Cyprus National Team: The «swan» they left… ugly duckling

Sports & RecreationsSports

  • Author Harris Miltiadous
  • Published December 10, 2021
  • Word count 2,442

Cyprus National Team: The «swan» they left… ugly duckling

The greatest failure of people is the condescension and the acceptance of situations that seem unchanged, often based on mistakes of the past which lead us to raise a white flag. This is not a personal view as you can come across to this ascertainment by reading Nikos Kazantzakis. "Abandonment does not make you a winner, daydreaming makes you lazy, only works satisfy the human soul."

I start in this way, to put on the table the realization that our temperament is a shining mirror which its reflection shines to the football of our country. Especially when it comes to the National team, which is the basis and identity of our football.

We have almost given up trying to reach the big goal of qualifying to the finals of a major tournament, by fully resting on the temporary inter-club European successes, which I clearly do not underestimate. However, I can't close my eyes to the chaotic difference between the two and the level of difficulty. Football miracles happen every day, by persistent "David" who bring down arrogant and unprepared "Goliath".

I strongly believe that this insufficient approach regarding the development of National team is very normal, as we live in our own "sugar" microcosm. Maris Verpakovskis (Latvia), Dwight Yorke (Trinidad and Tobago), Gilfi Sigurdsson (Iceland), Felipe Baloy (Panama) can tell you better what does it means great overruns. Football heroes, from countries of the same size as Cyprus. It is worth-noting that the day that Panama qualified for the 2018 World Cup, was officially declared a holiday by the Government of "Los Canaleros", while the qualification of the Icelanders in Euro 2016 marked the presence in France of 1/8 of the population of the Scandinavian country.

Dreams, friends and readers, remain dreams when we do not do what is humanly possible to make them come true. No serious effort will bear fruit, at least in the form of a future legacy, unless we proceed with groundbreaking incisions and unpopular decisions that will displease the majority.

On the journey to our Ithaca (Euro) and every Ithaca we will find storms, we will need to show courage (in decisions) and most importantly we will have to be wiser if we do not reach our destination.

Somehow, I will start analysing the omissions, the points we are lagging behind and how we need to move in order to improve our weaknesses, providing ourselves with all the necessary supplies to overcome.

The weights in the organizational structure

What is CFA? An easily answered question although we systematically forget to define a specific reality, which is completely intertwined with how this body works. Cyprus Football Association is the clubs and the decisions that are taken, guided solely by the clubs' interest. Of course, mainly, the decisions are economic-centric in nature and completely marginalize significant pillars of development of our football.

The discussion on fines and bonus for the use of Cypriot footballers went through a thousand waves to finally make progress in 2021. The responsibilities clearly weigh on the large clubs for the delayed extensive quantitative and qualitative use. Cypriot clubs are participating in a bra-de-fer process of foreign footballers, for a decade now. Conclusively, they realized that in this way they can ensure their comfortable long-term survival and unexpected income from a possible sale of a footballer.

According to a recent CFA survey, five non-traditional teams in the top six of Cyta Top League, gave more than 6,000 minutes to local players, with the number indicating that these clubs use at least four Cypriot players per game. I never imagined that I would become an advocate of the line of 14 teams, however this structure will have to be made permanent in order to radiate credibility and prestige. The frequent change every few months also pushes the public opinion into a conspiracy scenario. As it turned out, with the marriage of 14 teams and a bonus, the non-traditional teams in the top 6, do not have any doubt and concern to trust the local players and therefore the measure is considered successful by the result. As a result, the goal of expanding the pool of players available for the call-up takes shape.

Getting to this point was not easy at all. I have my doubts about whether we will stay at these high rates (using local players). In order to ensure the prosperity of our National team, there should be a separation of powers in the CFA. When we refer to a National team committee, it must be crystal clear, see the National as a priority and exercise open opposition in the clubs. Unfortunately, we are not the country that can wisely and collectively fit two watermelons in one armpit. The more the aspirations of the two go hand in hand, the more damaging the consequences for our National team will be.

Regarding the adoption of plans by other football federations, this should not be done a-la carte and with superficial approaches. A concrete example is the hiring of Johann Walem, whose arrival would be impossible to bring a new era. In his homeland to produce world-class players, they filled his quiver with all the necessary weapons. An agreement was reached between the teams to use six Belgians, disincentives had been provided to the second division teams to close the competitive gap from their top league and not to be forced into transactions. As well as, they used the much-discussed 4-3-3 in all the small national teams. Cyprus does not even have a football identity and personality to decide something similar. One of the fundamental reasons that we can't proceed to a similar direction, is that we do not look for and trust young scientists in the field of sports who may have worked abroad and know how to find the golden section to accomplish such a thing.

Who are we and what do we ask for?

Living in a society suffering from an identity crisis, a fact that has thrown citizens' confidence into the nadir, the football part could not be an exception. Undoubtedly, few coaches have managed to drain the passion, courage and shattered self-esteem from our footballers. Especially with regard to the new generation of footballers, who are constantly challenged on a daily basis that they lack talent.

Do we lack talent?

If talent was an element in the periodic table (chemistry), there would be many who would argue that the Cypriot genetic material ignores its existence. Of course, it would be a crazy and ungrounded assessment, if we recall footballers like Michalis Konstantinou and Giannis Okkas.

Top legends of the global sports community reject the concept of talent as the unshakable raw material to lay the foundation for a career. Michael Jordan and Johan Cruyff are two of them. Jordan believes that he gigantically grew his basketball abilities because of the many errors and missed shots at his first steps and according to Cruyff’s book, nothing wouldn't remind us the "Pythagoras in boots'' if he wasn't spending countless football hours in the alley of his neighbourhood.

Along with those above, many writers, sports and non-sports, follow the same thinking line. Walter Travis' book "Queen's gambit", which was recently made available on movie platforms, chronicles the life and career of the fictional heroine, champion Beth Harmon, who was locked in the basement for hours playing chess with the orphanage caretaker. Also worth-mentioning is the table tennis Olympian's book, Matthew Sid, entitled "The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice", in which he analyzes in detail the emblematic paths of Wolfgang-Amadeus Mozart and Judit Polgar.

In conclusion, we find that talent is important, but the power of the human will is a driving force to jump over obstacles that seem insurmountable. When I write human will, there are two elements that frame it, the unconditional total devotion and the sacrifices that define such a thing.

Moreover, in this way, I take the opportunity to emphasize that if the Cypriot footballer does not realize that football is not just his profession, but is what will determine his degree of prosperity, then he will take two steps forward and three steps back. One reason why the average local footballer probably does not share this idea is because it is now a common assumption that the standard of living has risen significantly and there is no strong need to escape from the «sword of Damocles» of motivational frugality, which arises from contraction of "small" and "middle" income class.

Taking into account the specific recorded event (which of course is not a rule), completely leads the Cypriot footballer to build a profile characterized by moderation and compromise, aiming not at personal development but simply finding a job. Therefore, the dream of a career abroad is sunk and sacrificed on the altar of rest and the "security" of our island.

The mentality and the decoding of identity

How are competitive and reliable national teams built? Answer so simple that at the same time we refuse to see. Footballers who are transferred abroad give new status to a National team for a bunch of reasons and I will list them. First of all, getting out of a footballer's comfort zone such as the domestic league, is synonymous with progress as it pushes you to adapt to different conditions.

At the same time, you have the opportunity to acquire the mentality of a winner, if you enter a top European championship, where you acquire those performances that make you understand what professionalism means, with everything it includes. In addition, the communication with great coaches helps you to realize your strengths and weaknesses, and consequently your football identity. An identity that we do not have as a national team and one of the reasons is this. Nobody knows what type of game our national team is playing, nor what elements it seeks to utilize. Therefore, when choosing a coach, this should be a non-negotiable condition for hiring. The technical leader of a team can well be compared to a chef, who in order to cook and present a dish must have specific ingredients required by the recipe.

In the field of mentality, our approach to the following three factors is also included: technical, physical condition and parental behaviour. We strive to teach the children of our academies tactics and expediency without even having the sports bases. At the same time, we "bury" the creativity, imagination and joy of the game, ignoring the aforementioned very important aspect of developmental football. At the same time, the parents have high hopes that their children will become phenomena. It is worth-noting that the Porto team, which won the UEFA Youth League in 2019, established parent schools where they receive training in their general behavior and treatment of young athletes. Movements in this direction will maximally support the pedagogical efforts that contribute to the formation of an ideal mentality by all parties involved.

The fundamental barometer of staffing

Starting with the technical leader of a wannabe Cinderella, such as Cyprus, ie a team with low expectations, his profile should be specific and meet certain basic requirements.

First of all, on the one hand he has to know the people, situations and mentalities of the island, but on the other hand he must be available to bring the real change at any cost and to convince for groundbreaking changes that are needed. What does this mean; He will not experiment in vain, trying e.g. to "baptize" some forwards to right backs. This, as I wrote, presupposes a good knowledge of the football realities of Cyprus, without necessarily having to be squeezed into molds. In addition, when he includes young players in the team, he will need to balance their presence, framing them with players, which through their experience will strengthen the positive elements that young players have in their repertoire.

It is noteworthy that National team is neither a team that some strangers will share ninety minutes of football, nor does it function differently from the other teams. The teams with a T capital have homogeneity, creative relevance and generally coherent elements that will make it first functionally defensively and then efficient in the production part, something that is obviously inextricably linked to the utilization of its strongest elements.

The team e.g. of Angelos Anastasiadis had at the wings Charalambidis-Aloneftis who were constantly ready to "feed" Michalis Konstantinou, with the latter being supported to the maximum level by the also leading Giannis Okkas. Nobody says that we have to find the players to play something like that. The key to success lies in finding that plan, identity and way of development that will match the materials we have. Furthermore it won't be based on our desires but on our capability and has to make good use of our trump cards.

Therefore, to go one step further, building a solid defence in this time period would help much more than the obsession to produce aggressively, when at the moment there is no sufficient quality for something like that. With Konstantinos Laifis, Nikolas Ioannou, Ioannis Kousoulos and Andreas Karo, there is a prospect, if nothing else, through this line to climb one step higher.

The imaginary luxury

After World War II and the Turkish invasion of 1974, many of our compatriots chose to continue living in Britain in search of a better future. Today, the Cypriot community numbers neither more nor less than 350 thousand of our compatriots. Are they second-class citizens? Clearly not.

The recently observed fact of non-inclusion of footballers included in this status in the calls is apart from unfortunate and unjustified. Admittedly the best football education they have, cannot be ignored as they could only offer positively to a team that lags significantly behind in this area. I will not hesitate to mention names like that of Marcus Edwards, who plays for Vitoria Guimaraes (from Tottenham academies) and is a point of reference in the Portuguese league in general. Naturalized footballers are also included in the category of non-luxury to be left out.

Decision Funds… minus

In conclusion, I must commend the federation for the various steps of professionalism that have taken place in many areas. Nevertheless, there is much more that needs to be done and corrected. The criterion of its leaders is fading more and more into the abyss of doubt. An abyss created by themselves and their decisions. Journalism is the 4th power and its controlling tone, if treated as a constructive tool of self-criticism, beyond any doubt has the ability to create a beneficial impact not only on the team but also on those behind its wheel.

Harris Miltiadous

Official AIPS Member

1st Winner at Cyprus Sports Writers Awards/ Category: Best Article

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