By Iacovos Constantinou
EVER since I can remember, (almost all) football clubs in Cyprus were run in more or less the same way as our public finances, always spending much more than what they could afford.
This led to a number of clubs teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, clubs with debts of more than 4-5 times their annual turnover.
In the past couple of years all related parties (UEFA, banks, creditors) began turning the screw on the clubs and some clubs responded by trying to bring in checks on their expenses.
However, it was all too little too late. The recent Eurogroup debacle ‘helped’ clubs justify what was to follow and in effect confirmed that Cyprus football was in intensive care in a comatose condition.
In a recent report released by the player’s union the Pancyprian Football Association (PFA), last month, of the twelve first division teams only one had no outstanding payments towards its players. Nine teams owed three or more salaries with two clubs having not paid their players anything in 2013!
According to Spyros Neophytides, the President of PFA, they had alerted the Cyprus Football Assoociation (CFA) more than three years ago about the overspending of Cyprus clubs and the need to monitor and exert some economic control over them.
“The signs were there for everyone to see. We wanted to protect our members and were merely asking for the basics, the timely payment of their salaries. Most of the clubs were and are in the red but if measures had been taken when we had first raised the issue with the CFA perhaps we would not have been in this predicament now.”
Four clubs have already failed UEFA’s March criteria and have been docked three points for next season as well as not being allowed to make any transfers unless they settle their dues. With June’s criteria coming up shortly it is almost certain that more points will be docked off clubs and the list may grow longer.
Clubs have finally realised that the party is over. Omonia, one of the most indebted teams, began their streamlining a couple of years ago and it has been reported that for the season 2013-2014, there will be a further 60% budget cut. It is also rumoured that two of its most prized assets will be sold to further reduce the existing debt. In fact, Omonia managed to pass the UEFA March criteria thanks entirely to the generosity and loyalty of their fans who managed to raise almost €3 million in donations in a very short period of time.
Anorthosis, with debts of €13 million, of which just under €5 million need to be serviced soon, said that they will slash their budget to €1.5 million. Anorthosis have managed to sell off one of their prized assets, striker Laborde, for €1.2 to raise some of the much needed capital.
Even APOEL, who enjoyed two spells in the group stages of the Champions League in recent years and were rewarded with more than €25 million is believed to be looking to reduce its budget by 40%.
Clubs will also have to accept reduced sponsorships be it for TV rights, kit sponsors etc. There have even been discussions about switching games to afternoon kick-offs, as in many cases gate receipts do not even cover the electricity cost for floodlights!
Another worrying aspect facing Cyprus football is the rise in hooliganism that directly affects the viability of clubs. Not a ‘big’ game goes by without some kind of violence, either inside or outside the grounds. Police seem to have been unable or even unwilling to combat this football scourge
Current champions APOEL will begin the season with three games being played behind closed doors whilst the same applies for Anorthosis’ first three European games. In all their wisdom the CFA has allowed clubs to buy out their penalty by paying a fine of €40.000, in a way ‘permitting’ hooliganism provided you have the cash!
According to unofficial estimates, over the past three years, APOEL have paid in fines or lost revenues, both in Europe and Cyprus around two million euros. This must be some kind of record especially if one considers that Paralimni, a first division mid-table team, will have a budget of no more than €500.000 for the coming season.
It seems as though the problems do not end here. Over the past few months, and especially since the playoffs began, the CFA has been receiving the notorious ‘red envelopes’ from UEFA at an alarming rate. Red envelopes are sent to a country’s football association when UEFA’s initial investigation is almost certain that a game has been fixed.