Thursday evening and Karaiskakis is virtually empty. It's quiet here now and it will be quiet too after Olympiakos's Champions League opponents Manchester United took the decision not to hold their pre-match training session in the stadium. "But on Tuesday," Míchel González says from high in the main stand, gesturing towards the arena and picturing the scene, "it will be unbelievable".
"We had 34,000 here in the cup the other night and they're so noisy and this place acts as such a soundboard that it feels like 90,000. When you're down there, it really moves you," Olympiakos's Spanish coach continues, pointing at the bench. "You don't know what this city is like waiting for United. It was even a disappointment for them that United won't train here the day before.
Since 1997 Olympiakos have failed to win the league only twice, in 2004 and 2010. There have been seven doubles too. In the Champions League era, they have reached the knockout phase three times, facing Juventus, Bordeaux and Chelsea, but have never gone through. That's where the challenge lies. Routine and cost saw domestic attendances drop but Europe is different and if supporters are excited, so is he: Míchel played for Real Madrid for 14 years and was fourth in the 1987 Ballon d'Or but has never faced United. English football's European ban hurt him too.
"At the start of the season I said that winning the league and the cup was a challenge, competing in Europe was an ilusión, a hope, something to be enthused by. Benfica, Anderlecht, PSG, now United, here and at Old Trafford. I've never been. I told the players: 'This is special'. This isn't a profession, it's a vocation. Think back to your neighbourhood: how many kids grow up playing at being lawyers? None. Who plays at being a footballer? Almost everyone."
This is a message that runs through his coaching. Vocation, vocation, vocation. It's working: results and play have been good, and Míchel's popularity is growing. "When I was a player I said I didn't want to be a coach but I was lying to myself. I already was a coach," he admits. "And I transmit to the players that football's a vocation based on their ilusión. I don't want obligations; I want them to do it for real, with their hearts, with commitment, because they want to. I'm close to the players, I want to engage them. I never demand anything – I ask."
"People forget about enjoyment. An 'obliged' player can feel pressured; it's fundamental he has a clear mind. Managing the human resources on a personal and emotional level is more important than picking a starting XI. We have an idea, which is to protect and respect the ball as the best way to defend and attack, and we want to be aggressive. People associate aggressiveness with defending. Bravery, too. No, no. Aggressive means going for goal, sharing a belief, a hope, that we can compete. That's why we think that, even if it makes us mad, we have a chance against United."
Mad? These are difficult times for United; might Olympiakos even be favourites? Míchel laughs. "No, never. We're talking about an immense club. But nobody can tell us we can't try.
"It's normal for things to be difficult after Alex Ferguson. I remember him at Aberdeen in the Cup Winners' Cup against Madrid in 1983. That was the first time I cursed him! He made winning normal: 'Oh, they've won the league again.' Yeah, you win it. The European Cup. You win it. The Cup Winners' Cup. You win it. Before Ferguson, United was a historic club but modernity arrived with him. Twenty-five years and people still see him as an innovator, the precursor of everything.
"It shows tremendous stability that [David] Moyes has signed a six-year contract. At other clubs that doesn't happen. There's a style, an idea. You have to protect that. If you look at big clubs, including United, their best moments come when there's continuity and also a nucleus of homegrown players: Giggs, the Neville brothers, Scholes, Beckham, Butt. I say to the president here: Greek players have to be important."
"I've been watching United's games," Míchel says. "Not that the recent ones will help much because they're without [Juan] Mata. It's a pity: I'd have liked Mata to enjoy Karaiskakis. I'd have liked to have ruined his day a bit." It is said fondly: Míchel was coach of Real Madrid's youth team, Castilla. Mata, Roberto Soldado, Álvaro Negredo and Javi García were among his players. There's pride in his voice. "Absolutely," he says. "It's a nice feeling that gets nicer with time."
Míchel says that Negredo, whom he also coached at Rayo Vallecano and Sevilla, has benefited from having real competition for a place at last and that if Soldado is looked after, protected and encouraged, he will "never let you down". As for Mata, he admits: "Perhaps the Chelsea [José] Mourinho wants is nothing like the Chelsea [André] Villas-Boas wanted.
"Mata always had great quality and discipline. He also has a real mental toughness. Making it at Chelsea, Valencia or United depends not just on talent but also the decisions of the coaches, their needs. He arrived at United when they needed to make an impact." He was lucky, then? "Lucky doesn't exist. United didn't come for me: I'm 50. They went for him. Mata is where he deserves to be and to say 'where he deserves to be' when that 'where he deserves to be' is United is a big thing to say."
The next question is whether Mata can fit in with Wayne Rooney, Adnan Januzaj and Robin van Persie. "Well," says Míchel, grinning, "if they've got one spare … We're very hospitable people, so if they want to let one go … Good players always have a place. It's a blessing for United. I like Rooney a lot, Januzaj too, and Van Persie especially. I'd never put him in one position: he's best when he has freedom. He understands the game and his limitations. The proof is that he's come back before being fully recovered and that hasn't stopped him being a leader, scoring important goals."
"It's also important to have a goalkeeper who gives you the stability David de Gea provides. He's been strong enough to take the criticism and I think he's irreplaceable and will be for a long time. If you look at the physical profile of goalkeepers in England, it's very different to Spain. They're more dynamic, better with their feet. In England, there's more contact, it's more direct. De Gea has adapted and to adapt takes talent."
What weaknesses does Míchel see? "More than seeing weaknesses I imagine them, I get my hopes up with the possibility that they exist," he smiles. "We don't have a laser-sighted weapon to blow away their defence, but we do have our ideas. We wanted to enjoy Europe and we're doing that but who says we have to stop now? To be able to compete with United is wonderful.
"And I mean 'compete'. Our respect and admiration will be expressed in trying to beat them. They'll understand that. In fact, they'll appreciate that. We're not going to roll out the red carpet, we're going to go for them."