By Stel Stylianou – Lead European Football writer
Frequent managerial changes is embedded in Cypriot football culture, so much so that betting companies on the island offer odds on how long the new appointment will last. Most departures are expected – either due to poor results or political reasons.
Apollon Limassol head coach Sofronis Avgousti became the fourth casualty of the season, six days after a shock defeat at home to newly promoted Karmiotissa; a decision met with outrage from supporters and media outlets.
Avgousti is a club legend. Born and raised in Limassol he achieved the dream of playing for his local club – albeit in three spells. Following his retirement in 2013 Avgousti was immediately appointed assistant manager, a position he held for three years before being placed in the hot seat.
Stability was a priority for the club. Avgousti was their fifth manager in three seasons and neither of the previous four came close to bringing a first title since 2006. Season 14-15 saw Apollon end the first half of the season at the top of the table. However, a monumental capitulation (five defeats in ten play off matches) ended with APOEL being crowned champions. Despite the league disappointment, Avgousti rallied the team, guiding them to back to back domestic cup victories.
Having famously defeated Aberdeen and FC Midtjylland in the Europa League qualifying stage, Apollon made the group phase for the first time in their history. Whilst they lost three out of six group matches, draws at home to Lyon and Atalanta (both 1-1), and away at Everton (2-2) showed Avgousti’s men were no pushovers. This is the season many believe began a downward spiral.
Whilst the reasons behind Avgousti’s relationship with club president Nikos Kirzis becoming sour are very sketchy (to say the least), the damage at the time wasn’t irreparable. Sacked in August 2019, Avgousti made a swift return as head coach two months later, replacing Ivan Vukomanović who was in charge for a grand total of twenty five days.
Kirzis backed Avgousti in the last two summer transfer window, sanctioning signings that cost the club close to €1.5m. This summer, Nicolas Diguiny and Bagaliy Dabo – experienced, physical strikers, were snapped up on a free, whilst Swedish winger Daniel Larsson joined to add more experience. Attila Szalai’s acquisition in 2019 may prove to be the shrewdest signing in the club’s history. The twenty two year old Hungarian hasn’t been a regular starter but regular call ups to the national team have raised his profile – an ideal situation for the club who believe they can cash in on the youngster after Euro 2020.
On paper, Apollon’s results have been excellent. Aside from a 5-0 hiding at home to Lech Poznan in the Europa League qualifiers, six league wins, two draws and one defeat sits them second in the table, three points behind Anorthosis – a team they defeated 3-1 away in September. Needless to say, Apollon are in with a shout for the title.
Fast forward to November 12th and the announcement of Avgousti’s second departure. Apollon’s statement was:
“The Apollon Football Company (PUBLIC) announces the solution by mutual consent of its cooperation with the coach Sofronis Augustis.
We wish Sofronis Augustis every success in both his personal and professional career.”
The club statement infuriated and appalled journalists. 24Sports went with the headline:
“They have ended an era with an announcement of 32 words that does not include a “thank you”.”
Avgousti and Apollon parting ways sent shockwaves throughout the league. It wasn’t just a club legend being sacked – this has happened elsewhere on numerous occasions. It was about a club legend, who got the best out of his players. Someone who, despite having tactical problems defensively, implemented a direct, aggressive, somewhat swashbuckling style of football that excited supporters. Avgousti is animated on the touchline; think Jurgen Klopp on his eighth coffee of the day. Players love him, fans love him and, believe it or not – the media love him.
Kirzis finally addressed Avgousti’s departure during the press conference announcement of his successor, former Olympiacos Nicosia head coach Gianni Petrakis. He said:
“After four years, we have reached a point where we are not evolving. There was a difference of opinion on serious football issues. In a family, when both parents disagree, the children pay for it. The children are the team. We said that it is best to separate, so friendly, so as not to affect the team. There is no reason for me to expand, they were football issues.”
Whilst it’s very difficult to comprehend the rationale behind certain managerial changes in Cyprus, a lot of the time it isn’t worth questioning as there’s always more to a story. Kirzis is a controversial figure and his association with Pini Zahavi caught the attention of The Black Sea – a must read.
Petrakis is the complete opposite to Avgousti on and off the field. The former is a quiet, pragmatic manager whilst the latter turned everything up to a hundred. Apollon’s squad is clearly good enough to challenge for the title and with Petrakis at the helm, they will certainly be difficult to break down. However, as Omonoia have found out this season, defences are becoming tighter, midfields more congested. Petrakis will have to ditch the counter attacking style that worked for him at Olympiacos Nicosia if Apollon want to stay in the title hunt.