Sunday, 4 December 2011

Cillian Sheridan

The Eastern Promise

2010 - 12 : CSKA Sofia (Bulgaria)
2013 - present : APOEL (Cyprus)

When Cillian Sheridan left Celtic in August 2010 few Irish fans expected to see him sign for CSKA Sofia. Sheridan holds the odd note of being an Irish international who has played at the top level in three countries, with none of them being England. While his brief spell in Bulgaria in 2010 was cut short by a variety of factors, it is hoped that his new adventure in Cyprus may bear more fruit, and keep some Irish players at least in the UEFA Champions League.

In 2010, few Irish players have ever made a move to an Eastern European league, and the Bulgarian leagues had never seen an Irishman before. Sheridan's choice was unique, surprising and commendable. 

The Cavan man's career had stop started consistently at Celtic. Signing for the Scottish giants in 2006, Sheridan rose increbily fast through the Parkhead ranks, and found himself in the first team squad at 17. He made his debut 2 days after his 18th birthday against Inverness in the Scottish Cup, setting up Kenny Miller's match-winning goal. His career would stutter with Celtic though, and the striker would only make 14 appearances for the club over the next three years. Loan spells with Motherwell, Plymouth Argyle and St. Jonhstone had yielded goals and some notice, and he was called up to the Republic of Ireland Under 21 squad by Noel King. Yet, he was overlooked at his parent club, and decided not to sign a new contract in 2010.

While weighing his options and considering his future, Sheridan was contacted by CSKA manager Pavel Dochev and invited to Sofia to watch the team take on city rivals Levski. After being offered a contract by the Bulgarians, Sheridan returned to Scotland to make a decision. He accepted the offer, and signed for CSKA on 13 August 2010, with Celtic receiving a fee of 300,000 pounds. Ridiculously, just hours after Sheridan signed for the club, Dochev resigned as manager.

CSKA Sofia were founded in 1948, by the Bulgarian People's Army (CSKA stands for Central Sports Club of the Army), and play at the Army Stadium. They are Bulgaria's most successful club, having won the Championship 31 times, and outperforming their rivals in European competition. They reached the semi-finals of the European Cup  in 1967and 1982. When they signed Sheridan, they had not won the league since 2008, and were slowly being overshadowed by Litex Lovech. Sheridan was signed along with Algerian goalkeeper Rais M'Bolhi and Ghanaian William Tierro, as the club sought to revamp their side for the upcoming season.

Sheridan's move to CSKA raised eyebrows, with many questioning the value of playing in Bulgaria, as opposed to Scotland or the English Championship. But many commended Sheridan on the move, and on his obvious sense of adventure. Sheridan is not like many other Irish footballers of his generation.  While at Celtic, he studied at Strathclyde University, obtaining a diploma in Applied Osmography. He is well spoken, highly literate and well educated. His move to CSKA may reflect the intelligence and cultured personality of the striker.

Sheridan's career in Bulgaria started brightly; he made his debut against Welsh outfit The New Saints, and scored his first goal in his league debut away to Silven. He was awarded Man of the Match in his side's 2-0 win over Montana on September 25, scoring both goals. But his luck would not last, as manager Dochev was replaced by Gjore Jovanovski. Jovanovski wouldn't last long either, being replaced after only a month by Milen Radukanov, who in turn was replaced by Dimitar Penev. In his first two months with CSKA, Sheridan played under no less than four managers.

Sheridan started well for CSKA, scoring two against Montana

Such managerial turmoil was not unusual for CSKA. Current boss Penev is in his third spell as manager and is the club's 14th manager in ten years. This badly affected Sheridan's chances of success in Sofia. New coaches overlooked the player, in favour of more well known Bulgarian personalities and Brazilian imports. "I had a year to get used to Sofia, I was settling in but on the footballing side of it, there was a change of manager and I wasn't playing". He did manage to make 26 appearances in all competitions for the club. He bagged four goals, including a strike against Besiktas in the Europa League. In May he played in the final of the Bulgarian Cup, coming on as a 90th minute substitute in CSKA's 1-0 win.  In spite of picking up his medal, he was told in June that he could search for a new club.

After a few trials and reserve matches in America, he decided to sign on loan for St. Johnstone in Scotland, a club were he had played before. His season so far has been mixed, but the Irishman has netted for goals. On October 2, Sheridan stated that his primary focus was on returning to CSKA at the end of his loan and prove himself in the captial. "Ideally, I'd want to be playing for my team in Sofia. But that's not happening at the minute, so I've come away to get games and in January I'll have to see where I am". Rather than running away to Britain, as many Irish players have in the past, Sheridan seems determined to return to Bulgaria and try his hand.

Sheridan, back row second from the left, with CSKA 

He faced an uphill challenge however, as CSKA stated while he was on loan that he was for sale, and slapped a 3 million euro price tag on the player. Following the summer of 2012, he returned to Sofia, and was surprisingly handed the number 9 shirt. It appeared, after the new season's opening match in which Sheridan started, that his career in Bulgaria was back on track. It was not to be however, as on August 28th, both he and the club agreed to mutually terminate his deal, citing CSKA's serious financial problems. After rumours of a possible move to the Portland Timbers in the United States fell flat, the Cavan-man returned to Scotland and signed for Kilmarnock.

In one season at Rugby Park, Sheridan knocked up 9 league goals in 26 games, but lost his first team place to Kris Boyd, who had returned from Portland, the team Sheridan almost signed for. Therefore, in the summer of 2013 he left Kilmarnock and was again in search of a new challenge.

That call was answered on June 20th when APOEL F.C. of Cyprus announced on their website that they had clinched his signature. A handful of Irishman had played in Cyprus before, but never for a club of this magnitude. In recent seasons APOEL have transcended mere island football to become a fairly strong force in European football. This is was best displayed in the 2011-12 Champions League campaign where Thyrlos (The Legend)  reached the Quarter Finals after coming out of a group containing Porto, Zenit Petersburg, and Shakhtar. 

As well as being Cyprus' most recognisable club, APOEL are also the island's most popular and most successful team. 22 Cypriot League titles, 19 Cups, and 12 Super Cups to their name demonstrate this. Sheridan's new boss at the GSP Stadium is former Sporting, Hearts, and CFR Cluj coach, the Portuguese Paulo Sergio

He made his debut for APOEL in the Cypriot Super Cup against Apollon on August 17 2013. APOEL won the game 1-0 with the Irishman playing a full 90 minutes. Sheridan holds the accolade of winning three cup medals in his career, in three different countries.

The Wild Geese wishes Sheridan the best of success in Cyprus and in the forthcoming Champions League campaign. And even if he is not a success, Sheridan's bravery in moving to APOEL, and earlier to CSKA, should be recognised and commended. He has broken new ground for Irish footballers and hopefully it will inspire other young players to seek employment in other countries, rather than settle for lower league comforts in Britain.

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