By Andreas Vou
For a second year running, the Cypriot first division has been found to have the highest percentage of foreign players in Europe, after the CIES Football Observatory’s annual demographic study was published last month.
With 64 per cent of the league’s players coming from overseas, the results show our clubs’ neglect of local players which in turn is having a devastating effect on our national team, not to mention the clubs themselves. The consequence is nothing short of a wild merry-go-round that has a detrimental effect on just about every vested interest in our game.
It seems like not long ago there were genuine reasons to believe that the Cypriot national team was gradually evolving into a competitive footballing nation on the continent. In the 2008 European Championship qualifying campaign, Cyprus showed they could provide tough competition, especially at home where they beat the Republic of Ireland 5-2, and held Germany to a 1-1 draw in the space of a week.
But since the EURO 2012 qualifying campaign, things have taken a taken a turn for the worst with the team failing to win any of their eight games, losing six – after such a dismal campaign it was no surprise to find that Cyprus had the oldest squad of all European countries with an average of 28.6 years. The latest World Cup qualifying campaign was a step worse, losing seven of the ten group matches and winning just one.
One of the proposed solutions to the national team’s problems? You guessed it… more foreign players. So limited are the opportunities for Cypriot players in the local league that naturalizing foreign stars has been seen as a way of helping the national team’s problem, which is a bit like trying to solve global warming by air-conditioning the arctic.
Our clubs’ lust for foreign imports rather than developing talented youngsters is a sign of not having faith in youth, which begins to make sense when you take a look at just how old the league is getting. Second only to Italy’s Serie A, the Cypriot First Division’s average age is 27. Sir Alex Ferguson famously stated: “If you’re good enough you’re old enough”, but in Cyprus it seems that the belief is the complete opposite, as we see in most other industries on the island where seniority reigns supreme over talent.
But is it just that? Perhaps not. The impact that agents and third-party owners have cannot be understated. The country is suffering an epidemic inflicted by these agents who flog their clients to Cypriot clubs on short-term deals, often arranging bung deals where the manager/chairman earn a cut of the player’s salary.
Further evidence to this are the statistics which show Cyprus-based players to have the third shortest span at a particular club with players switching teams every 1.8 years on average, as well as the fact that Cypriot clubs average the highest number of new signings in Europe, with 14 new faces per season. Of course, the more often a player signs for a new club, the bigger bumper signing-on fees the agent and client can pocket.
What motivation do managers have to breed young players when they know they will be replaced in a few months if they’re not top of the league? And what motivation does a young footballer have to succeed when, regardless of skill, he will be overlooked in favour of a foreign import? The league, above anything, is suffering from greed. Everyone is intent on making a quick buck as opposed to implementing a sustainable long-term approach. There is certainly no shortage of talent, it just takes one club to change their approach and, like anything that becomes successful, will begin to be replicated island-wide.
Stats provided by CIES: The football observatory: http://www.football-observatory.com/