A.E.K. fans in large numbers it seems are breathing a sigh of relief. Marko Livaja’s time at the club has come to an end. Long gone are the memories of spectacular goals, technical skills on display and the potent offensive trio that he along with Araujo and Christodoulopoulos formed together in A.E.K.’s championship season of 2018.
What changed? Why the relief now? Besides being a gifted player, Livaja has a temper. An emotionally driven player is a deadly cocktail when mixed with what seemed lately to be a less than enthusiastic drive to winning at any cost. His hotheadedness cost his team dearly. Nothing more evident that the four game suspension he was given in the 2018 Champions League for kicking an opponent out of frustration after the final whistle! That triggered a dose of skepticism that shadowed Livaja throughout his remaining time at the club even though he was awarded the league’s Player of the Year honors the following season. Vranješ was an even more ‘hot-headed’ player on the pitch and there is hardly a fan who wouldn’t want him back in a heartbeat and therein lies the problem.
A.E.K. dismantled the championship team of 2018. From the coaching staff to the starting lineup, new faces came in as old ones departed. Marko stayed and on his shoulders rested a disproportionate amount of repeat-championship pressure. Being the top player in the league was not good enough to carry the team. New additions with Ezequiel Ponce who led the league in goals and Lucas Boyé where both players on loan with one foot out the door. Victor Klonaridis was a promising striker but inexperienced and by no means a finisher like Araujo. Livaja had to jell the team’s offensive wave but from altering positions.
Marko is also a victim of a mindset prevalent in Greek sports. A great player having great moments will be for the most part deemed an “untouchable”. Even though performances may slip, no one kicks up much dust for fear of showing disrespect. That might seem beneficial to the players themselves, but how about the team? Isn’t the quest to be better and the reward of winning both tenants of competition? If teams ‘internalize’ distress about a player’s current level, pressure is certain to mount on that player. All great players and Marko is no different, go into slumps. Last year’s playoff games and the early part of the this season is full of missed chances and haphazard performances. And aside from the impact of the pandemic, the constant altering of Livaja’s game as often as A.E.K.’s different coaches have asked him to do, with a changing supporting cast, makes it nearly impossible to play up to past standards and glory.
I am willing to bet that Marko will genuinely miss playing for A.E.K. but probably feels relieved himself from the pressures he had to endure. Yet again, I could be wrong.
The missed opportunity is not so much Marko’s but A.E.K.’s. Winning teams that stay together tend to keep winning.