Omonoia… What happened?
AGONAsport’s Cypriot football contributor, Andreas Mantzas, talks about what is to blame for Omonoia’s season to forget in the Cypriot First Division.
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The 2017-2018 season was one to forget for Omonoia. The club’s 70th anniversary season was well below the club’s usual standards, to say the least. At the end of it, Omonoia finished 6th in the Cypriot First Division, their worst finish since 1956, and finishing with a losing record for the first time since 1955, both of which happening in the club’s early days.
Before I go any further, full disclosure, I am an Omonoia fan. Though I’ve been writing about Omonoia, and the rest of the Cypriot league since I joined AGONAsport in January, I write this not as a writer, but as a fan. I am related to several former Omonoia players, from legendary striker Sotiris Kaiafas, to longtime captain, Kostas Kaiafas, among others.
Though I am born and raised in the United States, I quickly learned from my summer trips to Cyprus that Omonoia is ingrained into my family’s DNA. I also learned that Omonoia is the most popular club in Cyprus. Even now amidst APOEL’s run of dominance, and Omonoia’s recent decline, attendance numbers are comparable, and in eras where both are successful, it’s not even close.
Since their most recent championship in 2010, Omonoia have been on a steady decline. Their lackluster 2016-2017 campaign left them out of European qualifying for the first time in over 20 years, but new signings and a new, acclaimed manager in Pambos Christodoulou led to a feeling of optimism heading into this season. So what went wrong?
One root cause was instability, and when I say instability, I mean on multiple levels. Omonoia had 3 different managers this season. Christodoulou, who had success with the Cypriot national team, and before that led AEL to a surprise championship in 2012, seemed to be a coup of a hire. Instead, he was fired by December.
On several occasions, the pressure seemed to get to him. He did not face the same expectations at AEL, and support for the Cypriot national team throughout Cyprus is spotty at best, and expectations are perpetually low in that role as well. Omonoia represented a challenge for the manager, and it got the best of him in the end.
He was replaced by the Bulgarian boss Ivaylo Petev. Petev’s hire temporarily led to improved results, but slowly the team regressed once again. Eventually, he was fired in March for bashing the club in an interview with the Bulgarian media.
The club’s Danish Technical Director, Jesper Fredberg, finished out the season as manager, earning just one win in 8 matches, as the club suffered a horrendous late season 12-match losing streak.
There was also instability in goal. An astonishing six different goalkeepers all started at least one league match for Omonoia this season! Incumbent starter, Kostas Panagi, was lost early in the year due to injury. Dutch goalkeeper, Piet Velthuizen, who signed for much money and much fanfare to challenge Panagi, failed to run with the opportunity and left in the January transfer window. In came Bulgarian keeper Nikolay Mihaylov and Swedish keeper John Alvbage. Mihaylov was average, and Alvbage was injured in his lone appearance. Mihaylov eventually had trouble staying healthy, forcing the young and promising, but also raw Andreas Christodoulou to start a few matches, and even 18 year old, Alexandros Antoniou, made a start.
However, no matter which of the 6 were in goal any given week, all seemed to be hung out to dry by a poor defense. Really, the only thing that went right for Omonoia this season was English striker Matt Derbyshire, who led the entire Cypriot league with 23 goals. It was a recipe for disaster, but a steady decline as prolonged as this has bigger root causes.
One of these is money. It’s no secret that the club has been struggling financially in recent years, most notably in 2013 when Omonoia openly asked for money in a fundraiser. Change is on the horizon in that regard as businessman Stavros Papastavrou recently purchased the club, a controversial event. Some see this as a potential end to the team’s financial problems, but others including Thyra 9 (Gate 9), the main Omonoia supporters group, believe this to be a departure from the very ideas the club stands for. Some also bemoan a phenomenon that is taking place all over the Cypriot league, the influx of foreigners. Many fans argue that without Cypriot leadership, there is less pride in pulling for the green and white of Omonoia.
Yes, the current Captain, Dimitris Christofi is Cypriot. However, many weeks, he was the only Cypriot player in the starting lineup. The history of Omonoia boasts a who’s who of Cypriot greats. In addition to the multiple generations of Kaiafas, there has been Kostas Malekkos, Stathis Aloneftis, Giorgos Efraim, Giannis Okkas, Michalis Konstantinou, even the German turned Cypriot, Rainer Rauffmann, all played for “Trifyllara”.
Going forward, the club will need to solve these problems. The hope is, with stability from ownership, there will be stability on the sidelines, in goal, on defense, in the midfield, and up front. Omonoia do not carry the pedigree of a mid-level club in Cyprus. This is a club known to be with APOEL, their arch rivals, the finest in Cyprus. The pride needs to be restored to this great club. Omonoia are at a major crossroads in their history. I, like the rest of the green and white fans, just hope the worst is over.