Mimis Papaioannou, one of the best Greek footballers of all time, has died in Athens. He was 81.
Papaioannou was considered to be the best Greek footballer of his generation and was awarded the best Greek footballer of the 20th Century by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS). In 2021, the IFFHS also chose him in Greece’s best XI of all time.
His name is associated with the glory days of AEK Athens football club, which he joined as a 20-year-old in the summer of 1962. Papaioannou and Greek football legend Kostas Nestoridis together formed an incredible attacking duo that proved deadly for the opposing defenses.
Born on 23 August 1942 in Nea Nikomedeia near the city of Veria in northern Greece, he came to football at an early age. His football talent soon began to shine, while his love for football was unquestionable.
Throughout his entire career, Papaioannou was never shown a single red card, showing the prudence and integrity of his character.
Real Madrid wanted to sign Mimis Papaioannou
Οn 12 May 1965, the legendary Real Madrid player, Ferenc Puskás, who saw Papaioannou scoring a brace against the Spanish “Queen” in the friendly 3–3 in Athens, suggested to the management of Real the acquisition of the Greek forward.
The proposal of Real Madrid to AEK was unrealistic by Greek standards. The huge salary and the prospect of a football career in Spain, far from Greece’s standards, ignited Papaioannou’s desire for the transfer, but that desire was never fulfilled, due to management fears of what fans’ reaction to his departure would be.
AEK banned Papaioannou for one year as punishment for his disloyalty. He offered to play for Real as a free agent during this time, but the Spaniards refused, as they didn’t want to disrupt their relations with the Greek club.
After that episode, Papaioannou returned to his two great loves, AEK and football, and became the undisputed leader of the team.
After leaving AEK in the summer of 1979, the 37-year-old Papaioannou went to the United States to play for the New York Pancyprian-Freedoms. After a successful 3-year spell, Papaioannou ended his great career as a football player, at the age of 40.
His wax figure is in the new AEK Stadium museum with other wax effigies of people who have connected their names with AEK in various capacities.
His name is also honored on one of the four pillars of the Stadium, alongside other important figures of the club’s history such as Kostas Nestoridis, Stelios Serafidis and Thomas Mavros.