposition such as Juventus and Atletico Madrid. But that wasn’t the most noteworthy part of this transfer. Eric Abidal was forced to stop playing football during his tenure at the Catalan club due to a cancer diagnosis. However after a long and difficult battle he not only overcame his illness, but he was able to return to the pitch as well. Olympiacos acquired this champion of life and in return he helped make them champions of Greece once again. One of the most memorable moments was when the Piraeus team acquired the trophy and all his teammates lifted him in the air, after Abidal had announced his retirement from professional football.
Yet another Argentine to join from one of the top teams of the Spanish league, what Ariel Ibagaza lacked in stature, he more than made up for with his clever passing and creative thinking inside the pitch. Well known throughout Europe for his assists during his tenure at Villarreal, the ‘El Canio’ may have only scored once -in a game against Asteras- but he was a regular for Ernesto Valverde’s starting eleven as the Spanish coach depended on the Argentine to set up his teammates in ideal scoring positions, which more often than not he was able to do. Ibagaza stayed four years at the club winning four league titles and two cups before moving to Panionios.
Alongside Ibagaza Olympiacos acquired another highly talented player from Spain back in 2010, the defensive midfielder Pablo Orbaiz. Although his transfer was overshadowed by the acquisition of Jean Makoun (more on that later,) his hard work and dedication toward his new team really made Orbaiz stand out and slowly even the fans began to warm up to him. He was never the player that would make fans stand up and cheer with his actions inside the pitch, but he always gave 100 percent of what he had. Furthermore, he had a good eye for spotting the long runs of his teammates, such as Mirallas, starting off many counterattacks that would create dangerous situations on the opposing side of the field.
The transfer of the Belgian winger had gotten a bit drawn out as Saint Etienne are not a team that are willing to just let players go without making as much as they can from them — an issue that was seen once again during the previous transfer period with Yann M’Vila — but it’s a good thing that Olympiacos insisted in this case. Kevin Mirallas was truly gifted and he created a lot of trouble for opposing teams with his quick feet and dribbling skills. He was an excellent shooter in front of goal and not many defenders could deal with him on his day. As if that wasn’t enough, he knew how to play on the left wing, making ideal crosses into the box for his teammates to take advantage of. It wasn’t long until the Premier League came calling for his skills.
Not many Greeks can be added to this list, but when we’re talking about a player that had been to the Champions League quarter finals and a European Champion with Greece in 2004, then it’s safe to see that he’s definitely worth a mention. Antonis Nikopolidis came in 2004 from eternal rivals Panathinaikos to fill the gap left by Dimitris Eleftheropoulos who was transferred to AC Milan, in a move that pretty much shook the foundations of the entire Greek football industry. After all, Nikopolidis had been at the ‘greens’ for almost his entire career up until that point. It was like a betrayal. He stayed at the team for 7 seasons, helping them win 6 leagues and 4 cups. A member of the ‘golden generation’ of Greek football.
Roberto Jimenez Gago
And speaking of good goalkeepers, this Spaniard who was considered a substitute at both Atletico Madrid and Benfica came to Olympiacos in 2013 to almost singlehandedly help them reach the Champions League round of 16! Roberto Jimenez Gago, or simply Roberto, was a tower in front of goal with cat-like reflexes, making it extremely difficult for even players with the quality of Edinson Cavani to beat him. Olympiacos did have a solid backline during that period, with players such as Kostas Manolas and Dimitris Siovas running the show, but it was Roberto that truly put the fear in the heart of the opposition. It’s difficult to forget the games against Anderlecht (away) and Benfica (at home) during which he seemed practically unbeatable.
Alejandro ‘Chori’ Dominguez
Olympiacos have truly been blessed with some great Argentinians, haven’t they? One of the most beloved by the fans was undoubtedly Chori Dominguez, the play maker who’s passion was enough to fill ten stadiums. He was the team’s leader inside the pitch where he helped them make some important victories with his goals and assists, while at times he would also provide fans with some moments of magic. He became one with the ‘Gate 7’ fanatics and he truly enjoyed every single moment he wore the red-and-white jersey and on the other end fans loved watching him play. His crowning achievement was his opening goal in the team’s 2–0 triumph over Manchester United.
Speaking of Argentines this might be the best among them. Javier Saviola, the “rabbit”, as they playingly call him in his home country, joined the team in 2013 for a single season, with the news of his arrival sending fans into a frenzy. After all, this was a player that had scored many goals while wearing both the jerseys of Barcelona and their rivals Real Madrid, so he really wouldn’t have that much difficulty in Greece, right? Well, unfortunately for him, he bumped into the great Kostas Mitroglou who forced him onto the bench and eventually out of the team as it was way too expensive for the club to have a player with such a hefty contract not being utilized. So a few months later his contract was made null and he left for Hellas Verona. Still, he managed to score 12 goals in 26 appearances, with the highlight being the 2 goals against Anderlecht.
Another great Argentine and former European champion with Inter, Esteban Cambiasso was a defensive midfielder of rare quality. He possessed great insight and knew how to help and give advice to his teammates inside the pitch. He would rarely score goals, but when he did, they would be crucial, such as the 3–1 against Panathinaikos or in the 1–2 at Toumba against PAOK. Additionally he was a great professional outside the field and always spoke highly of his new club. Sadly even though he had renewed his contract with the club, he decided not to stay for the full season and retired in September of 2017. His highlight was the 2–3 win in the Emirates against Arsenal.
Even though he was a player that knew the defensive midfielder position like few others around Europe, Jean Makoun wasn’t able to provide his team with what they expected from him. The Cameroonian former Olympique Lyonnais player would very easily get injured and only played 23 games, most of those coming in as a substitute, for the red-and-whites, yet he still managed to score twice. In a team full of high quality players such as Ariel Ibagaza, Olof Mellberg, Ivan Marcano, Pablo Orbaiz and Kevin Mirallas, if Makoun had put in a bit more of an effort, there’s no telling how far they may have gotten.
The former AEK defender was so talented that he only stayed at the club for a season and a half. His showing in the Champions League, combined with his young age, were so impressive they had European clubs knocking on the Piraeus door by the dozen! Manolas proved himself to be quite prominent in his defensive abilities, even up against the highest level of opposition, yet he also showed he had a knack in front of goal, providing two crucial goals in Olympiacos’ venture to the round of 16. His very successful career makes little surprise to those who have seen him play and if it wasn’t for his ego getting in the way, he could soar even higher.
One of the very few Icelandic players to ever join the club, Finnbogason was never truly given the time to demonstrate his skills. Participating in just seven games with the team, he scored one of the most important goals in their history, coming on as a substitute and giving them the win at the ‘Emirates’ against Arsenal. No one can say why Finnbogason wasn’t given more game time at Piraeus, but the career he went on to do and the number of goals he scored are more than enough to secure him a place on this list.
A player who recently decided to hang up his boots, Ibrahim Afellay had a short but memorable run with Olympiacos. Joining from FC Barcelona, many fans were left questioning the quality of the Dutch player as he was mostly used as a substitute at the Camp Nou. However he was quick to silence those voices of concern in his opening act against Atletico Madrid when he scored the second goal for the team, helping them reach one of their greatest victories in recent history. He also scored in his opening game in the Greek Super League. But sadly, he was hit by injuries that forced him out for the majority of the season, with the club deciding not to extend his loan and to send him back to Barca who, in turn, terminated his contract.
This was meant to be the big transfer for the opening of the Marinakis era. A Spanish international from Liverpool who would take over the left wing from captain Predrag Djordjevic and lead the team to success in Europe, Albert Riera had all the credentials to become a hero, or even more than that in Piraeus. Many people showed up at the airport to welcome him to Greece. So many were there at his first friendly just to see him wear the red-and-white. Unfortunately, the Spaniard never reciprocated that love. He cracked under the pressure. With only 6 goals in 26 heart-wrenchingly disappointing appearances, Olympiacos were eager to get rid of his contract at the end of the season and Galatasaray were more than happy to acquire his services for almost half the price.
Yet another highly promising but much too disappointing transfer at the start of Evangelos Marinakis’ tenure as club owner, this former Ajax player and Denmark international joined the team at 32-years-old. Ernesto Valverde was betting on the experience of the right-winger in order to help the team progress in Europe, but he didn’t seem to get much of it as Rommedahl only played 22 games scoring 2 goals for the club before being released. Not many would still remember that he actually played for the team.
A real hero. This long-time Manchester United substitute who was forced to live in the shadow of Peter Schmeichel for many years found a place for himself at Piraeus in the early 00’s under Ernesto Valverde. Of course, even in Piraeus he was mainly used as a substitute due to his old age, but his quality allowed him to make some truly magnificent appoearances under the goal that are still remembered till this day. Who could forget his heroic efforts in the Europa League against Rubin Kazan in Russia for the Europa League when the team was down to ten men and he came in straight off the bench and saved a penalty? Or the return game in Piraeus during which he got injured yet continued to play on as the team’s main goalkeeper Balasz Megyeri was unavailable. For each one of his saves, the fans would cheer as if the team had scored a goal. What a guy…
And that’s it! I don’t know if there’s any player I forgot to mention or if you got tired of reading around about 10 players earlier, but these are the most important transfers that Olympiacos has made throughout the years. Some worked out, others proved to be a waste of money and others were so-and-so. Which is solid proof that no matter how much you invest within the transfer market, you don’t really know what you’re going to get in return. It’s all a matter of research and dumb luck. But hopefully the team gets what it paid for with the three most recent signings!