Wayne Rooney arrived in Athens on Monday night with Olympiakos coach Michel claiming the Manchester United forward should be “congratulated” for securing the biggest salary in English football.
With Greece still suffering biting austerity measures due to the prolonged financial crisis engulfing the country, news of Rooney’s recently-signed 5½-year contract – which will earn him more than £300,000 a week because of the unique commercial aspects of the deal – has been greeted with astonishment in Athens.
But when asked whether the England forward was worthy of such a lucrative pay deal, former Real Madrid and Spain midfielder Michel insisted the 28-year-old deserved everything he can get from United.
“Congratulations to Wayne Rooney for the salary,” Michel said. “Despite the salary itself, what it proves is Wayne Rooney is a very important player and a very important figure for his club.
“All major clubs have certain players, certain figures, who they try to keep with them, even after retirement. Wayne Rooney will probably be one of them, staying with Manchester United for many years more.
“People are worried about the figures, but the most important thing is that Wayne Rooney will stay with Manchester United for a long time.”
While stopping Rooney will be key for Michel and Olympiakos, the Greek champions go into the Champions League last-16 first leg in Piraeus in dominant form domestically.
Unbeaten in Greece all season and having only suffered defeat against Paris St-Germain (twice) this campaign, Michel insists that his team can take advantage of the inconsistency that has haunted United under David Moyes.
“We have great expectations for this match and see it as a major prize for us,” Michel said. “We’re not going to give anything away and we’ll fight really hard for the win.
“We are inexperienced at this stage, but for us it’s an advantage, not a disadvantage. We will be able to cause problems for Manchester United.
“People say it’ll be a very demanding tie – that’s true, but nothing says we cannot beat them. We know the state of Manchester United and we know the type of team we’re facing.
“We know there is lots at stake for United in this match. We know they are not allowed to make any mistakes due to their position in the Premier League and this kind of situation may weigh too much on their players’ shoulders. But we do not know if this position in the table will be an incentive to them or a burden on their shoulders.”
Olympiakos face attacking problems with Javier Saviola ruled out due to injury and Marko Scepovic ineligible.