A new era at the forgotten club in Nicosia


I often wonder if coaches fully understand what they’re getting themselves into when they accept job offers – especially at clubs that very few outside its nation have heard of.

Picture the scene. An ex pro who boasts a CV of four Premier League titles, 100 caps for his national team and a league and cup winner in Poland as a Head Coach, takes charge of a club that boasts 20 league titles and 14 domestic cups.

Ring any bells? Thought not. Ok, what if I told you this club shares a stadium with its rival, who with seven title victories in a row has overtaken them on 28 in total? Still nothing?

Step forward former Blackburn Rovers, Manchester United and Norway centre back Henning Berg, who in June 2019 penned a two year deal with the sleeping giant of Cyprus, also known as “the other team in Nicosia” – Omonia.

The 50-year-old Norwegian takes the reigns of a dysfunctional club that has employed and sacked 17 different managers since its last title win back in 2010; one being the self proclaimed “best coach in the Premier League” John Carver.

The last nine years for the “Trifilli” has been somewhat of a soap opera. In 2010 Omonia won their first Cypriot title in seven years and it seemed that the club was heading in the right direction under Takis Lemonis. But this is Cypriot football we’re talking about. There’s always a bump in the road. In fact, it is no ordinary road; it’s called a “homatodromo” (a dirt road).

For the benefit of those reading who watch Eastenders, Omonia Nicosia is the Cypriot version of Phil Mitchell. Stay with me here. Here we have a club whose past glories – albeit due to political and financial power, has etched its name into the Island’s football history. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you’re not a “leftie”) poor decision making has enabled others to capitalise, pushing Omonia into mid table mediocrity and near bankruptcy.

Given that the club has been involved in an eye watering 76 transfers since 2014 and at one point were so financially hard up (€13.6M in debt was the reported figure) the then president Stelios Mylonas was calling on fans far and wide to donate generously so that the club wouldn’t incur a six point deduction. In fact, Mr Mylonas travelled to London and Manchester for a whip round, dressing it up as some sort of collaboration between Omonia Nicosia and Omonia FC London.

Credit where it’s due though. Mr Mylonas formed a lovely relationship with Omonia London’s then Chairman Andreas Sifounas, who a few weeks later said “if we make 7,500 deposits of €20, we will collect €150,000”. This would enable the club to re-sign striker Dimitris Christofi. I don’t know if fans coughed up or the club found a money tree somewhere but Christofi did indeed sign for Omonia in 2015 and hasn’t budged, I mean, remains at the club.

I remember reading an article on the Guardian’s website back in 2016 about corruption, violence and match fixing in Cypriot football. Most of what was written didn’t surprise me much, although reading about bomb attacks on referees emphasised just how bad the state of football is out there. Football “fanatics” in Cyprus are impatient and have always had zero tolerance approach.

Take Omonia’s Ultras; otherwise known as “Gate 9”, as an example. A group of fans who have often interrupted training sessions and confronted players, seeking explanations for poor results and performances. Needless to say the relationship between Gate 9 and the board is non existent. I can’t pin point exactly when it became so toxic, although my guess is it was around September 2015 when Gate 9 supporters were banned by the club from attending matches.

In 2015 Gate 9 put out a statement accusing AKEL (Cyprus’ left wing party) of holding the club to ransom and preventing it from climbing out of a hole the board threw it in. Those who know politics in Cyprus will say some of AKEL’s MPs had more than a vested interest in Omonia Nicosia.

As for performances on the field, Omonia final league positions don’t mirror that of the nation’s second most successful side. Finishing 4th(2014-15), 4th(2015-2016), 5th (2016-2017), 6th(2017-2018) and 5th(2018-2019) simply isn’t good enough. However, a rope by the name of Stavros Papastavrou has entered the hole Omonia is trapped in and could well be the man to pull the club to safety.

Mr Papastavrou is a New York based investor and founder of Omonia Football Ltd; the company that purchased Omonia Nicosia and wrote off the majority of the €16.8M debt. One of his first acts was to restructure the club from top to bottom. Nicos Charalambides took the General Manager of Strategic Planning role and out went Head Coach Carlos Oliva. Former Roma and Juventus defender Marco Motta signed for a season, whilst former Wigan forward Jordi Gomez came in and ended the season as the club’s top goalscorer with seven goals. Oliva’s replacement Giannis Anastasiou turned out to be merely a stop-gap manager as 11 losses in 25 games led to his departure after six months in charge – which brings us back to Henning Berg.

Papastavrou has undoubtedly made a statement by appointing Berg and backing him in the transfer market. The likes of Nigerian international goalkeeper Francis Uzoho has signed on loan from Deportivo, as has central defender Michael Luftner (FC Copenhagen) and left back Jan Lecjaks (Dinamo Zagreb). Hungarian international central defender Adam Lang has joined on a free from CFR Cluj, whilst former Lille winger Eric Bautheac has also signed on a free. Omonia have kept hold of the likes of Matt Derbyshire, Dimitris Christofi and Jordi Gomez, whilst the acquisition of the lesser known Hen Ezra, Michael Ortega, Miku Fedor and Vitor Gomes could wake up this sleeping giant.

At time of writing, Henning Berg’s men have a 100% record after winning their opening two games of the season. Given APOEL are yet to play due to European commitments, Omonia had to hit the ground running if they are to reduce the risk of falling behind their rivals when they eventually get their season underway.

Omonia fans can be forgiven if they finally feel quite optimistic about their team’s future. Aside from a structural overhaul and new recruits, there’s talk of the club moving from the GSP (national stadium) to a new home in Nicosia. However, Papastavrou’s takeover divided the fan base. Die-hard supporters – most of whom are Gate 9, were infuriated that the club was no longer fan owned, so they did something that has become quite common in the game; they formed their own club called “Omonia 1948”. Gate 9 believe Papastavrou’s ownership of the club goes against their left wing ideology. Omonia Nicosia is no longer “a club for the people”.

The club’s badge is a three leaf clover which represents hope. Of course it’s too early to say the club has turned a corner but Papastavrou’s vision and actions have put Omonia in the healthiest position they’ve been in for a long time. Unfortunately, this has come at a cost. Many believe the club has sold its soul. Others would argue that Papastavrou has given new life to the club.


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