Omar Rowe has spent the last year in Ayia Napa but he certainly wasn’t there for a lads’ holiday. Instead of nights out and boat parties, the former Southampton striker was instead scoring goals and winning games. So much so that he has just secured a transfer to a club in the top flight of Cypriot football.
“I’ve managed to go from division three to division one so I’ve made the progression and now it’s time to push again to stay in top flight football,” he says. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge but something I will rise to for sure.”
Rowe is in a confident mood going into his first season of top flight football. Having now been in Cyprus for three years, he is finally ready to take his chance on the big stage having been so close to achieving it when he first arrived.
After leaving Southampton in 2015, the pacey winger spent a year in non-league football in England before arriving in Cyprus to join top-flight club and Champions League regulars APOEL. However, after a change of managers, Rowe found himself out of favour and went out on loan to third tier side Ethnikos Latsion where he stayed for a year.
He has since played for Ayia Napa and has now signed for top division side Enosis Neon Paralimni having worked harder than most for his shot at the big time.
However back in England, it was different. There was no working his way up the divisions back home. His potential was obvious from a young age and having started his youth career at local side West Ham United, the winger moved to Southampton at under-16 level and went on to make two appearances for the first team, both in the League Cup.
“I did enjoy my time with Southampton, especially because I was there from 15 and I had played every age up to under-21 by the age of 17.
“Making my debut for Southampton was a dream come true, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do as I’ve watch players like Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers, James Ward-Prowse and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain do the same.
“It was a surreal moment from being in the squad to warming up and getting on the pitch in front of thousands of fans with some of the players I came through the club with.”
After leaving Saints, Rowe appeared for Bishop’s Stortford in National League North as well as few other non-league sides as injury problems briefly forced him out of the professional game.
“I did have a spell with Barnsley after Saints but I had a hamstring problem which stopped me being at my best and made me take a break from football to recover.
“I played in non-league to gain fitness and game time. It was a bit of a shock but my mentality to play in the top flight never changed.”
After a year, the winger from Hackney, whose younger brother Aaron plays for Huddersfield Town, was ready to return to action full-time.
“I played a game for one of my mate’s teams just for a bit of a kick about and the coach [Jason Brissett] had previously played for Arsenal and Peterborough,” he says. “He spoke with me after the game and said he will try find something for me which ended being in Cyprus three weeks later with APOEL.”
Although he didn’t play any matches for APOEL, it did not stop him from enjoying his arrival in Cyprus.
“The move to Cyprus was just me, myself and I,” he says. “I found it easy because they knew my history and made me feel welcome to the club. After a few sessions I was settled because I knew what my goal was and what I wanted to achieve so I was focused on getting it done.
“It’s been different from the UK but the weather is good for 10 months of the year, which it always good.
“The standard was good when I first arrived at APOEL as well. It actually surprised me because I was thinking it would be more like an under-21 team but it was like a first team and I liked that.”
After impressing in the third tier for Ethnikos Latsion, Rowe moved up a division to Ayia Napa where he continued to enjoy life on and off the pitch.
“Ayia Napa was by far the best team in terms of living and lifestyle as everything was close and there were more English people around who I could speak to and get along with. It’s not that I don’t like Cypriots but some don’t speak English so it was hard to communicate at times. For me, communication on and off the field is key and if I can’t [communicate] it makes things difficult for the both me and the players.”
Now he has a deal with newly promoted top flight side Enosis Neon Paralimni, it seems the gamble of the move to Cyprus has paid off and despite it taking some time to return to the top division, Rowe says it has definitely been worth the wait.
“I’ve been out in Cyprus for three years now and I’ve enjoyed my time here. Playing abroad you get to meet new players and people in general. I’ve met so many players that have played at big teams in Holland, Romania and Switzerland.”
His focus now turns to the task of keeping his new side in the top flight this season and it is a challenge he is relishing.
“I will be playing against some of the best footballers in this league. To progress and get better you have to be surrounded players with similar mentalities,” he says.
Enosis play in Paralimni which is just a ten minute drive away from his former side Ayia Napa so despite the increased challenge on the pitch, Rowe will still be able to enjoy his time away from the game as well.
The top flight in Cyprus is not due to begin for over two weeks but the 23-year-old still allows himself a brief look into the future.
“My ambition from when I was 16/17 hasn’t ever changed. I’ve always wanted to play top flight football and I’ve learned that it may not always be in the UK but that is somewhere I want to end up and I will give it time.
“Another two seasons and considering I stay injury free, I will be looking to play in the top flight of another country because although I love Cyprus, there is always progression with football and I want to make another step forward and play top division football elsewhere.”
His side start their league campaign with a tricky away game to Apollon who finished as runners-up last season but with the power and pace of Rowe, Enosis will fancy their chances of ruffling the feathers of the biggest teams in the country this season.