One Heli-Doni(s) brought the spring for APOEL
by Marios Antoniou
The saying in Greek is ένα χελιδόνι δεν φέρνει την Άνοιξη (a migrational bird that comes in spring, cannot bring spring itself). In the case of APOEL a heli-Doni(s) was more than enough to change everything at the Nicosia club in just a few weeks.
Donis’ story at APOEL started a few years ago when the Greek manager was called to lead APOEL in the middle of the 2013/14 season. That season did not start well for the Galazokitrini as coach Paulo Sergio failed to prove a worthy replacement to the club’s most successful manager, Ivan Jovanovic.
Donis took over in October for Sergio and managed to turn the tide immediately and at the end of the season, APOEL won the Cypriot double. The next season they qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the third time in club history, but were paired with European giants Barcelona, Paris Saint Germain, and Ajax and bowed out. Despite his successful spell in Nicosia, the team’s declining performance forced the administration to sack him early in 2015.
Donis’ story with the Cypriot champions continued two and a half years later as the Greek coach was once again called to “save” the team from a disastrous season. After a successful year under the guidance of Thomas Christiansen, where APOEL once again won the league title, reached the Cup final, and made it to the round of 16 in the Europa League, new coach Mario Been was unable to follow Christiansen’s footsteps.
Despite his coaching experience, the Dutch manager failed to meet the club’s expectations. In his first game in charge against Luxemburg champions Dudelange, the team was mediocre at best and the fans showed their disapproval by booing the players and the coach at the end of the game. APOEL prevailed 1-0 at the GSP stadium, as they also did in the second game in Luxemburg, however it was obvious that things were not calm in the APOEL locker room.
When the team was called to face Romanian champions Viitorul, a 1-0 away loss in the first leg along with a disappointing performance created a big wave of complaints from the furious fans. Soon after, coach Been was fired and Donis’ name came up immediately.
Donis agreed to return to Cyprus after turning down an inviting offer from Egyptian side Zamalek. The 47-year old was put to work immediately and headed the team in the return leg against Viitorul four days after signing with the club. The Galazokitrini were a completely different team on the pitch and with their great performance, managed to send the game into extra-time where they caught fire to blow-out the Romanians 4-0 and advance to the next round of qualifying.
Donis’ impact was immediate as everybody in the club from the players to the fans, found the confidence they had once lost under Been. Donis did the simple things, focussing on boosting his players moral and making necessary changes in the line-up. Players that a week before were on the bench or under-performing under Been’s spell, were now giving their very best and it showed on the pitch.
Above everything, Donis is known to be a fair coach, always rewarding those who work hard and those who give their best in the training sessions. He is known to give opportunities to all his players and he is not afraid to take risks.
The euphoria that surrounded the club after coming back to eliminate Viitorul, continued into the next qualifying round. The results against Slavia proved that Donis was the right man for the job as APOEL comfortably defeated the Czech champions 2-0 in Nicosia and drew 0-0 in Prague. Once again under Donis, APOEL had made their return to the group stages of the Champions League only this time, the Greek boss completed the job despite being with the club for just a small period of time.
Under Been, APOEL were the same talented, experienced team, but his misuse of the roster, lack of leadership, and failure to connect with the players, was seen on the pitch and through APOEL’s performances. After losing to Viitorul, the Dutch coach stated that is was normal for a Cypriot team to lose to a better team from a superior league. His belittling comments continued after he was sacked saying that the money he received from APOEL was the easiest salary of his life. It was clear that Mr. Been had no connection with the team and it is remains evident as we have yet to hear from him since his departure.
Been is now a commentator on Dutch television I am curious if he will be covering APOEL’s opening game against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in Europe’s premier club competition...