By John Leonidou
A 3-1 win against their arch-rivals AC Omonia at the weekend has set APOEL FC on the road to another Cypriot title, but as they aim for another season of UEFA Champions League football in 2005/06, the club have taken on one significant reinforcement.
Midfielder Chris Bart-Williams played Premiership football for Sheffield Wednesday FC, Nottingham Forest FC and Charlton Athletic FC before moving on to one-time UEFA Cup winners Ipswich Town FC last season. However, the 30-year-old is hoping even better days are to come after signing for APOEL in September.
Certainly, the club made no secret of what they hope the acquisition of the former England Under-21 international will achieve. A club spokesman said: "This is the biggest ever signing for the club and we hope Chris can help us achieve our dream of reaching the group stages of the Champions League."
Bart-Williams himself has not yet made such bold statements. When he spoke to uefa.com, all he would reveal of his ambitions for the seasons was to say: "To win the league, win the cup and play as many games as I can. Beyond that, to help get the team into the Champions League."
Cypriot teams have had their hopes raised in recent years. With Maccabi Haifa FC having played their group stage games in Cyprus in 2002/03 due to the unstable political situation in Israel, and APOEL having performed well in Europe, the club feel that a group stage place is no longer beyond them.
Bart-Williams was keen to point out that APOEL was an excellent club. He said: "
The standard of football is better than people give credit for. I'm sure this team would be able to hold their own in the English first division. I've got British experience but they've got international experience. It's part of a lovely little deal really because I can learn from them and they can learn from me."
As things go, there is little APOEL need to learn about life in the Cypriot top flight. After five games of the current season, they have yet to drop a point and are four points clear of second-placed Anorthosis Famagusta FC, with Omonia enduring a miserable start to the season a further six points behind Anorthosis.
Bart-Williams, however, can bring them the toughness and commitment which for many is symbolic of the British style of football. He is one of an increasing number of British players who have moved to Europe - a tendency which the player puts down to fewer opportunities for homegrown players in Britain.
"It's good, I suppose, because players are gaining experience abroad and it is quite a different set-up playing outside Britain," he said. "So if there are not that many opportunities for players in England then they should probably look abroad."
However England is still very much in Bart-Williams' mind. And while he remains fairly confident that Arsenal FC will retain the title, he is still hopeful that the team that he supported as a boy - Liverpool FC - can shake things up back in the Premiership.
"They've got to get it right eventually and they are on the border of doing that," he said. Should Liverpool finish in the top four, they could yet be on course for a Champions League group stage date with Bart-Williams' APOEL.
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