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The botched championship of 2008 definitively changed the course of AEK’s history. Rivaldo left the club and so did 28 others, including star center-back Sokratis (yes, the one who plays for Dortmund).
Season upon season AEK would lose their best players and practically build a new squad. Sotiris Kyrgiakos, Ignacio Scocco, Papa Bouba Diop, Sebastian Saja and Ismael Blanco all left the club and even winning the Greek Cup in 2011 did little to hide the “poor” performances of the team.
Even though the team came fourth in 2008/09 and 2009/10, and third in 2010/11, they were a class apart from Olympiakos who went from strength to strength. In fairness, AEK were overachieving given the squad they had.
But it wasn’t sustainable – not enough quality players were coming in and the red flags started to show when in 2011-12 they came fifth and qualified for the Europa League but were denied a licence to play.
The next season saw a baffling 30 players leave the club and AEK scrambled for players, but they weren’t first team material. Inevitably, AEK were very poor and ended up fifty points behind champions Olympiakos.
The club was relegated to the second division for the first time in their history, and would start the season at -2 points the following season.
However, AEK still had a large amount of debt sagging on their shoulders. Therefore, the club decided to go through a voluntary “self-relegation” to the third division – the Football League 2 – in order to start the liquidation process as an amateur club.
AEK were dead. Thirty-six players left the club and AEK were forced to promote 16 and 17- year-olds just to make up the numbers of the squad. Not a cent was spent on new recruits.
Alive from the dead
The club was now owned by the fans – gone were presidents who would mismanage the club. The fan group Enosi Filon AEK (United Friends of AEK) owned a majority stake in the club and ensured a sustainable financial and sporting model for the club.
But even they wouldn’t have expected what was to come.
The Football League 2 is strange – six groups of 15 teams compete and from each group seven teams are relegated and one promoted. And yet AEK cruised comfortably, winning the group with 72 points – 18 points off second place.
With the financial burden off their shoulders AEK could spend again, and for the first time in six years they were able to spend on top quality players, such as Hélder Barbosa from SC Braga.
AEK again sailed through, winning their group undefeated and cruising through the promotion playoffs.
And they were back to where they started.
If anything, they are better off – they aren’t challenging for the title but they aren’t flirting with relegation either, as they sit comfortably in fourth place.
Besides a 4-0 loss to Olympiakos the results have been impressive, and manager Gus Poyet (yes, the former Sunderland boss) has done well to churn out a consistent side that can deliver.
Moreover, Diego Buonanotte and new signing Ronald Vargas have been revelations, registering five and four goals respectively so far.
This is a club that made Real Madrid sweat for points – not once but twice. A club that has won eleven national titles and lost another in a courtroom. A club that lost its balance and lost its professional status.
And then came back again.