It’s been an ugly season. A league that has never been famous for its elegance and overall quality has found it in itself to manifest scenes even uglier than usual this year. And as unsightly as the league has been I can still muster up no courage to craft a case for Apollon Limassol winning it.
If your first thought in reaction to my statement involves the phrase “but no other club has been perfect either” you’re missing the point. A team aspiring to become champions should care little for the merits of its competitors. Not to mention that there’s a difference between perfect and worthy. Perfection is nigh on impossible. A consistently high level of performance is not, however, and that is the standard a championship-chasing team should aspire to. Even the most ardent Apollon fan would find it difficult to claim that the Limassol club have done that.
I’m not hasty in my declaration that this season has not been too enjoyable for any particular set of fans. It’s not my aim to discredit the eventual champions. However, one must admit that this season has been as tasty as stale chicken soup left in the Arizona sun for the flies to feast upon.
Where does one begin? The quality of play has ranged from intermittently deliberate to amateurishly haphazard. Apollon perfectly encapsulate that with two games in particular posing themselves as perfect examples: The win over Anorthosis Famagusta at home in February being the former and the game against Omonoia Nicosia yesterday being the latter.
A quick look at the table is all you need to know about the average level of performance this season. Current leaders Apollon (Apoel can leapfrog them if they win against Ermis today) have scored 53 goals in 27 games, a league high, but have conceded a whopping 33 goals. By comparison, they conceded a paltry 19 goals in the regular season last year and an extra 10 during the playoffs for a total of 29. With 5 games to go, there’s nothing to suggest they won’t far exceed that. Meanwhile, Apoel have let in a much more respectable 17 goals this season, but have a scored just 38 goals themselves. They scored a massive 78 goals last season (playoffs included) and conceded just 25. Omonoia have scored one more than Apoel but have let in even more goals than their Nicosia counterparts.
As for the other reasons the league has been distinctly joyless this season, I’ll keep it brief because it isn’t my desire to depress you. Let’s start with the undying and thoroughly justified rumours of match-fixing. Frankly, the situation is getting out of hand. Corruption in Cyprus is an undeniable part of everyday life, but I think these few years, along with the coming one, are the tipping point. Even the prominent and influential New York Times saw it fit to cover the mess that is Cypriot football.
The bombs, threats, UEFA-sourced red flags, corruption and various other bits of nastiness are not alien to Cypriots, but I think there’s one differentiating factor that worsens things even further: the nonchalant fashion in which Marios Panayi’s accusations were swept to the side. For the first time, someone with clandestine knowledge pertaining to football in Cyprus decided to risk their livelihood and, if we’re being honest, well-being, and the authorities raised a single eyebrow and scoffed a sickly ‘we don’t give a toss’ at his and the public’s general direction. Panayi’s motives are wholly irrelevant. We all know that what he said was at the very least adequately factual. The CFA and Mr. Koutsokoumnis will point to Apoel and Apollon’s European endeavours as the sole indicators of Cypriot football’s quality and health. To allow him that would be detrimental and offensive to both the sport and common sense. The CFA’s one (potential) success is entirely political, but we’ll leave that topic for another day.
Furthemore, we’ve seen TV rights segregated and sold to different platforms all to the burden of the average football fan. It costs way too much for someone to have the privilege of watching this congregation of agent-shaped squads battle it out in dated stadia against a background of cynicism-fuelling din of rumours and leaks.
The CFA has dished out bans and fines in a scattergun approach that’s done little to keep hooligans away. It’s only helped to keep more people away from attending their club’s game. As for the ill-fated (one hopes this will not change) attempts of Mr. Ionas Nicolaou to impose slipshod measures that are supposedly aimed at curtailing violence, I have way too little bile and time to cover those properly. May they come up for discussion again.
Finally, the CFA went against both reason and public sentiment and refused to lower the number of teams participating in the league and alter its overall structure. They’re quite similar to FIFA in that regard.
Contempt for continuity
Here’s my reductive but probably accurate one-liner for the week: any team that’s had 3 different managers before the season’s over does not deserve to win the league. There it is. Does it really need further analysis?
I recently wrote to a friend that stability and continuity are as cherished here as kindness and humanity are in a Katie Hopkins column. I stand by that statement. There’s no need to look up who’s the longest serving manager in the league. At best it’ll be two years. Apollon and Apoel, the league’s two frontrunners, have had their current managers for a couple of weeks and four months respectively. Just think about that.
Regarding Apollon, in terms of vision and transfers, there’s no real evidence that there’s been a cohesive plan about the whole thing. Apollon had a decent squad last season. They finished third and needed a few additions that would both elevate the squad’s quality and help the current members up their level of performance. Instead, players have come and gone in numbers so large it’s baffling.
Not only that, but it seems the club has also served as a vessel for agents. Christos Intzidis and Doneil Henry were both ‘funnelled’ through the club in shady fashion. Apollon is hardly alone in doing this in Cyprus. Let’s not forget that Doxa Katokopias are run by an agent, Costas Karavidas. Supposedly he’s not acting in that role whilst running the club, but we all know what’s happening here.
The best of a bad bunch
Apoel are probably favourites to win the league and are most likely capable of doing it. As I said earlier, it is not my intent to discredit the eventual champions, but whichever club manages to plod ahead in the least dire manner will be crowned league winners. That’s hardly an endorsement. Apollon can look at their game against Omonoia yesterday as proof of why they shouldn’t feel wronged if they miss out. It was a season low, despite the mitigating circumstances. 4 points in 5 games during the playoffs leave little room for misinterpretation. Worthy of the league? I’m sorry, but they’re far from it.