Cork City’s European tour takes a turn with a difference over the next two weeks as the club heads for Cyprus’s very own little enclave of Spain.
AEK Larnaca may be a proud Cypriot club, but it has a distinct Iberian flavour. There are now 12 Spanish players in the AEK Larnaca squad. They are all technically very good but few would have graced LaLiga, instead working their way through Spain’s lower leagues. Think vino de mesa rather than Rioja.
Irish international Cillian Sheridan spent four years playing in the Cyprus First Division with APOEL and Omonia before his move to Jagiellonia Bialystok in the Polish top flight this season.
The Cavan man has encountered AEK Larnaca on many occasions.
“Basically they’ve been the second best team in Cyprus for the past few seasons, and on a much lower budget compared to APOEL,” Sheridan told the Examiner.
“They’ve got a Spanish director who has brought a lot of Spanish players, coaches, and plays a very possession-style game. They wouldn’t play like other Cypriot teams. Probably the most important thing when playing them is to have a good defensive shape. That’s what I picked up playing against them.”
The Spanish technical director of the club is Xavi Roca Mateo, a product of Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy. He was responsible for bringing in the past two coaches — Danish-born former Spanish international Thomas Christiansen, now at Leeds United, and current incumbent Imanol Idiakez.
Idiakez took over the coaching duties at AEK last season and is the brother of Inigo Idiakez, a cult hero at English Championship side Derby County and currently on the Rams coaching staff.
Idiakez managed several sides in Spain’s third tier before his move to Cyprus.
Paul Bull, a teacher, journalist, and football fanatic from England based in Toledo, where Idiakez coached for the Seguna B Group 2 (Spanish third tier) 2013/14 campaign, recalls the manager leading Toledo to the play-offs but failing to gain promotion.
“They played good passing football with a real attacking threat under Idiakez,” recalls Bull. “It was a decent season for the club.”
Idiakez brings this philosophy to Larnaca, though he told Irish journalist Kevin O’Neill for footballpink.net last year that he is far from a slave to the famed tiki-taka style of Barcelona or passing for passing’s sake: “I don’t believe in tiki-taka... the most important part of our way of playing is not tiki-taka or making short passes, but to find the best way to score as many goals as possible.”
Amid all the Spanish players, perhaps the biggest threat to Cork City will come from dangerous winger Ivan Trickovski. One of two Macedonian internationals in the side, Republic of Ireland supporters may remember him scoring against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in qualifying for Euro 2012, though he also a missed a penalty in Skopje against Giovanni Trapattoni’s side. Trickovski is a lively attacker with a very impressive scoring rate.
Cyprus international Nestoras Mitidis is another threat. He was sold by AEK to Dutch Eredivisie side Roda last year, is back at the club on loan, and the Cypriot international is a capable scorer.
All in all, it’s going to be a tough task for the Leesiders. Like City, AEK have been runners-up for the past three seasons in their domestic league.
The July heat in Larnaca, with daytime temperatures passing 30C, will not be Cork’s ally either, in the club’s impressive new 7,000-seater AEK Arena.
But it is also worth keeping in mind that most of the Spanish stars plying their trade in Cyprus are at the veteran stages of their careers — it isn’t just air miles they’ve clocked up.
With the club only in pre-season for their own league, it provides an opportunity for City to show the value of match fitness. There’s every chance the alert Sean Maguire can sign off from his Cork City playing days with another European goal or two to the catalogue.
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