Olympiacos and Mendilibar: A fairy tale season for Greek football

  • The Greek giants now stand head-and-shoulders above their domestic rivals
Olympiacos needed a full century from its founding to secure its first European title, and it took 64 years from their debut in UEFA competitions to accomplish this. No other club has ever taken this long to reach such an achievement.
Olympiacos needed a full century from its founding to secure its first European title, and it took 64 years from their debut in UEFA competitions to accomplish this. No other club has ever taken this long to reach such an achievement. / Francois Nel/GettyImages

Last Wednesday, May 29, Olympiacos were crowned champions of the 2023-2024 UEFA Europa Conference League, earning the Greek club its first European title in history.

Despite its rich, 100-year history and 79 pieces of domestic hardware, Olympiacos had never managed to win a European title.

Olympiacos took 100 years from its creation to win its first European title, but it took 64 years from its first participation in UEFA competitions to achieve this title. No other club had ever taken so long to achieve such a feat.

Olympiacos' season has been absolutely extraordinary. They were already the top club in terms of local titles, but this first European title not only distances them from their closest domestic rivals but leaves no doubt that they are indeed The Greek Giants.

To put this remarkable season into perspective and assess the value of the achievement, let's set the stage.

First, let's imagine it from Olympiacos' perspective. Through the league, you qualify for the preliminary rounds of the Europa League, because being a somewhat weak league in terms of the UEFA coefficient, even if you finish high in the league table, you don't qualify directly for the group stages; you typically must qualify for the preliminary rounds.

Olympiacos qualified for the preliminary rounds of the Europa League. They managed to get into the Europa League group stage but were eliminated by finishing third in their group. By finishing third, Olympiacos dropped to the Round of 32 of the UEFA Europa Conference League.

The road to victory

They won the Round of 32 battle against Ferencváros solidly, winning each leg 1-0. The victory sent The Red-and-Whites on to the next round to face Maccabi Tel Aviv.

The Round of 16 series appeared to have gotten out of hand, but in the end, Olympiacos managed to secure the victory. Olympiacos lost the first leg 4-0 at home but manufactured a fantastic comeback to qualify for the quarterfinals, defeating Maccabi Tel Aviv on the road 6-1, advancing on a 7-5 aggregate scoreline.

Subsequently, Olympiacos faced Turkey's Fenerbahçe, which at first seemed the clear favorite to qualify for the Conference semifinals. Olympiacos made a statement in this tie by winning the first leg 3-2.

In the second leg, during regular time, Fenerbahçe won with a score of 1-0, which led to a penalty shootout in which Konstantinos Tzolakis shone like never before. The 21-year-old goalie rescued Olympiacos by making 3 saves, taking them to their first European semifinals in their history.

The final showdown

Olympiacos thus faced the monster of the competition, the Goliath of the 2023-2024 Conference League, the mighty Aston Villa under Unai Emery. Aston Villa was having, and indeed had, a magnificent season in the Premier League under the leadership of Spanish coach Unai Emery. They were the clear favorites to win this year's UEFA Europa Conference League.

Thus, Olympiacos had an almost impossible task to solve. They authoritatively defeated Aston Villa in both the first and second legs. The first leg was a 4-2 victory and the second leg was a 2-0 victory. The tie ended 6-2 for Olympiacos to qualify for the final.

In the final, they faced Fiorentina which, to make the story even more entertaining, had reached the final of the UEFA Europa Conference League last year and repeated that journey to reach the ECL final a second straight time where they hoped to avenge their loss to West Ham by defeating the Dark Horse of the competition, Olympiacos.

This match ended with a 1-0 victory for Olympiacos thanks to a goal by the tournament's top scorer, Ayoub El Kaabi. A magical night for Greece, a magical night for Olympiacos, a magical night for José Luis Mendilibar, and a magical night in Europe. Olympiacos lifted their first European title in history and thus directly qualified for the group stage of the 2024-2025 UEFA Europa League.

The Mendilibar effect

What lies ahead for this Olympiacos? We still don't know, but the story is exciting not only from the team's perspective but also from the coach's perspective.

José Luis Mendilibar was the champion of the 2022-2023 UEFA Europa League with Sevilla, continued in the position, and was later dismissed in October 2023 for perhaps not meeting expectations. He was subsequently hired by an extremely needy Olympiacos.

Olympiacos' coach José Luis Mendilibar.
Olympiacos' coach José Luis Mendilibar. / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

At the end of 2023 and the beginning of 2024, Olympiacos fans just wanted the season to end; they were doing poorly in the league and had been bounced from the Europa League. There was no cohesion in the team, individual performances were not satisfactory despite having very high-quality players, and the fans just wanted the season to end so as to start fresh.

But Mendilibar came to change that. Mendilibar picked up the team, made a statement in the league, and kept them competing until the end despite finishing in third place. But in Europe, well, the story is now well known.


A historic season for José Luis Mendilibar, and a historic season for Olympiacos. What a wonder to be alive to witness this story, to witness this fantasy, and to anticipate the excitement that lies ahead for the Greek club in the coming years.