Omonoia: Europe's largest importer of footballers?
AGONAsport’s Cypriot football contributor, Andreas Mantzas, talks about the high rate of foreigners at Omonoia and Cypriot football in general.
Omonoia Nicosia, a club with a proud 70 year tradition, classified as one of the finest clubs in Cyprus, the most popular team in Cyprus, supported by the “laos”, proud to be Cypriot. Yes, in the stands of the GSP Stadium, on the streets of not only the Cypriot capital, but in all cities and towns on the island, Omonoiates are a proud bunch, happy to tell anyone who will listen about how a true Cypriot supports Omonoia. They will eagerly tell you about the time the President of APOEL talked about the Cypriot national team, “Our government team plays today, and our national team (Greece) plays tomorrow”, or “We support the national team (Cyprus) but it’s the ethnos above all!” All of this may be true, but one place it’s not true is on the pitch.
According to a study by the CIES Football Observatory, based in Switzerland, in conjunction with the University of Neuchatel, Omonoia actually have the highest percentage of foreign players in all of Europe, 97.98% to be exact. This study was based on the first three matches of the season, taken from the 33 players in the starting XI in the total three matches.
The only Cypriot to start for Omonoia in this span, was the team Captain, Dimitris Christofi, who only started the team’s home opener, a 1-0 win over Alki Oroklini. However, fans of other Cypriot teams should not snicker at this news. Overall, the Cypriot league’s starting lineups in this span were 83.3% foreign, also the highest such percentage in Europe!
A look at Omonoia’s roster shows not many Cypriots overall. Apart from Christofi, there is only backup goalkeeper Konstantinos Panagi (who ironically is the first-choice keeper for the Cypriot national team), third-string keeper Alexandros Antoniou, Ioannis Kousoulos, and Fanos Katelaris who occasionally appear as substitutes but usually don’t start, and sparingly used midfielder Marinos Tzionis.
This is all part of a greater phenomenon in Cypriot football. Cypriots are not receiving much playing time, and it hurts all levels of Cypriot football, including the national team, which frequently features players that simply don’t get much playing time at their clubs. In fact, there are more Spanish players than Cypriot players on the Omonoia roster.
In an article I wrote in June wherein I examined what went wrong for Omonoia last season, one potential cause I pointed to was a lack of pride in the Omonoia shirt and what it represents. A foreign player does not know the history of Omonoia, or care for it as a matter of fact. Cyprus is an attractive destination for a football player. The league is getting better, the top teams get the chance to play in Europe, and in the winter months during the grind of the season, the weather is quite favorable, especially when compared to most of the rest of Europe. It is also not exactly a secret that the CFA’s rules on foreign players are very forgiving. Nonetheless, on an island full of offenders, the worst offender is Omonoia.