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_ The REAL Evangelos Marinakis: The explosive hire-and-fire merchant behind Forest's outrageous ref rant has another side - yachts, pop songs, big money... and even bigger tantrums

_ The REAL Evangelos Marinakis: The explosive hire-and-fire merchant behind Forest's outrageous ref rant has another side - yachts, pop songs, big money... and even bigger tantrums

The image is one of the most arresting of the season. The date is March 2 and Darwin Nunez has just scored for Liverpool in the ninth minute of stoppage time, to secure a controversial 1-0 victory over Nottingham Forest.

Yet again, Forest feel wronged by a crucial refereeing decision moments earlier and not long after the final whistle sounds, players and staff march towards the officials, boiling with rage.

Forest coach Steven Reid turns the air blue and is subsequently banned from the touchline for his tirade at referee Paul Tierney. There are boos and catcalls. Amid it all, owner Evangelos Marinakis stands alone on the touchline, a study in brooding anger.

The scene brought to mind the most common perception of Marinakis: the explosive hire-and-fire merchant who lives life on impulse and to hell with anyone who gets in the way.

Last weekend’s stunning post on the club’s X account, which appeared to question the integrity of VAR official Stuart Attwell, only strengthened those notions. But to underestimate Marinakis or claim to understand his character based on these brief snapshots would be unwise and inaccurate.

Yes, Marinakis, 56, can be a ferocious, unforgiving boss. If he does not like something, he will tell you straight and whoever you are — player, manager, director — you had better be ready to take it on the chin.

Yet you do not achieve the success he has had in business and sport through ruling by fear alone. Those who know him well say he is an excellent listener, able to assimilate information quickly and take shrewd, decisive action.

During the refugee crisis of 2016, Marinakis used the Olympiacos kitchens to feed some of the migrants who had crossed into Greece. He has transformed the port of Piraeus, south-west of Athens, since the Greek economic crisis, put himself at the heart of the fight against racism and discrimination in football and is behind a project to encourage greater participation in sport across Nottinghamshire — an initiative backed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Marinakis’s main source of income is not football, but tanker shipping, and his company is at the forefront of the green fuel revolution in that industry. He has even — believe it or not — turned his hand to song-writing, composing lyrics for Greek singer Natasa Theodoridou.

So who is the real Marinakis? And why does he seem to think the world — or specifically, Premier League officialdom — is against him?

‘Three extremely poor decisions — three penalties not given — which we simply cannot accept. We warned the PGMOL that the VAR is a Luton fan before the game but they didn’t change him. Our patience has been tested multiple times. NFFC will now consider its options.’

By Wednesday, Forest’s post on X after their 2-0 defeat at Everton last Sunday had been viewed 44 million times. It shook English football to its core but those who understand the game in Greece were not quite so surprised. Marinakis has owned Olympiacos, the country’s most prestigious club, since 2010 so this was nothing new.

Gate 7 International, an English-language hub for Olympiacos fans worldwide, posted a wry reaction on their X account. ‘English football fans have probably never read an #OlympiacosFC 500 word press release after a poor reffing performance,’ it read. ‘This right here is light work. Welcome to show time! #NFFC.’

‘There is a culture around Greek football entirely distrustful of the FA and officiating,’ explains Ari Bouloubassis, one of the founders of Gate 7 International. ‘It’s not a Marinakis thing. It’s a Greek thing. The culture around Greek football is much more toxic than in the UK. There is a history of accusations of corruption everywhere.

‘Forget Marinakis. It sometimes feels as though a different owner will make a different statement every week. This toxicity is all derived from mistrust.’

As one veteran of European football boardrooms added: ‘Many owners will have similar thoughts when their clubs lose games in strange circumstances. The difference with Marinakis is that he will say them out loud.’

Small wonder referees in Greece threatened to strike last December if not given better protection. Some have had their homes and vehicles torched and last November, Athens official Andreas Gamaris’s shop was firebombed. There were allegations of death threats against another referee, Tasa Papapetrou.

Marinakis’s father, Miltiadis, was an investor in Olympiacos, so Evangelos grew up in this environment and has surely been conditioned by it. Within Greek sport, suspicion is usually high, towards opponents, ruling bodies and even the Government. That means something as simple as a penalty decision can become a matter of national dispute.

When Panathinaikos claimed a point from a late spot-kick against their great rivals Olympiacos in November 2022, Marinakis’s remarks make the Forest post seem tame by comparison.

‘It is one of the biggest massacres,’ he said. ‘From the first minute, with a rigged referee, a rigged federation, Greek football is going from bad to worse.

‘I’m happy because all these great players proved they can play very nice football and win, we even beat the referee who from the first minute was rigged. That’s what I have to say, we’re winners in the end.’ No evidence has emerged to suggest this was the case.

For good measure, director Ioannis Vrentzos — one-time chief executive at Forest — claimed the penalty decision was plotted ‘by a fascist para-state that runs Greek football and is ruled by organised crime.’ 

The size and scale of Olympiacos mean this is like Sir Jim Ratcliffe losing his rag in public because of a dodgy call against Manchester United, and in certain football cultures, like England’s, such comments would change the sport forever. In Greece, however, they are frequent enough to raise barely a second glance.

‘With voices, with shadows/With passion and love/With the best moments/My life, your life/And this love of ours.’ The lyrics are from the 2021 track Exapsi, by Natasa Theodoridou, though she did not write them. That role was performed by ‘Vangelis’ Marinakis — Evangelos Marinakis to you and me. 

One reviewer explained that the song ‘explores the intense and passionate nature of love. The lyrics suggest that when the singer sees their beloved, they experience a state of ecstasy’.

Topics that would certainly break the ice if Marinakis were ever to raise them during coffee break at a Premier League shareholders’ meeting.

Marinakis is undoubtedly interesting company. During the winter break for the 2022 World Cup, Forest travelled to Athens for warm-weather training, using Olympiacos’ base. At one of the country’s best restaurants on the Piraeus coastline, Marinakis put on a sumptuous seafood dinner for the travelling party and, as the ship lights twinkled in the bay, the owner made sure he spent time at every table.

The son of a shipowner and politician, Marinakis took control of the family business in the 1990s. Now he is chairman and founder of Capital Maritime and Trading Corps, a major player in the industry which controls about 120 vessels.

In a profile of Marinakis, Lloyd’s List, the bible of the shipping industry, wrote that ‘the breadth of his interests and activities has not caused him to take his eye off the ball when it comes to his core shipping business’.

To emphasise the point, at the start of the decade the company invested about £4billion in newer, greener vessels. According to shipping publisher Riviera Maritime Media, this was ‘one of the largest and most advanced shipbuilding programmes internationally.’ Success in the maritime world allows certain luxuries, such as the 148-foot super yacht, ‘Amore Mio’, said to be worth about £16m.

Yet business is far from Marinakis’s sole focus. At the height of the 2016 refugee crisis, Marinakis threw open Olympiacos’ kitchens to provide meals for migrants. When staff wondered how long they would continue doing so, the reply was: ‘For as long as it takes.’

His funds have transformed Piraeus, with public spaces and play areas enhanced considerably. He is motivated by more than just the numbers on the bottom line — and that is where his football involvement becomes so fascinating.

Five minutes before kick-off at the City Ground, the eye is always drawn to a certain spot in the Peter Taylor Stand.

In prime position above the halfway line, in front of a giant television screen, there is a throne-like seat that would not look unusual at Buckingham Palace. This is the place reserved for Marinakis — or ‘Mr Marinakis’ as he is referred to by Forest employees. If he is in town, everybody knows about it. No pressure on the manager, then.

‘Marinakis isn’t just an owner,’ says Bouloubassis. ‘He is a super fan. At Olympiacos he lives and breathes the club and he has carried that passion over to Forest.

‘We knew he’d throw everything at it to stay up last season. He is not like most owners in the Premier League appear to be. He is extremely competitive and wants to win.’

Whether Marinakis is in Nottingham or not, he barely misses a game. If he cannot be at the City Ground, he will watch from his base in Athens and maintain constant contact with his lieutenants on the ground. When at home games, Marinakis will often be in the tunnel at full-time though it is relatively rare for him to venture into the home dressing room.

Marinakis likes a manager he can speak to frequently to discuss progress. As the man signing the cheques, he will challenge his manager often, sometimes in very blunt terms. If the manager fires back in similar fashion, all well and good. But he has to be comfortable with regular engagement with Marinakis.

Sometimes those conversations will take place in the club’s boardroom after a game, perhaps over a glass of red wine. There will be phone calls and messages, too. Like any owner, Marinakis dislikes poor stuff on the pitch but he dislikes what he perceives to be excuses even more.

Though Marinakis is rarely at Forest’s training ground on the outskirts of the city, he is across everything that happens there. His son, Miltiadis, is hugely influential at Forest, while director of football Kyriakos Dourekas has been at Marinakis’s side for three decades. They are joined in his inner circle by co-owner Sokratis Kominakis and Christian Karembeu, a World Cup winner with France in 1998 and an Olympiacos great.

Do not fall for the idea that Marinakis disregards his coaching teams, either. Last summer he bankrolled improvements to the training ground running to nearly £10m, including two new pitches, upgraded dressing rooms, a more spacious analysis suite and a better canteen.

The changing rooms at the City Ground have been improved, too, along with the media suite, the boardroom and the tunnel area. The pitch was finally replaced at the cost of about £2m and Marinakis is frustrated that his ambitions to increase the size of the stadium are threatened by council red tape. This is not the only aspect of owning an English club that Marinakis believes to be unnecessarily complicated.

As Forest set the summer 2023 transfer market alight by signing five players on deadline day, the man who would have to coach them was on the periphery.

One by one they arrived, from Nuno Tavares to Nicolas Dominguez and Ibrahim Sangare, not forgetting Divock Origi or Andrew Omobamidele.

Yet as Forest made their moves on September 1, Steve Cooper was a long way from the action. He had taken charge of Forest when they were bottom of the Championship and led them to instant promotion, before keeping them in the top flight in his first full season — one of the finest managerial achievements of recent times. It is not common, however, for Forest to sign a player requested explicitly by their manager.

Though data and traditional scouting has its role at the club, Forest’s transfer policy is also dictated by recommendations and relationships: the ownership group have strong connections to top agents, meaning the head coach is not always brought into that process.

Forest are not the only club to operate in this way, and some of the owner-driven signings of the last two seasons have been excellent, notably Brazilian centre-back Murillo, who will probably be sold this summer for several times the £10m Forest paid Corinthians for him. It has its drawbacks, though.

Marinakis’s view of these deals can be summarised like this: I have provided the resources, now it is up to the coach to make it work. If only football were so easy. A squad of nearly 30 players, many of whom are adapting to a new league, country and language, cannot be expected to perform like robots. Just look at Chelsea.

Marinakis has spent more than £300m across four transfer windows and demands a return on his investment. 

This season, he expected Forest to be pushing towards the top half but once more — thanks to poor form and a four-point deduction for breaking spending rules — they are in a fight for survival.

It is hard to see anything different next season if Forest remain in the Premier League. Players will be sold to meet those spending rules and there will be limited scope for signing replacements. All of which begs the nagging question: if Marinakis decides he cannot fulfil his ambitions with Forest as quickly as he would like, what next?

‘Embarrassing nonsense. Like a fan in a pub,’ said Jamie Carragher. ‘I don’t like what I see with their behaviour at an ownership level,’ remarked Roy Keane. ‘Like a petulant child and they will pay for that,’ added Gary Neville, who also urged Mark Clattenburg to resign as the club’s refereeing analyst.

Even for shoulders as broad as Marinakis’s, it has been a bruising week. All the same, it is worth looking at it from his point of view.

Marinakis has invested a significant chunk of his personal fortune in Forest and believes his club is being undermined by poor decisions from officials.

Bad refereeing calls, spending rules that impede progress and a sense that outspoken, colourful owners like him are not welcome in English football. Given the events of recent weeks, it would be no surprise if Marinakis sees the picture this way.

Nor would it be a shock if, in the medium-term, he decided to invest his wealth — Marinakis is said to be worth about £2.5bn — in matters elsewhere. 

Rich individuals like to have as much influence as they can, and along with his shipping and football interests, Marinakis has added TV channels, newspapers and a radio station to his portfolio. He is also heavily involved in local politics in Piraeus.

Despite these assets, there is so much about English football beyond Marinakis’s control, regardless of his personal means. Olympiacos have won 14 domestic trophies in the Marinakis era yet given the landscape of the game in England, Forest will do well to win one.

So while Forest’s decision to mention Attwell in the statement was crass, irresponsible and self-defeating, it did not come from a clear blue sky. 

It was the result of frustration accumulated across nearly two seasons and when those three penalty claims were turned down, it could be contained no longer. The aftershocks will be felt for a long time to come.

There are no firm suggestions yet that Marinakis is looking to sell Forest but like all owners, one day he will be gone. Thanks to the events of the last seven days, he will never, ever be forgotten.


(Fluierul)


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