NICOSIA - Cyprus boss Pambos Christodoulou will be in England this weekend to look at potential players as he continues preparing the national team for the upcoming Euro 2016 qualifiers in September.
The 46-year-old Christodoulou, who had replaced Greek coach Nicos Nioplias after yet another poor qualifying campaign for Cyprus, will watch Manchester United under-18 defender Nicholas Ioannou in action against Tottenham in Premier Academy League match on Saturday before taking a look at Cyprus under-21 international and Ebbsfleet United striker Michael Thalassitis in a non-league clash against Concord Rangers.
Cyprus looked a vastly improved side as they drew 0-0 with Northern Ireland in what was his first game in charge and the former AEL, Olympiakos Nicosia and Doxa Katokopia coach is looking to beef up his squad from abroad with local players still outnumbered by non-Cypriots at the island’s top clubs.
“We will try and see as many players as we can but it’s our plan to try and look at as many players as we can that are playing abroad,” he told the Cyprus Football Association’s (CFA) official website. “If we find out about any Cypriots worth watching, we will fly out to see them. But it is crucial that I get to see them up close.”
The two players he is set to see in England are no strangers to local football followers. Manchester United hope Ioannou is the son of current AEK Kouklia boss Demetris Ioannou, who enjoyed a successful career as defender himself for Anorthosis Famagusta, Apollon Limassol and Cyprus which he also captained.
The bustling Thalassitis, who has already represented Cyprus at youth level and scored with a brilliant header last year to give the island a famous 2-1 victory over Serbia in Achna, is currently playing in the Conference South (the sixth tier of English football) although he is on loan from League One side Stevenage.
“We want to explore every avenue available and we are not leaving anything to chance,” continued Christodoulou. “I will watch both players to see what kind of shape they are in and to see if they are ready to get a calling to the national side. We know of other players playing for English clubs that I am aware of who I will try and see on this trip. Otherwise I will need to see them on my second trip to England. It’s a case of finding the right dates to watch them.”
The Cyprus national team has been enduring a bumpy spell since embarking on an impressive qualifying campaign for Euro 2008. Their only notable qualifying wins since then have been a 4-1 defeat of Bulgaria in 2009 and a 1-0 win over Iceland in 2012 – a far cry from the success of the island’s clubs that frequent the Champions League and Europa League group stages.
During his spells as manager of AEL, Olympiakos and Doxa, Christodoulou developed a reputation of getting the best out of his players and for his astute tactical ability. Back in 2012, his popularity sky-rocketed after steering AEL to their first league title since 1968 and a place in the UEFA Europa League group stages for the first time the following season.
Following the goalless draw against the Northern Irish in Christodoulou’s debut in the dugout, Cyprus will next fly out to the Far East to face Japan in a friendly in Saitama on May 27.
The game will be the first meeting between the two sides with Cyprus having never travelled so far for a football match. The game is also seen as an ideal warm-up by the Japanese who meet Greece in their World Cup group in Brazil.
Despite the enormity of the friendly, Christodoulou says he is looking forward to the experience which will be a first both to him and his players.
“This is a very difficult test but one that will serve us well in so many ways. We will gain some invaluable experiences from this game but, more importantly for me, is the fact that I will spend a good number of days with the players, so we can follow on from the work that we did against Northern Ireland with regards to the philosophy that I want to instill in the team.”
Cyprus have been drawn in Euro 2016 Qualifying Group B alongside Bosnia, Belgium, Israel, Wales and Andorra.
Their first game is away to Bosnia on September 9 before returning to Cyprus a month later to host Israel.