Mimis Papaioannou breathed his last today at the age of 80. He had been suffering from serious health problems for years - the legend of AEK and Greek football was battling Alzheimer's disease.
He had a huge career in and out of football. He could have played for Real Madrid, which he wanted, but he wanted to make a career alongside Stelios Kazantzidis.
Papaioannou sang the anthem of AEK, logged many kilometres on the pitches and will be remembered as one of the top Greek football players in history.
Hailing from Nea Nikomedia, Imathia, born on August 23, 1942, he is one of the greatest footballers who highlighted Greek football, and in fact is recognised him as the best Greek footballer of the 20th century.
In 2003 he was voted as the third best Greek footballer by EPO, while IFFHS selected him in the best 11 of all time of Greek football in 2021.
Mimis Papaioannou started his career in the team of his hometown, Nea Genea Nikomedia. In 1962 he transferred to AEK for 140,000 drachmas.
He competed with AEK for 17 consecutive seasons and with them he received great distinctions.
The footballer won five first national championships (1963, 1968, 1971, 1978, 1979) and three Greek cups (1964, 1966, 1978). He was also twice top scorer (1964, 1966) and was a key contributor to the team's two impressive European cup runs, the 1968-69 European Cup and the 1976-77 UEFA Cup.
In 1979 Papaioannou stopped playing in Greece after 480 league matches. He scored 234 goals, a record for the era broken by his teammate Thomas Mavros 11 years later.
To date, he ranks sixth in appearances and third in goal in the 1st National League. Papaioannou is in the first place among the scorers with the same team.
That year he moved to the USA, where he played for a period in New York as a player-coach and managed to win the double in the local championship and cup. Although he was approaching 40 he attracted the interest of the top US professional league, the NASL, but had now decided to call it quits.
He played in the Greek national team from 1963 to 1978, setting records for appearances (61) and goals (21) for that time. Today, he ranks 5th in the all-time scorers list with the national team.
After the end of his playing career he sought to work as a coach in some teams, such as in Corfu, without much success. Papaioannou was a partner of Alketa Panagoulias on the bench of the Greek National Team in the 1994 World Cup in the USA.
Football was not his only career, however, as he worked for a few years as a professional folk singer, experiencing great moments on the Athens music scene, while he also sang the AEK anthem that exists to this day.
AEK, preserving his heritage, covered one of the pillars of its new stadium with the shape and name of Mimi Papaioannou. His absence from the opening of the 'OPAP Arena' raised questions, however his health had deteriorated enough that he could not attend.