MARK FOTHERINGHAM insists he is still treated like royalty when he returns to Cyprus as he hailed their fanatical supporters.
However, the former Dundee and Celtic midfielder is adamant the Mediterranean minnows have no chance of wrecking Steve Clarke’s Scotland bow.
Fotheringham lapped up his two-and-a-half year stint on the island during a golden era for the Cypriot game, including helping Anorthosis Famagusta finish second in the top-flight during the 2010/11 campaign.
The title winners, APOEL, made history by reaching the Champions League quarter-finals in the following season.
He still has Cyprus’ most-capped player Ioannis Okkas on speed-dial – but he believes the well of talent has run dry and Scotland will be too strong for Ran Ben Shimon’s side.
Fotheringham told Capital City Press: “Everybody thought that when I left Norwich to go there, it was for a holiday. They would have got a shock. We finished second, APOEL finished second and then got to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. The Cypriot players were hugely talented.
“I had a legend in my team, Ioannis Okkas, and he works with the young players over there now. I still keep in touch with him. He played for Olympiakos, Panathinaikos and Celta Vigo – he can’t move in Athens for being mobbed! That was the standard.
“They are not producing players like that anymore, partly due to the number of foreign players coming into the league. That seems to be the priority. Maybe their batch of players at that time was a one-off.
“There are still some talented boys – guys who can produce something in the final third and go one-on-one. But that robustness just isn’t there. I feel Scotland are going to be far too strong for them.
“All national teams are fit and well-organised these days and they will come to Hampden and work to a plan, but Scotland have the players to make the difference.”
Despite departing Anorthosis after one season, Fotheringham maintains he was ready to spend his entire career in Cyprus – until he was frozen out by boss Stanimir Stoilov during the summer of 2011.
Stoilov wanted to free up space to sign his own players but was subsequently sacked three months later, while Fotheringham went onto turn out for the likes of Livingston, Fulham and Notts County.
Nevertheless, Fotheringham still returns to Cyprus every year – and remains fondly remembered by the fanatical Anothosis fanbase.
He laughed: “I go out to Cyprus with my family every year and Anorthosis put on a box at the stadium for us. My wife actually said: ‘You’d struggle to get a ticket at Dens Park, but they’ll give you a box here!’
“I gave blood, sweat and tears for the club and we are treated like royalty when they go back there.
“The fans are so fanatical and, if you were one of their favourites, they never forget that. It was like playing for Celtic or Rangers, in terms of the pressure and scrutiny.
“Out of every club I ever played for, Anorthosis was my favourite.
“The only problem was the coach Stoilov, who wanted to bring in a whole load of players and needed to shift me, but he didn’t last long. The fans know the truth and how much I loved my time there. I was expecting to finish my career there.”
He added: “I love the country and the people – it’s a paradise – but I don’t think they’ll be celebrating this weekend!”