Project Omonia FC expands to Europe

9 mins read

Omonia Nicosia’s New York-based Cypriot investor Stavros Papastavrou feels vindicated after sticking with his investment in the Greens following a disappointing first season to the Champions League.

Following a disappointing 2018-19 season which saw the football club finish sixth, this year Omonia is set to return to the lucrative Champions League after 10 years.

Papastavrou’s second year behind the wheel succeeded in leading the team to first place in the league while the club’s large fan base also returned to the stadium.

Omonia Nicosia will be playing in Europe’s top tournament, as it was awarded first place, but not the league title after the season was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Although not awarded the title, we feel that we are the champions…we had the better squad amongst the top-flight teams. This is evident by the standings after a large part of the championship was completed,” Papastavrou said in a recent interview.

He said that Omonia’s board understands rivals Anorthosis Famagusta’s bitter feelings over Omonia being awarded the Champions League spot, as the Famagusta team had the same points tally.

“In the scenario that two teams finish the championship on the same points, then the team with the best results in the games between the two get the higher spot.

As we had better results than our rivals, we feel that we are the better team and are entitled to the Champions League place,” said Papastavrou.

He took over in 2018 after appearing out of the blue, pledging to invest more than €30 mln.

Despite initial hesitations and organised fans leaving to set-up a new team, Papastavrou became chairman in May 2018.

The New York-based investor made good on his word from day one saving the team by directly injecting €1.5 mln, crucial for the club to pass UEFA’s financial criteria.

He also absorbed €9.5 mln of the club’s €15 mln debt, promising the football team will receive €5 mln every year for transfers and the payroll.

However, his first year was one of Omonia’s worst seasons in its 72-year history, but he was not deterred.

He was successful in rebooting the team by bringing in Larkos Larkou as technical director, Simos Tarapoulouzes as chief scout and former Man Utd defender Norwegian Henning Berg as head coach.

Larkou is remembered for winning the FA Cup with Omonia and is considered to be one of the country’s best football coaches with a good eye for talent.

Hoping the dark days are behind them, Papastavrou’s Omonia embarks on a European campaign that can generate revenue ranging from €1 mln to €17 mln.

That would not only cover the club’s entire budget for the season but inject serious cash flow.

If UEFA sends the champions of countries ranked between 12 and 24 straight to the pre-group stage playoffs of the Champions League, Omonia will definitely be grabbing a spot in a group stage of a European tournament.

The losing sides of the play-offs find themselves in the group stages of the Europa League, the secondary UEFA competition.

Omonia would pocket €5-7 mln if they make it to the Europa League group stage.

Talking to Cablenet’s sports show “Without the use of VAR”, Omonia’s wealthy owner laid out the plan for next season and the years to come.

“In the wake of the coronavirus crisis nothing is the same, but our goal is to keep the team on the same track without lowering the budget,” said Papastavrou.

He believes the club will have a strong side capable of competing for next season’s league title and perform well in the Champions League, bringing more than fame to the club.

“Most of the players, who have proved their value on the pitch, will remain with us next season.”

He said the club is trying to keep players like goalkeeper Francis Uzoho, who played Nigeria in the last world cup, and left-winger David Akintola, also Nigerian.

Both players were on loan to Omonia from top Spanish team Deportivo La Coruna and Danish champions FC Midtjylland.

“That said, apart from a few signings, which are to better our game, the team is not going to be spending a lot more than last year.”

Henning Berg is to head the team’s campaign in Cyprus and Europe for the season 2020-2021.

Papastavrou boldly stated that the team is back and here to stay, announcing that Omonia will not be compromising with anything less than the title.

Building for the future

Papastavrou said investment plans which include the club finally building its own ground have been put on the hold.

In 2018 he announced that he was heading negotiations with the Bank of Cyprus to buy back land in the Hallepianes area, on the outskirts of Nicosia, which had been repossessed by the bank.

“We have not received a definite answer on the matter, as Bank of Cyprus has cut all communication as of December 2019,” he claimed.

“For now, we are concentrating on upgrading the team’s training centre in Yeri, Nicosia. We are waiting for building permits to be issued. The club plans to build a modern training ground with all the necessary facilities costing around €4 mln,” said Papastavrou.

Omonia fans have another reason to be excited as the club is producing quality homegrown players.

Talking to the Financial Mirror, Omonia’s press officer Andreas Demetriou said: “Despite this year’s success being built on big names like English striker Matt Derbyshire, Spaniard Jordi Gomez with experience in La Liga and the Premier League, Omonia was also able to promote good young players to the first team like Andronikos Kakoullis, Marinos Tzonis”.

The 18-year-old striker and midfielder have left their mark as players with great potential.

Two more youngsters made their debuts, 17-year-old midfielders Loizos Loizou and Charalampos Charalampous.

He said that this was partly due to the investment Papastavrou has made in the club’s academy and infrastructure.

Demetriou said that building a strong grass-roots academy for the club is a priority for Papastavrou who is apparently making good on his word.

He said the club’s goal is to go as far as they can in Europe, earning points to improve both the team’s and the country’s ranking.

Demetriou pledged on behalf of the club, that the team will do its best to get the best possible results.

“With a bit of luck, the team could qualify for a European group stage”.