By Stel Stylianou
Former Republic of Ireland boss Mick McCarthy has been announced as head coach of Cypriot Side APOEL Nicosia.
Whilst many Twitter users have reacted to the news by posting humorous gif images of McCarthy from his days at Wolves, the Yorkshireman’s decision to take the job puts him in a win-win situation.
The series of events that have culminated in APOEL’s fall from grace over the last fourteen months is something you’d expect to see on a soap opera like Emmerdale.
Following the departure of title winning head coach Paolo Tramezzani in August 2019, APOEL appointed former Germaninternational Thomas Doll in the hope of achieving qualification into the Champions League group stage. A 2-0 aggregate defeat to Ajax in the play offs meant APOEL would have to compete in the Europa League, thus obtaining a far less participation fee (€12.35m to be precise).
Doll’s fate was sealed in December 2019. A 2-0 loss at Olympiacos Nicosia appeared to be the final straw for the board and the German left the club by mutual consent, although it would be unfair not to mention APOEL were third in the tablewith two games in hand, and had won five out of their first eight league matches, drawing three.
Loukas Hatziloukas stepped in as interim head coach and nineteen days later former Norway international Kare Ingebrigtsen took the hot seat on a permanent basis. Unfortunately for Kare, his stay in Nicosia was short lived. With APOEL sitting third in the table, Ingebrigtsen was sacked after a0-0 draw at Anorthosis which left them 5 points behind the hosts. The Norwegian lasted a total of 46 days, having won four out of his eight matches in charge.
“I am shocked. When something like that happens, so soon after you get a job, people automatically think that you must have done something wrong. I promise I did not. I have not broken the law,”Ingebrigtsen told Norwegian broadcaster VG.
APOEL president Prodromos Petrides moved swiftly, reappointing Marinos Ouzounidis as head coach. The former Panathinaikos and AEK Athens manager was previously in charge for two years, winning the title in 2006-2007 (albeit under a different regime).
COVID19 forced the Cypriot FA to make an unprecedented decision and suspend the league in March 2020, awarding the title to APOEL’s deadly rivals Omonoia Nicosia who were top of the league, ahead of Anorthosis on goal difference. Non Omonoia fans believe this is a tainted title victory given the league splits in March and the top 6 teams battle it out for the title in a play off system. Nevertheless, APOEL were guaranteed a Europa League qualifying slot for season 2020-2021 – and this is where the slump truly came to fruition.
With the likes of Omonoia, Anorthosis, AEK, FC Pafos, Apollon and AEL strengthening their squads in the summer of 2020, Petrides made a statement of intent by backing Ouzounidis and signing no fewer than 16 players (2 on loan). The likes of Atdhe Nuhiu and Viktor Klonaridis were brought in on a reported €10-15,000 per week; an astronomical amount of money, given the average weekly wage in the Cypriot league is €18,000 a year.
Petrides’ gambled and failed. The club’s combined transfer and wage budget was set at €8M, as they expected to qualify for the Europa League group stage. A 1-0 defeat at Slovan Liberec in the final qualifying stage threw a massive spanner in the works, forcing the club to sell prized asset Musa Al-Tamari for a measly €900,000 to Belgian side Leuven – a player who the club valued at €3-4M. In addition, Cypriot international left back Nicholas Ioannou was sold to Nottingham Forest for around £450,000.
Defeat in the Czech Republic was followed by a terrible performance at newly promoted Ermis Aradippou. Ouzounidis’frustration was clear to see, suggesting his players had given up and that the results had nothing to do with him. Some supporters, who have links at the club, even went as far as to post stories on forums relating to the club president selecting the team.
Out of sixteen matches with Ouzounidis at the helm, APOEL failed to score in nine. His 258 day tenure only looks longer than it does due to football in Cyprus being suspended from March until August.
APOEL’s recent draw with top of the table Apollon Limassol keeps them in 10th place, five points off the relegation zone. Many supporters are infuriated with the decision to appoint McCarthy given Petrides vowed to install a young manager who aims to promote youth and play an attractive style of football. However, the club’s current plight is completely alien to supporters. APOEL have won seven out of the last eight league titles – convincingly at that.
McCarthy attended APOEL’s match with Apollon and was spotted in the stands, frantically scribbling in his notepad. One media outlet joked he might need two or three more to jot down what needs to be corrected. Be that as it may, McCarthy will surely do what Ouzounidis failed to and make APOEL not only difficult to score against, but also hard to beat. Only the former Wolves and Ipswich manager knows which system to implement.
His first objective is glaringly obvious; improve morale and guide them out of a relegation battle. The next step is to obtain a top 6 finish and challenge for a Europa League spot. On the flip side, unlike rivals Omonoia, APOEL do not have the distraction of European football, meaning they only play once a week and the added pressure to deliver.
APOEL may be in crisis but their squad is more than capable of winning the title. In Klonaridis, Nuhiu and Ben Sahar, they have three strikers who can each bag 10-15 goals a season. Arthur Jorge, a summer signing from Vitoria Setubal, is a strong, aggressive central defender whilst the likes of Marius Lundemo, Mike Jensen, Ghayas Zahid, Anuar and Tomas De Vincenti are excellent options to have in the middle of the park. In wide areas, Omer Atzili and Dieumerci Ndongala provide pace, trickery and enough ability to supply the front man/men. Overlapping them from full back, McCarthy can call upon Emilio Nsue, Andre Geraldes and Christos Wheeler. Nigerian goalkeeper Francis Uzoho is currently Miguel Silva’s understudy, although given theformer Portuguese U21 international’s form, Uzoho could find himself between the sticks sooner rather than later.
Whilst McCarthy’s appointment has been endorsed by Rio Ferdinand on social media, the former Manchester United and England defender may not be aware of Cypriot football culture. Fans are impatient, as are club presidents. McCarthy is APOEL’s seventeenth manager in seven seasons and will be expected to hit the ground running. Many supporters believe his tenure will be short lived and is nothing more than a publicity stunt to generate interest from the UK and Republic of Ireland. Some have complained McCarthy’s Irish roots will attract supporters with Celtic Clover flags – similar to Omonoia’s club badge. Others are more optimistic, saying he’ll change the club’s fortunes and attract higher quality players.
Petrides must be praying this roll of the dice works out as he’ll be adding to the €1.5M already paid out to coaching staff in the last 14 months – €490,000 of that going to Ouzounidis and his assistant.
One thing is definitely for certain; the Petrides-McCarthy partnership will be very entertaining!