A former charge of Johan Cruyff at Barcelona, Thomas Christiansen is bringing Camp Nou sparkle to APOEL as they pursue their mission "to go the whole way" to the round of 32.
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Charged with bringing a touch of Barcelona sparkle to Cyprus's most successful club, Thomas Christiansen has hit the ground running in the UEFA Europa League.
Having failed narrowly to make it through the UEFA Champions League play-offs, APOEL have seized their second chance with both hands by following up a matchday one victory over Astana with a headline-grabbing 1-0 triumph at Olympiacos. That was a massive deal on the island, given its close links with Greece, and the fact most Cypriot fans have a Greek club too – more often than not, Olympiacos.
"It was very important for the club, for the fans and for the team," Christiansen told UEFA.com, reflecting on what was APOEL's first away win beyond the qualifying rounds of a UEFA competition. "The team got a lot of confidence from the fact we can win in stadiums like Olympiacos's, against a very good side who have played many years in the Champions League."
The 43-year-old was appointed in May, having impressed during a two-season stint at AEK Larnaca, where he introduced some of the methods he had learned as a player under Johan Cruyff at Barcelona. "I wanted to continue that at APOEL, but because of the players we had in the squad I had to find other systems, other solutions," he explained. "Right now we're playing a little bit different, but with the same mentality."
Born in Denmark to a Danish father and Spanish mother, Christiansen was signed by Barcelona as a teenager, learning enough in his months training with Cruyff's first team to last a lifetime. "With him the football was something different," said Christiansen, who played for Barça in the 1992/93 UEFA Super Cup – and was also capped twice by Spain that season – but never in the Liga. "Every day you learned something new, also from the players you had in that squad: Guardiola, Laudrup, Koeman, Stoichkov, Romário."
The former Bochum and Hannover forward's APOEL side are not as flamboyant as Barcelona, but they have emerged as rugged, ruthless and hard to beat. Striker Pieros Sotiriou is scoring important goals, not least the winner at Olympiacos, while Dutch goalkeeper Boy Waterman, Greek winger Yannis Gianniotas and centre-backs Carlão and Giorgos Merkis are models of stylish solidity elsewhere.
Indeed, APOEL top Group B with six points, and will attain a best-ever total of nine in a UEFA group stage with victory at Young Boys on matchday three. "If we play like we did against Olympiacos – serious and well-prepared tactically – we can do it," Christiansen said, mindful that reaching the last 32 would be a huge achievement. "This is the important thing right now. This is our mission – to go the whole way."