Without Mitroglou and Saviola, Dominguez can step up for Olympiakos
Manchester United can be forgiven for thinking that luck has been smiling on them ahead of the Champions League second-round clashes with Olympiakos.
For starters, Kostas Mitroglou -- top scorer for the Greek champions, who had been in sensational form in the autumn -- was sold to Fulham. Rio Ferdinand was so delighted to hear the news that he personally thanked his former coach Rene Meulensteen on Twitter. That turned out to be the Dutchman's last contribution to the Cottagers, though, as he was relieved of his duties shortly after signing the new star.
You might expect Olympiakos fans to be outraged with the timing of the deal, but that is hardly the case. Most of them are delighted for their former star, who deserves his chance to shine in a bigger league. The club also might have made a shrewd move. The 12 million pounds received for Mitroglou has helped toward financial stability and also was partly used to permanently sign goalkeeper Roberto, who is considered extremely important to the team, on a four-year contract from Atletico Madrid.
However, the good news for Manchester United continued when it emerged that injury-prone Nelson Valdez -- the Paraguayan striker of Werder Bremen and Borussia Dortmund fame, who was signed to bolster coach Michel's options up front -- had suffered two knocks during the last month to keep him out. As if that wasn't enough, former Barcelona striker Javier Saviola also went down with injury against OFI Crete on Sunday, so the veteran Argentine will miss the first leg.
Mitroglou and Saviola are currently leading the Greek Super League scoring charts, sharing 25 goals between them. It would seem that their absence is a huge blow to Olympiakos' chances of upsetting the Red Devils, but in reality the situation is much more complicated. It must be noted that Olympiakos have netted no less than 78 times in 26 league games. Add 16 in the Greek Cup and another 10 in Europe, and you get a stunning 104 goals scored already this season -- more than in any full campaign in recent memory.
While the two major stars were massively important, very significant contributions were made by their teammates, the most impressive of them being Alejandro "Chori" Dominguez. The 32-year-old Argentine schemer will be the key to Olympiakos' plans on Tuesday night, and he stepped up to the plate when Mitroglou was injured and then sold.
Chori who? You might well ask. He might be unknown to the majority of football lovers around the globe -- Dominguez doesn't even have a single cap to his name -- but that is a huge pity and a great injustice to a very talented footballer, who actually possesses the much-valued ability to deliver on the big stage.
Ask Zenit fans, for example: They will never forget how Dominguez won them their first championship title in 2007. The Gazprom-sponsored side needed a win at now-defunct Saturn in order to finish top and had to defend a last-minute corner when leading 1-0. As the Zenit defence froze, Baffour Gyan's header seemed to be making its way into the net, only for Chori -- one of the shortest players on the pitch at 5-foot-7 -- to miraculously jump on the line and head it onto the crossbar.
Dominguez contributed immensely to Zenit's biggest European success to date as well, making two brilliant assists in the stunning 4-0 win over Bayern Munich in the UEFA Cup semifinals in 2008. Nevertheless, he was left on the bench in the final against Rangers as Dick Advocaat's team lifted the trophy, and that summed up his spell in St. Petersburg perfectly.
Overall, the Argentine didn't feel comfortable at Zenit; he didn't fulfill his potential following the big money transfer from Rubin Kazan and had significant problems off the field. The player himself admitted that he was suffering from depression, had a temporary bout of fear of flying, and even considered quitting football for good. Advocaat never seemed to fully trust him, but Dominguez eventually overcame his dark period when Rubin re-signed him in 2009.
That was undoubtedly the best year in Chori's career, as he again became integral to coach Kurban Berdyev's tactics, helped Kazan to win their second league title in row, and was voted player of the season in all the polls. The highlight of that magical season came when Rubin famously defeated Barcelona at Camp Nou in the Champions League. Dominguez, true to his habit of coming good when it matters most, played a sublime through-ball for Gokdeniz Karadeniz to score the winner.
Had he decided to stay at Rubin, he might have achieved continued success, but Dominguez rightfully dreamed of a bigger club. Sadly for him, the destination was wrong once again. Chori chose Valencia over Lazio, never saw eye to eye with coach Unai Emery, was harshly criticized for disciplinary problems and failed to get sufficient playing time. Laughing on the bench when Portuguese teammate Miguel was mocking Emery didn't help his cause at all.
"I was always honest with Emery, but that wasn't mutual," Chori said after he was loaned to River Plate in 2011. The Buenos Aires giants, where Dominguez played for three seasons at the beginning of his career and whom he always dearly loved, suffered a sensational relegation and needed quality recruits to help them get an immediate promotion. That is what Dominguez achieved, starring alongside David Trezeguet and Fernando Cavenaghi in a fearsome attacking line, but then he was informed that his services were no longer needed. "Daniel Passarella betrayed me," Dominguez said of the River president, but his affection for the club never ceased. In fact, he chose to continue his career at Rayo Vallecano last season partly because their shirts are quite similar to those of River Plate. That, for a change, turned out to be a wise step. Chori had a decent season helping the tiny Madrid side to avoid relegation and getting a very sweet personal revenge when scoring a winner at Valencia. His form didn't go unnoticed by Michel, who is always keen to bring La Liga stars to Olympiakos, and the negotiations were completed very quickly.
Upon arriving in Greece, Dominguez promised to give his utmost for the team's success, and he has been true to his word. Not only did he score five league goals, but he also leads the competition with 10 assists, as well as netting a hugely important goal to earn a vital 1-1 draw at Benfica. His partnership with young Nigerian sensation Michael Olaitan is flourishing, and might pose the Manchester United defence quite a few problems.He certainly knows the opponents pretty well. Chori took part in the European Super Cup in 2008 when Zenit defeated the Red Devils 2-1. United fans can also recall witnessing his skills against them in the Champions League in 2010, when Dominguez had one of his best games for Valencia at Old Trafford, before coming off injured. He has some good memories from those games, and is eager to add some new ones.
Missing out on the national team remains a big regret though, especially as he was -- alongside Saviola -- part of the squad that won the under-20 World Cup in 2001. "I've always dreamt of representing my country and I will never give up. There were many disappointments, and at one stage there seemed to be a good chance for me. All I can do is work hard and do my part. I am realistic now, and it will be hard, but hope will remain forever," Chori said in an interview with Marca in the summer.
His chances do indeed look extremely slim, but a great performance in the Champions League won't do them any harm. Dominguez is capable of delivering it on Tuesday night.