By Christos Meliopoulos – Nicosia
The decision by the Cyprus Football Association to terminate the contract of the national team manager Nikos Nioplias did not come as a surprise to anyone.
The squad’s performances in the World Cup qualifiers were not what the association, the fans and even the Greek manager himself would have expected. Cyprus has only managed four points out of eight matches and bottom spot in a group that while none considers an easy one, it definitely raised hopes of a decent point tally when the opponents became known.
Nioplias’s disappointing reign was not restricted just to the World Cup games. In something more than two years he managed only two wins (against Moldova in a friendly match and Iceland in the qualifiers), two draws and 14 defeats, scoring only 11 goals and conceding 34. Some mainly blame him for presenting a team with no passion in its game, which has always been a consolation for fans when the result was bad.
All these statistics do not mean that Nioplias is not a talented manager, as he has indeed proven especially during his time with the junior national Greek teams. But his Cyprus days will be remembered as a clip of the wings of the optimists who saw great leaps of progress for Cypriot football in the size-defying performances of local clubs in recent European competitions..
The common denominator in these opposite examples is the number of foreign players employed by Cypriot football clubs. Nikos Nioplias hinted as much when he complained of the limited options he had as national coach in selecting the members of the team.
In 2010 the Professional Football Players Observatory had Cyprus on the top of the European leagues featuring most foreign players, with the unmistakably worrying percentage of 70%. Last season 218 out of 354 players registered with the top flight clubs were not Cypriots, even excluding the naturalised ones – a percentage of 62%. In total, 51 countries, a quarter of the globe, were represented in the Cypriot league.
The frequent injuries for some of Cypriot football’s top class players eligible for the national team during Nioplias’s tenure in the dugout only further exposed the selection indigence facing him and his successor.
The present financial predicament of Cyprus unfortunately hampers any plans of top clubs to further invest in producing their own home-grown talents; but as Nikos Nioplias would tell you, this is the only way for a sustainable and as successful as possible future for the Cyprus national team.