Imports boost resurgent Olympiacos
The most successful club in the history of Greek football, Athenian giants Olympiacos are on course to recapture the Super League title this season, thanks in no small part to an foreign contingent who have flourished since arriving in the capital.
Located in the suburb of Piraeus, 12km southwest of the city centre, the 37-time league title winners are seven points ahead of reigning champions and city rivals Panathinaikos in the current standings, with 29 of their 40 goals coming courtesy of the side's overseas stars.
FIFA.com takes a closer look at the capital club's four most influential imports this campaign, as well as their Iberian coach Ernesto Valverde.
Spaniard in the hot seat
Although Valverde may only have taken the reigns at the Georgios Karaiskakis stadium at the beginning of the current campaign, the former Spanish international is no novice when it comes to Greek football, having previously masterminded the club's domestic double in 2008/09.
Following a brief and less fruitful spell at the helm of homeland club Villarreal, where Valverde was dismissed after just 20 matches, the 47-year-old tactician returned to the Greek powerhouse last August.
"I had the feeling I owed the club something after they treated me so well last time I was here, so I couldn't turn the offer down," said the former Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao defender. The decision to return would appear to have paid off, with Olympiacos racking up one victory after another in their quest for a 38th league title.
Belgian goal machine
One marksman Valverde has been able to rely on this season is Belgian striker Kevin Mirallas, who signed from French side St. Etienne over the summer.
Born in Liege, the versatile goalgetter burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old with current Ligue 1 leaders Lille in 2005, scoring the decisive goal within four minutes of his top-flight debut against Paris Saint-Germain.
The self-confessed Cristiano Ronaldo fan spent a total of four seasons with Les Dogues before moving on to St. Etienne, where his industrious work ethic soon secured him a regular first-team place. However, after managing just three goals in 53 appearances, Mirallas opted for pastures new in Athens.
The 23-year-old international soon found his feet in the Greek capital and has been a key protagonist in Olympiacos' title surge, netting nine times in 19 games and attracting lavish praise from Belgium national team boss Georges Leekens.
Partnering Mirallas in attack is Marko Pantelic, the Serbian striker who first appeared in Greece in 1996 with Iraklis, before embarking on a mammoth European adventure which saw him turn out for no fewer than ten clubs in the past 12 years.
The 32-year-old enjoyed spells in France, Switzerland, Spain, Austria, Serbia, Germany and most recently in the Netherlands before returning to the country where his professional career began by signing a two-and-a-half-year deal with Olympiacos last summer.
The experienced striker and 2010 FIFA World Cup™ participant has already contributed seven goals to his team's title bid this term, the same number as fellow new arrival David Fuster.
Old pals reunited
An old acquaintance of Valverde's from their time together at Villarreal in 2009/10, Fuster is a dead-ball specialist, with three of his Super League goals this season arriving from the penalty spot.
After making his breakthrough with Spanish second-tier outfit Elche in 2008, the diminutive schemer agreed to rejoin the Yellow Submarine having previously appeared for the club's youth and reserve sides during a four-year spell beginning in 2004.
Following Valverde's departure midway through last season, Fuster maintained contact with his former mentor and jumped at the chance to link up with him once again when Olympiacos came in for his services in the autumn.
Iberians enchant Piraeus
Valverde also managed to persuade another experienced Spaniard, Albert Riera, to accompany him on his second stint in the Greek capital. A member of La Roja's 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup squad, Riera was unfortunate to be left out the 23-man selection which famously went on to become world champions at South Africa 2010.
The left-sided midfielder, who began his career with Mallorca and most recently plied his trade in England with Liverpool, ranks among the most expensive imports in Greek football history, though his excellent performances thus far have made his transfer a sound investment.
Riera's impressive work rate immediately endeared him to the Olympiacos fans, while his six goals in 19 matches make this his most prolific season yet.
Strength in depth
Of course Valverde knows he will need more than just the above-mentioned newcomers to be at their best if he is to land the club's 38th domestic title. Competition for places is key, so the Spaniard moved to keep first-choice attacking duo Mirallas and Pantelic on their toes by bringing in powerful Algerian striker Rafik Djebbour from local rivals AEK Athens during the winter break.
Swedish international Olof Mellberg and goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis, who turns 40 this year, are the pillars of the Red and Whites' defence, maintaining order at the back along with Spanish left-back Raul Bravo. Meanwhile former Argentina international Ariel Ibagaza, another of Valverde's former charges at Villarreal, has become the heartbeat of the side's midfield.
Indeed, the current Olympiacos squad is arguably the most talented in the club's long and illustrious history. Following the disappointment of watching cross-town rivals Panathinaikos pip them to both league and cup last term, not to mention their failure to qualify for the UEFA Europa League proper, the signs that the Heroes of Piraeus can reclaim their crown as Greece's shining light this season are decidedly positive.