Kastanos makes Cypriot football history
Twenty-one-year-old Grigoris Kastanos made Cypriot football history on Saturday. At the Stadio Paolo Mazza in Ferrara, Kastanos was included in the starting lineup for Juventus as they visited SPAL, making him the first Cypriot to play in the Italian Serie A.
This is not the first time Cypriot players have made a mark outside of Cyprus, but it has been a while. With the exception of Pieros Sotiriou who plays in Denmark with Kobenhavn, even the Cypriot national team regularly fields teams with players exclusively from the Cypriot domestic league, and to make matters worse, a lot of these players are only playing sparingly for their clubs.
In the past, other players like Michalis Konstantinou and Yiannakis Okkas went to Greece and made a big impact even on the biggest clubs. Okkas played seven seasons in Greece for PAOK, AEK, and Olympiacos. With Olympiacos, he scored 18 goals in his three seasons in Piraeus, including the first goal at the Stadio Georgios Karaiskaki when it re-opened in 2004, following a massive renovation.
Konstantinou for his part, spent 12 seasons in Greece, with Iraklis Thessaloniki, Panathinaikos, and also Olympiakos, where he spent three seasons, the first two overlapping with Okkas. This Cypriot striker duo led the Thrylos to multiple championships.
Other Cypriot players to reach a level this high include Stathis Aloneftis, who played for Energie Cottbus in the 2007/08 German Bundesliga season, and Nikodimos Papavasiliou, who played seven games for Newcastle in the 1993/94 English Premier League season. Anthony Georgiou, a English born Cypriot international, made one appearance for Tottenham in the Champions League against APOEL in 2017, but has yet to make a league appearance for the London based club (now on loan in Spain).
Nonetheless, the last decade has been a different story for Cypriot players. Opportunities, even in Cyprus, are much harder to find with the influx of foreign players coming to the improving Cypriot league. Kastanos, reaching the Serie A, is arguably the highest level any Cypriot player has ever played at, and even more impressively, with a world-class club like Juventus. The Italian giants were resting several key players in anticipation of their UEFA Champions League return leg against Ajax, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Mario Mandzukic, Douglas Costa, their Captain Giorgio Chiellini, and starting goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. Juve ended up losing the match 2:1 to SPAL as Kastanos played 61 minutes before being subbed off for Hans Nicolussi. It was only Juventus’ second loss of the season, which will not affect the league standings as they lead Napoli by 20 points. Another Scudetto is all but a certainty for the Torino club.
Nevertheless, the young midfielder made his country proud, and hopefully will represent La Vecchia Signora again in the near future.