SPORTS

APOEL will enjoy Real tie no matter what happens

Back in 2008, a few glasses of whisky helped Phivos Erotokritou decide to take over at APOEL Nicosia soccer club from the then president Kyriakos Zivanaris. Almost four years later APOEL is among the eight best teams in Europe, preparing to face Real Madrid on Tuesday, March 27 for the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

The president of the Cypriot club, who has associated his name with its biggest success, spoke to Kathimerini about everything, although he avoided saying how much those glasses of whisky have now cost him. He is a man who measures his words carefully.

Erotokritou was born in Nicosia but his father hailed from Karmi of Kerynia in the now-occupied north of Cyprus. He was a Cyprus champion in shooting, and he went on to import Russian hunting rifles. He has a sense of humor, loves fast cars and hunting. One such major game has been the success of APOEL to become the first Cypriot club to emerge from the Champions League group stages and even go on to the last eight.

Is the match with Real Madrid like a celebration or could APOEL spring a surprise?

First of all it is a celebration and we have nothing to lose anymore. We still have plenty to win. We are playing one of the two top teams in Europe. We are a team from a country with just 800,000 people, as big as an Athens suburb, and we have come a long way. We will try to get a good result, but qualifying would be difficult.

How many stadiums like the GSP of Nicosia could APOEL fans fill for this one?

Even if we had two GSPs it would not be enough. The whole of Cyprus wants to see this game, even fans of other clubs. Everyone hopes that the team can show a decent face. APOEL has shown it has the skill, the will and the desire to chase after something good.

How will you administer the revenues APOEL will collect this season?

We will do it in the same way we did it the first time we played in the Champions League [group stage]. Reaching the quarterfinals does not mean we have risen to the level of the teams we are rubbing shoulders with this season. We will manage the money with sense. Even if we started spending beyond our means, no one could guarantee we would repeat this success. That would be a recipe for disaster.

How far do your dreams go for APOEL?

We want to win the Cypriot league, which is difficult enough to do. If we are champions again we will be able to use the points gathered this year in the Champions League in next season’s competition, through an easier route to the group stage.

After this success, what will be the minimum expectation for the following years?

People’s expectations have affected us, but we must think in Cypriot context, both in soccer and in financial terms, and be twice as cautious. With the ongoing crisis, in particular, one has to be careful in handling success.

How much money have you personally put into the club?

During the first year in particular I put in a substantial amount of money by Cypriot standards, but it was worth it.

What is the financial level of APOEL?

Its budget is the highest in Cyprus. Its finances are limited anyway, and we must manage the Champions League money carefully so as to maintain the club on this level for as long as possible. Our primary target is not to have any debts and we have achieved that.

How can a team with a budget of just 9 million euros go all this way? What is the secret?

Our manager, Ivan Jovanovic has built the team and it is always up to him who will come in and who will leave the club. He loves APOEL and his job. He has managed to get the best out of his players, while the majority of the team has been in the club for years. They al operate as one family.

Why have some coaches or players succeeded in Cyprus after failing in Greece?

I do not know why. Is it the environment? The teams? The society here is smaller. The manager finds a way to make the players reach the maximum of their abilities. What has happened at APOEL over the last few years is not taught in universities. There is a stable administration and management and this contributes in success.

What was your reaction when you were drawn with Real Madrid?

When we were drawn first, the pressure was taken off our back as we would not have to wait. We therefore found out quickly we were gong to face one of Europe’s top two teams. What APOEL has achieved is fantastic. No matter what happens we will enjoy it. This has been a dream we have experienced. Even if we are eliminated we will have gone out to one of the best teams in Europe.

Which match is more important: The quarterfinal with Real Madrid or the league derby with Omonia on Friday?

The match with Omonia will go a long way toward deciding the season’s champion. We are two points from the top and we have to try and win this game. If we lose to Real, so be it; but if we lose to Omonia it will be painful.

APOEL’s history has been entangled with the history of Cyprus in the 20th century. Does APOEL’s progress mean anything for the Cyprus problem?

It has made Cyprus known around the world. What APOEL has achieved shows the power of soccer. No matter what political event would have taken place in Cyprus, it would not have received the coverage this success has enjoyed.

How do you comment on the recent riots in the Greek derby between Panathinaikos and Olympiakos?

We have also had similar riots in a match, but on a smaller scale. It’s a shame. Such things ruin the sport and will destroy soccer if they continue.

APOEL has shown its support for Greece in these hard times. How did you decide to do it?

The whole of Cyprus has decided to lend a helping hand. When we saw scenes of poor people getting food distributed to them, it broke our hearts. We are Greeks, too, and Greece has helped us in the past, so it was our obligation to help as much as we can. I hope Greece emerges from the crisis soon.