The countries of choice this week are two European island nations, who couldn’t be further apart in climate. On the one hand, we have the exotic Cyprus, but on the other, we have the Faroe Islands which is basically just north Scotland. Between the two of them, we have three representatives including a Cypriot from the time when the Premier League was only in its infant years.
Cyprus is one of the most south-eastern points in Europe and is naturally an incredibly popular tourist destination in the Mediterranean. In Greek mythology, Cyprus was the birthplace of the goddess of love, Aphrodite, however, by their inclusion in this list, you can see that it isn’t the normal birthplace of world-class footballers. The Cypriot national football team sit at 94th in the FIFA World Rankings, and although they have never participated in a major tournament, they do hold the impressive record of being unbeaten against the Faroe Islands. The two teams have gone head-to-head four times, with Cyprus winning three and drawing on one occasion.
Nikodimos Papavasiliou (Newcastle United 1993-94)
Nikodimos Papavasiliou, which is a name that I definitely didn’t copy and paste from Wikipedia, signed for Newcastle United from OFI Crete in 1993. Incidentally, OFI Crete hold more appearances in the Greek First Division then any other club from the island of Crete. Saying that I’m not sure how many more clubs originate from that area so I can’t say for certain how impressive of a feat that is. A fun fact about the midfielder, who from here on out will be loving known as ‘Nik’, is that he has one of the longest names in Premier League history. At an impressive 21 letters, he sits at joint third, alongside players such as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and, of course, the legend that is Bradley Wright-Phillips.
Due to the obscurity of the player, and the fact that he only featured during the second season of the Premier League, I found it quite hard to find out much about his playing days. I believe he set the Magpies back £162,000 but it appears as though they didn’t get much value for money. Making his debut against Tottenham Hotspurs, Nik turned out just seven times during his stay in England before he was eventually shipped off back to Crete. After that his playing career filtered out as he struggled to embed himself at any club. The Cypriot retired in 2003 and turned his hand to managing. Having taken charge of several clubs in the Mediterranean area, he signed with Slovakian outfit, Slovan Bratislava. I came across a video from “Slovan TV” which depicts their then boss scoring an impressive three out of five, which included three in a row, while attempting a crossbar challenge competition. His skill at striking the outside frame of the goal, rather than the back of the net, could go some way toward explaining why he didn’t have a more successful playing career. Nik is currently jobless having been fired by Bratislava just three games into the 2016/17 season.
Despite his domestic career never really taking off, he endured a decent spell with his national side from 1990-1999. Nik took to the field 40 times and found the back of the net for five goals.
Alexis Nicolas (Chelsea 2003-04)
Sporting a disappointingly easy to spell name, Alexis Nicolas was born in Westminster but qualified to play for Cyprus through his family. Nicholas spent time on the books of both Aston Villa and Chelsea as a youngster, but it was with Chelsea that he saw a progression through to senior football. He made an encouraging debut against Scarborough in the 2004 FA Cup, but only made two appearances for the Blues in the league, and one of these was as a time-wasting 89th-minute substitute during a tight 1-0 victory over Leeds United.
From there he joined Brighton & Hove Albion on loan and immediately became a regular. After being given the all clear by “The Special One” to leave Chelsea, the young midfielder joined on a permanent basis. It took Brighton 31 more goalless appearances to realise the kid didn’t have what it takes to make it in the Football League. After becoming a player-coach of amateur side Hadley FC, Nicolas took a swerve in his career path and set up his own real estate business, which is described on his website as “a boutique commercial investment and development consultancy practice”. I’m not sure I’m allowed to mention the name of the company, but if you want a hand with your finances from a former Cyprus Under-21 international, then that’s the place to go.
The Faroe Islands are, you guessed it, a group of islands which fall within the Kingdom of Denmark. Lying half way between Iceland and Norway, the Faroes have a climate which is defined as windy, wet, cloudy and cool which places it very far down on many peoples list of holiday destinations, unless of course they fancy a spot of whaling perhaps. As they aren’t an official member of the IOC, Islanders aren’t allowed to compete under their flag at the Olympics, but must represent Denmark instead. The nation is a hot bed of footballing activity with 14% of the 50,000 strong population being a registered player. However, only one player has made it south to the UK and to the Premier League. Despite their poor record against Cyprus, the Faroes actually sit above them in the FIFA rankings at 89th position.
Gunnar Nielsen (Manchester City 2009-2012)
Gunnar Nielsen’s life as an understudy ‘keeper started when he moved to Danish side BK Frem as an 18-year-old in 2004. Three years later he was picked up by Blackburn Rovers, with whom he also stayed for three years. During that time he didn’t feature once, and even spent six months on loan at Motherwell without competitively stepping between the posts.
Surprisingly Manchester City saw something in his ability at sitting on the bench and called upon his services in 2009. It took him only a year to make his debut when he came on as a second-half substitute against Arsenal. Playing 24 minutes and effectively keeping a clean sheet, Nielsen wasn’t awarded with more starts, but instead kept in the wings until 2012, when his City career ended in farce. At the end of his contract he was released by the Manchester side and sent looking for a new club. Just a few short weeks later he re-joined the Sky Blues and was given hope that he had a future in England. However, they swooped in on the summer deadline day and picked up another former player in Richard Wright and Nielsen was sent on his way again.
In 2015 he joined up with Icelandic side Stjarnan FC, who were famous many years ago after a compilation of their bizarre and creative goal celebrations went viral. Nielsen has appeared for his country 39 times and has undoubtedly conceded a countless number of goals along the way, although he was a part of the side that did the famous double over Greece in 2014, which ultimately led to the sacking of Claudio Ranieri. So in some ways, we have Gunnar Nielsen to thank for the incredible scenes of the 2015/16 Premier League season. Although he made very little impact during his playing time we can say that he had a massive impact on top flight history.