The State of Cypriot Club Football

May 27, 2019

Written by:

Cyta Championship

Founded: 1934

Most Championships: APOEL, 28

Last 5 Winners: APOEL (18/19, 17/18, 16/17, 15/16, 14/15)

UEFA Ranking: 18th

Highest Ranked Club: APOEL, 59th

Interview with Cyprus football expert, Kyriacos Nicolaou

For such a small nation, why are Cypriot teams so good in European football? APOEL have made the Champions League group stage four times since 09/10 while Anorthosis also made the group stage in 08/09.

Cyprus has indeed been punching above its weight in Europe, both in terms of qualifying to the CL and Europa League group stage. However, APOEL’s individual success has somewhat skewed that as it pertains to any collective conclusions.

The reasons for doing well in Europe can be summarized by the below points:

  • European competitions matter a lot to Cypriot fans and will definitely prioritize them over domestic competitions. The only exception here is APOEL who cannot compromise on winning the domestic league
  • The Cypriot Football Federation (CFA) tries to rearrange fixtures as much as possible for clubs competing in Europe so that accumulated fatigue takes less of a toll
  • Clubs value the CL and EL for their financial contribution. In fact, for APOEL, and to a lesser extent for Apollon Limassol and Anorthosis, revenue from UEFA competitions will have a severe effect on club finances for the current and next season, as well as on the roster
  • Very few Cypriot players make it to the top flight or are in fact of a level to compete in Europe (a huge discussion in and of itself) so clubs focus on recruiting from elsewhere in Europe and beyond). For example, a few years ago Cyprus had the second largest contingent of Portuguese players in European leagues outside of Portugal. This inadvertently enables clubs to acquire players of a higher caliber, particularly in terms of pure footballing quality
  • Clubs have very short-termist strategies. 1+1, 1 or 2-year contracts are the norm. This has considerable downsides but also allows clubs to get a good player at the tail end of their career at 32 or 33

Is there a lot of money in Cypriot football?

In terms of how much money there is in Cypriot football, that’s a hard question to answer, as a lot of activity happens under the table.

Put it this way, if some clubs functioned purely on how much money they had in their coffers and, say, only use 50% of minimum annual revenue excluding possible UEFA competition prize money on transfers and wages, they would have considerably lesser squads than now.

A lot of club chairmen view clubs as ways to either make money or better their image or both. Some have taken money from clubs, some have wasted their own money trying to make certain clubs into viable European and domestic mainstays.

Tickets wise, figures are at their lowest these past 2 years, with fans boycotting games due to a mandatory ‘supporter’s card’, which purportedly aims to curtail violence and other fan-related trouble at games. This has slashed fan attendance to about a third of previous figures.

Do most of the country get behind the Cypriot sides playing in Europe or is there a lot of tribalism still apparent?

Tribalism is part and parcel in Cypriot football. Every now and then there is some goodwill shown but that’s the exception rather than the norm. APOEL are now more or less a unifying lightning rod for hate, for example. Again, another topic which merits its own discussion.

What would be seen as a successful year in Europe for Cypriot football fans? What’s expected of them?

A successful year in Europe for the two big Limassol clubs (Apollon & AEL) as well as for Anorthosis and Omonoia (APOEL’s fierce rival and second most successful club but in disarray in recent years) would be to qualify for the EL group stage. Anything beyond that would be fantastic and deemed a bonus.

For APOEL, who have won 7 straight leagues, CL group stage would be great, EL group stage good but not exciting. There is an element of being spoiled here.

How is the EL viewed in general by Cypriot football fans?

As mentioned above, Cypriots like the Europa League, and no nostalgia for the UEFA cup had any traction upon its demise. In fact, the seeming liberalisation of the competition, allowing for more games if the group stage is reached, was welcomed.

Cypriots’ cynicism for domestic competitions, corruption in the CFA and beyond, as well as the opportunity to travel around Europe, even in location derided or mocked in the UK (eastern Europe for example), makes the Europa League a fun competition to be in, especially when no expectations of qualifying to the knock out stage hinder any of the joy of being there.

How do you think the Europa League 2 will affect Cypriot EL and CL performances and what has been the reaction to the formation of the competition + the other proposed changes to European competition in Cyprus?

I think very few people here know about UEFA’s plans for the EL2 and even fewer know the exact details about how it’s meant to be setup.

I remember the days of the Intertoto Cup and the Cup Winner’s Cup and people liked participation in whatever European competition their club could participate in. However, now that people are more informed, news of being ‘relegated’ to a 3rd tier European competition may not go down as well. Particularly as people here are very much aware of top CL clubs trying to fix the competition so that it favours top European sides.

Eliminating the off-chance of a surprise team making it big is never fun and that applies to European competitions.

The irony is that clubs like Juve, Man United, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Barcelona, et al. are behaving exactly the way Cypriot clubs would in an alternative universe in which they dominated. In other words, they’re trying to curtail or offset mismanagement or bad transfers or anything else that might affect revenue, by guaranteeing themselves a spot in the tier 1 competition and the increased prize money that goes with it.

What would you like to see UEFA do to level the playing field more for small European sides?

This is a tricky question and my answer may be a bit left field. What I want UEFA to do help smaller European sides? Some of the below:

  • Provide incentives or funds specifically tied to improved or new stadia and infrastructure
  • Provide monetary incentives and expert guidance for youth development
  • Incentivise and monitor the process of getting your badges and other football-related certifications which might improve how things are run
  • Narrow in on corruption and match-fixing (a problem here)
  • Drive agents out of clubs (Cyprus is a huge problematic example here – e.g. a club in the first division is run by an agent, for that agent and his network’s betterment, and can place clients of his in other Cypriot clubs)
  • Help smaller leagues install VAR (would help lower cynicism here as well as legitimate concerns of ref-picking or ref-meddling; ref intimidation also present)

UEFA has so far decided to not get involved with local federations beyond a superficial level or when clubs go into administration, but has done little with regards to corruption and other key issues.

Interview with Cyprus football expert, Kyriacos Nicolaou

Find all your Champions League betting odds here

A Europa League infographic

Author: Tom Mortimer

Tom is the editor at Betting Circle and has been creating online content for over 10 years. Tom mainly writes about sport and gambling, but every now and then also delves into fleshier subjects like politics and psychology. When he was 18 he created and over the last few years he's written on a freelance basis for ESPN, WorldSoccer,, among many others.

Twitter @TMortimerFtbl

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