Greek-American Michael Bousis is the owner and president of the soccer team of Iraklio, Crete – ΟΦΗ/OFI – and he spoke to The National Herald about its present and future.
He is determined to elevate the team through a new modern stadium and a stronger squad, as he said in the interview. Bousis born in 1974 in Chicago, Illinois, and he revealed that he wants OFI’s new ‘house’ to be a multi-purpose facility that will operate every day of the week. And he seemed optimistic that the Cretan team will recover in the second half of the season after a challenging first part, expressing his confidence in coach Valdas Dambrauskas. He stressed that he would encourage other businessmen in the Hellenic Diaspora to invest in Greek soccer – known in Europe as ‘football’ – and offered some proposals for improving the sport and its image in Greece, including well as ideas for the development and promotion of more native players.
The National Herald: Tell us about your plans regarding the new stadium.
Michael Bousis: We are going to build a stadium of about twelve thousand seats that will be a four-star stadium where we can also host European matches. We don’t want it to be just a stadium, we want it to be a facility like the kind you see in America, where people can go before and stay after games. And it will operate and host events and different kinds of activities throughout week. We want the stadium to be in Iraklio, but we have not found the place where it will be built – we are still looking. The stadium that the team is playing in now should be given to us – it is 70 years old and its expiration date has passed. Initially, we want the stadium to hold twelve thousand spectators, but in the future in five or ten years, the capacity should be increased to 15- 20 thousand. The structure should be able to have its capacity increased.
TNH: Would you encourage other Diaspora businessmen to get involved in Greek soccer?
MB: It’s difficult to go to a new country where you haven’t done business before. Things are different than in America. But I could help them to push things a little faster and move forward with the investments that need to be made to improve Greek soccer for all teams, not just OFI. It’s good for all teams to be healthy and in good hands. Fair play should reign in the league – there should be a level playing field with a good championship system. And, yes, I would encourage them to come to Greece and invest in Greek soccer. One hundred percent.
TNH: What went wrong in the planning last summer, given that OFI has performed well in the first half of the regular season?
MB: I do not think that he team is not good. They were just unlucky – they had injuries, and they had the misfortune that some players who were supposed to come, didn’t. And it’s like a lot of jobs, if you get knocked down a little bit it’s hard to recover. That is especially the case for soccer players. Psychologically, if they’re not doing well, they take it a little bit harder than the rest of us. It’s not like America where in the MLS, even if you lose all the games you are not sent to a lower level. In Greece there is pressure. And the other thing that’s not right, you can’t have fans who when the team isn’t doing well, they bash the players and the team. It’s not just OFI – it’s that way with all teams.
TNH: Do you intend to invest more in young players for OFI?
MM: There are Greek players who are good and should get their chances, but unfortunately, no one has the patience to do that. In Greece, results count. When we put youngsters into the playoffs because we had nothing to lose – we were among the top six teams because of Panathinaikos’ punishment – people were screaming and they were resentful. But in order to change Greek football, Super League 2 – needs to be built up first. What is happening now in Super League 2 is disastrous – it cannot be that we have 32 teams that cannot afford to pay for their licenses. All kinds of things are happening. What is needed is to have to have a Super League 1 with 14 teams, and a Super League 2 with 14 teams – and if they want, a Super League 3 with 14 teams. And Super League 2 should only have three or four foreigners and everyone else should be Greek – the players should be no more than 23 years old.
TNH: Would you like to send a message to the fans of OFI through The National Herald?
MB: I am proud of the fans of OFI and all those who come to the stadium and support the team. I’m proud and I was happy when I saw the last game and everyone applauded the players. I want to see everyone at our stadium together, to fill it, so we can play hard and do the best we can this season and maybe we can make it to the top six. We don’t know how the players and teams will come out in the second half of the season after the break due to the World Cup. Let’s all give them a push for them to move forward. The whole of Crete should be proud to have a team in the Super League, a healthy, clean team that does it right and shows good character to everyone.
Bousis Family Background
The Bousis family is very active and influential in the Greek-American community. It undertakes a very generous program of charitable work in Chicago and beyond. Eleni Bousis, mother of the president of OFI, is the founder of the Hippocratic Cancer Foundation, which for years has raised millions of dollars to fund research projects aimed at fighting cancer, in collaboration with the renowned Northwestern University. She is also a board member of Leadership 100.
Michael Bousis is active in the food industry, with the Cermak Fresh Market chain, and in real estate. Cermak Fresh Market was started in Chicago in 1986 by Michael’s father Dimitris Bousis, and has now expanded to Milwaukee, listing a total of 16 stores. It is one of Chicago’s leading supermarket chains. The company specializes in a variety of ethnic foods imported from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Greece, Italy, Italy, Poland, Russia and other countries in Europe and Latin America.