Cyprus football is strangling rather than nurturing young talent

7 mins read


While Cyprus grudgingly conceded it may have sold tyrants, fugitives and five-star undesirables a Cypriot passport there was another slither of bad news wedged between the debris of the island’s investment scheme.

A survey conducted by the Football Observatory of the International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES), revealed that Cypriot clubs prefer to make short-term gains rather than invest in homegrown talent.

It indicated that Cyprus has the highest percentage of foreign footballers with 66.8%, followed by Portugal (63.6%) and Turkey (62.4%).

To make matters worse, six out of the 10 European teams with the most minutes played by expatriates were Cypriot clubs.

The Cypriot Championship remains one of Europe's oldest with a player average age of 27.41.

It is not something the football academies like to advertise when encouraging the parents of young children that their sons or daughter should join them.

Football is the island’s national sport but like our Cypriot passport scheme we’ve sold out to foreign mercenaries in a self-made get-rich-quick scheme where losers outnumber the very few winners.

Hundreds of mums and dads out there are dreaming their kids might one day become a professional footballer or at least enjoy the game at a decent level.

Parents are duped into paying hard-earned money for the privilege of their kids being coached to play football on a notion that if their offspring are talented this will be nurtured and developed in the best possible way.

This is the belief, but the reality is that most football clubs see their academies as a cash-cow to spend the money on attracting foreign imports for a quick-fix on the glory trail.

Only when experiencing the system – if you can call it that – does it slowly dawn on you that developing young Cypriot talent is way down on the list of priorities.

Those that run the game will say Cyprus is a small island which should not be expected to compete at the highest level or meet the same standard of technical coaching as in other countries.

Cyprus should be trying to do the best it can in the sporting arena, not finding defeatist excuses to avoid having a vision where the pursuit of excellence is allowed to thrive.

Thousands of people play football in this country every weekend while thousands more go to watch the game at the grassroots level where enthusiasm hasn’t been strangled by short-termism.

One only needs to visit a professional topflight game on any given day to realise that the fans are staying away in their droves because the entertainment is poor, the stadia are far from family-friendly and there is a dearth of homegrown heroes to cheer.

Add to the mix poor refereeing, a badly packaged product, the overriding belief that most games are fixed, the lack of top-down competition, non-existent investment in infrastructure and no clear pathway for Cypriot talent to blossom.

More pressing, where is the national conversation about the state of our game.

There is no debate about Cyprus having the oldest players, most foreigners, highest turnover of footballers and more contract disputes than an episode of Suits.

Where’s the demand for better coaching of our youngsters or the Cyprus Football Association creating a school of excellence to develop elite players that will one day don the Cypriot jersey.

Granted, good foreign players have improved the standard of Cypriot football while helping younger Cypriot footballers to improve.

But how many times have clubs just thrown good money after bad because they treat player recruitment like a blind auction where they bid for items in the hope that among the duds a rare gem might shine.

It has almost become fashionable for clubs to change their squads quicker than it takes to launch their new shirt for the season.

Football is about community, it’s about clubs having a lifelong interaction with the fans and creating a bond of loyalty for the values and history they represent. It’s about respect and giving back something to the game.

If Cypriot clubs don’t care about developing and promoting Cypriot players, then what message is it giving to the fans on how serious they take their academies.

At a stretch, there may be five teams that have any realistic chance of winning a trophy, so why don’t the rest invest in the local player pool, even second division teams that survive on a pittance gamble on foreigners like they won a Las Vegas jackpot.

Good young Cypriot players need to be given a chance to shine on the bigger stage so they can improve, they need space to blossom.

Clubs might argue there aren’t enough Cypriot player of a high enough quality to compete, so what are their academies doing apart from counting the profit on selling false hope.

Surely, fans want to see the best foreign players strut their stuff with Cypriots who understand what it means to wear the shirt of their hometown club.

Cyprus must aspire to be better but like everything else, people prefer to create shortcuts and damn the consequences.