Photograph courtesy of Pexels
Former VFB Stuttgart defender talks to Stel on the #NOCHOFTES Podcast about his three years at Omonoia Nicosia, winning a league title and domestic cup.
Watch the whole interview here
You were one of 23 signings made by Omonoia Nicosia in 2008. Did you know much about the club before you joined?
I knew the club because when my agent told me about their interest, I did my research. I knew about Rainer Raufmann (by the name). I spoke to him and I decided I wanted to make a career change. To move to another country with my family.
We (Augsburg) played against St Pauli on Saturday and Sunday I flew to Cyprus (with my family). We went out whilst my agent spoke to the club about my contract. After an hour, we met my agent again and he asked if I wanted to sign today. I said “today?”. I thought we went to Cyprus just to look at the country. I didn’t even see the training ground. I only saw the Hilton hotel.
For me, it was never about the money. I wanted to go there to live like a foreigner because I spent all my career in Germany. I had a great time and a successful time (at Omonoia). We wrote a little bit of history with a big team. I think in every season we had a good team but the beginning (under Nedim Tutic) was a little strange for me because we trained a lot. It was very hot.
We had pre season in Slovenia and the coach wasn’t relaxed. Ok, he was under pressure to deliver the title. He didn’t, so he was sacked and in came Takis (Lemonis).
Omonoia missed out on the title by 5 points. Was there a particular point of the campaign where the players thought it wasn’t to be their year?
I don’t think that ever crossed our minds. We believed we could win the title but there were a lot of new players at the club and APOEL were the favourites.
I remember playing twice in the same week. We lost in the quarter finals of the cup and drew in the league. That’s when it all went wrong for us. Fans were so angry, they threw stones at the team bus. It was the worst time in my football career. I said to myself that if this ever happens again, I’m leaving Omonoia. I never imagined this to happen because, in Germany, when a team loses the fans get upset but they never try to attack the fans. I remember this day like it was yesterday.
Everyone at the club was disappointed, but as we say in Germany “we’ve played the match, we lost, we prepare for the next game).
You played in both legs against AEK in the UEFA Cup qualifier, a 1-0 victory in Athens followed by a 2-2 draw in Nicosia. What was that experience like?
AEK were a fantastic team at the time. AEK are a much bigger club than Omonoia but Omonoia’s fans are much better.
We won 1-0 in Athens thanks to a goal from Cafu but we were very lucky. They had 75% possession and we defended all the time. The atmosphere for the second leg. Wow. My father came to Cyprus for the first time and came to the match. Afterwards he came up to me and said “what was this?!” (laughs). It was so loud (in the stadium).
Omonoia made more signings in the summer of 2009, such as Leandro, Aguiar, Patsatzoglu and Zurawski – all experienced players. Was this the difference from the previous season – bringing experienced players?
Definitely, yes. Because in my first season we had a lot of new players and it’s very difficult to build a team straight away when you’ve got 20 new players. The club also bought and sold a lot of players at the end of the title winning season.
For me, as a foreigner, I knew all about the derby with APOEL. We lost every game against them in my first season. For the new foreigners, it was the first time they’d experienced the atmosphere of a derby against APOEL.
Ok, in my first season we lost most of the games against APOEL, but in the second we fought so hard. We knew what to do in this f*****g game because we had to be fully focused. If we were 85% focused, we had no chance of winning. I was focused in every game but for 2-3 days before the APOEL game, the concentration was there all the time. We knew that if we beat them, there’s no way we wouldn’t win the title.
I remember before one of the games against APOEL, Stathis (Aloneftis) said “If we win, we are dying our hair green”. I said “What the f**k? No chance”. He said “Come on, we will do it” so I said “OK, we’ll do it”. We won the game 1-0. It was fantastic. We played one touch football. It was incredible.
Did you notice a difference in APOEL’s 08-09 team to the 09-10? In 08-09 they won the title by 5 points but in 09-10, Omonoia blew them away, finishing 7 points ahead.
Their team was also good as they’d won 2-3 titles in a row. In my time at Omonoia, it was either us or them to win the title. This season (09-10) it was us.
In my final season, APOEL won it but we took the cup.
APOEL won the title by 12 points in 10-11
We changed our coach. Takis left, Bajevic came.
A lot happened in the board room. Did that affect you?
Sometimes I asked the Cypriot players what was happening but they didn’t know. Everyone was fighting each other at the time. Christakis Georgiou was the Sporting Director but people were saying he was going to be sacked, then he stayed, then it was Takis leaving, (Dusan) Bajevic coming, Bajevic leaving, more coaches coming. This season wasn’t good.
What were the title celebrations like?
I remember we took a bus to Larnaca from Nicosia. Fans were in the streets celebrating. You saw how Liverpool fans celebrated winning the league, it was the same in Nicosia. We drank a lot and at about 5am we went to Bruno Aguiar’s house, had a barbecue, threw things in the pool and jumped in.
For me, the best feeling was looking the fans in the eyes, seeing them gleaming. The fans were like us. It was like a present to the fans from us.
Omonoia drew 4 matches in a row at a critical stage of the 10-11 season, which ultimately ended their title challenge. They did, however, win the domestic up (4-3 on penalties against Apollon). Was this the season where you felt it was time to move on?
To be honest, I wanted to end my career in Cyprus. A new coach arrived and there were more changes coming. I remember going to the club’s office and being told my contract wasn’t going to be renewed. I was so disappointed because I wanted to stay. Everything was nice in the 3 years I was in Cyprus. I had friends, I had a good relationship with people. I could even understand some of the language.
It was like being hit with a hammer. I gave everything for the club, but this is life.
How did it feel winning the cup on penalties? Germans never lose penalty shoot outs.
(laughs) Yes! We played Apollon Limassol and I remember Bangura was in their team. He was with us the year before. We won the game and that was my final match for the club.
After the cup final, we went to Bruno’s house.
All the parties were at Bruno’s house?
(laughs) Some of them. Not always but we made them good!