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APOEL FC – A Small Team With A Big Heart

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APOEL FC – A Small Team With A Big Heart

Postby Lit » Tue Feb 14, 2012 11:20 am ... big-heart/

The UEFA Champions League final is Europe’s befitting answer to the Super Bowl of USA. The teams associated with the CL, the history of them and the traditions of the Cup are impossible to ignore. Every club and player in Europe, irrespective of the country and division they play in, dream of winning football’s elite tournament.
The Champions League is an interesting league. For some teams like FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United not winning the Champions League is considered to be a failure in itself. And for some teams like APOEL FC, participating in the Champions League is their greatest victory.
After Michel Platini introduced new rules in 2009-10 for qualification into the Champions League for associations affiliated to the UEFA, more notably being the Champions Route for qualifying, APOEL FC have made the most of it. For a club from Cyprus, whose UEFA coefficient has been steadily on the rise since 2007-08 compared to the regression of Scotland and Finland, it is a remarkable achievement to be playing in the Round of 16 of the Champions League. And to magnify the achievement, they topped their group edging out seasoned campaigners like Porto and Shakhtar.

Established as POEL FC (Football Club of Greeks of Nicosia) in the year 1926 by the Greek-Cypriot population of Nicosia to represent them, they morphed themselves to APOEL FC (Athletic Football Club of Greeks of Nicosia) after sensing that their players were capable of doing well on the Athletics front as well. APOEL FC became the first champions of Cyprus in an unofficial league before winning five consecutive championships in the official league from 1936–1940.
A politically dark period for Cyprus followed in which players of APOEL FC were actively involved in the national conflicts afflicting it before the club made history in 1963 by becoming the first club from Cyprus to participate and win a tie in the European competition when they defeated Norwegian team SK Gjøvik-Lyn before losing to Sporting Club de Portugal in the next round.

In the late eighties, when football was flourishing all over Europe with leagues becoming increasingly professional, Cyprus was operating on a relatively unprofessional level. By the early nineties, Cyprus realized its folly but their clubs were neck-deep in bankruptcy. Then in 1997, APOEL FC decided to create a public company whose operating, marketing and finances would be independent of the club but it would use the club rights to market and pay a decent sum of money to the club every year.
And then, slowly, everything started to fall in place. Since the turn of the new century, APOEL have dominated their league and have constantly participated in the European Competitions. The crowning moment finally arrived in the 2009-10 season when they knocked out F.C. Copenhagen and reached the Group Stages for the first time in their history. They were drawn into a group comprising Chelsea, Porto and Atletico. They hardly stood a chance but the club from Cyprus performed extraordinarily, all the while learning some very valuable lessons which helped them over the course of time to strengthen themselves.

APOEL FC have come up the hard way. They did not rely on external resources to build a team. They laid special emphasis on youth development and an ingenious idea to make money. The club runs a U-21 youth squad which operates independently from the senior side, pretty much how Real Madrid or Barcelona’s youth teams operate – with an independent set of directors and budget. Now, their struggle since 2000, coupled with their vision and emphasis on youth are reaping rich rewards. Five of the current players have been brought up from the academy and all of them have represented the Cyprus national squad. It’s an achievement many major clubs have been unable to achieve in Europe, especially in English football.

And then in 2011-12, when they got another shot, APOEL FC were fully prepared. They beat a club of Porto’s stature and then qualified to the knock out stages at the expense of Porto and Shakhtar where they will meet Lyon. APOEL are a team built on solid defense and are primarily a counter attacking team. With their resources, a meagre annual budget of £7m including transfer fees and wages, they cannot afford to be attacking in the Champions League and have stuck to their strengths. The club has also been solid in away games, a prerequisite to survive in European football.
With APOEL doing so well on the grandest European stage, the list of sponsors has been on the rise. A look at the club’s website and you can see more than 25 corporations associated with the most successful club in Cyprus. This means more revenue and exposure which will enable a club of their stature to pump in more money to better their infrastructure and player salaries.

The attendance this year has also been impressive. Their numbers averaging more than 20,000 are the highest for any club in Cyprus this year. The passionate fans will finally enjoy the flavor of a Champions League knock out tie at their home ground for the first time and they know that once they savor it, it will not be enough. Champions League qualification is a greed mandatory for any club aiming to make it big on the European stage.
After achieving the unthinkable, the coach Ivan Jovanovic admitted, “I am the happiest man in the world right now. We have achieved something which three months ago we had no right to even dream of.” Midfielder Constantinos Charalambides, part of the APOEL youth team in the past, and the man who will lead them at Lyon said, “This is the biggest day and the biggest moment in the history of this football club. I don’t think anyone has really realised what has happened, especially as we were in such a tough group.” But the best statement was made by Charalambides’ midfield partner, Gustavo Manduca, who had scored the historic winner in stoppage time against Porto, which resonates with the thoughts of many people across Europe and the world, “This night for me is a miracle. I never imagined that this success would happen when I arrived in Cyprus.”

APOEL have shown the world that nothing is impossible to achieve in this money crazy modern world of football. Costas Koutsokoumnis, the president of the Cyprus FA could not have been more happy with this development. “APOEL has proved success can be achieved on a modest budget,” he said . “If you said what they’ve done was possible three years ago everyone would have said you were crazy but it’s not always a matter of how much money you spend.”
With the right vision and solid foundation, miracles, as put across by Manduca, are possible.
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