Freddie Westlake is in doubt when it comes to the differences between football in England and Cyprus. Having moved to the country in the Eastern Mediterranean as a seven-year-old, he has come through the academy system in his adopted home but has also sampled football in his country of birth as well.
“The English game is much more about physicality and whether you have a good engine. The Cypriot game is about ball retention and technique,” says the 21-year-old who was born in Chichester.
“Growing up, training was all based around technique, ball retention and expressing yourself. Due to this I feel that my football is technically based but I still have the physicality of the English game.”
After arriving in Cyprus, Westlake took to football immediately and after four years at a local academy, he joined the youth setup at one of the country’s biggest clubs, Anorthosis Famagusta, who have previously made an impact in continental competitions. It would be a professional approach to the sport from an early age for Westlake.
“One of the main benefits of playing football in Cyprus is the great weather we have in winter, there was very rarely a day when we could not train. At Anorthosis, we trained five days a week for one-and-a-half hours a night with matches on the weekends.
“They are one of the biggest clubs on the island so the academy facilities were pretty good. We had our own pitch and training facilities.
“They were also the first Cypriot club to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League (in 2008) with their manager at the time being the old Newcastle player Timur Katsbia.”
After seven years with Anorthosis, Westlake, who can play as a centre-back or a defensive midfielder, left to find first team football. He joined second-tier side Digenis Oroklini before then joining third-tier club FC Olympia for the 2016/17 season. This is where the Chichester-born player would experience different levels of professionalism.
“The coaching in Cyprus is generally good. I think that there are good and bad coaches in any country and I’ve had both, though generally, I have found if you approach things professionally and earn their respect with the way you behave and train, things work out well,” he says.
It was after his time with Olympia that he would return to his homeland to join Isthmian League Premier Division side Lowestoft Town in the seventh-tier of English football. After eight appearances, he would join their league rivals Burgess Hill Town in December 2017. It was here that Westlake saw first hand the difference in styles between the two countries he had called home.
Ahead of this season, he returned to Cyprus to join Olympias Lympion in the third-tier and he hasn’t looked back since.
“The season for me is going well I have played every game and every minute,” he says. “My daily routine involves training five days a week in the evenings with matches on a Saturday.
“In my spare time I like to do sprint work in the sand. I am fortunate to have a great beach just opposite to where I live which is ideal.”
After 13 matches in the league, Olympias sit in eighth place, seven points off a promotion place and six points above the relegation spots and the 21-year-old is happy with how he has settled into his new team and the support his side have received.
“The thing I like about the club is the spirit of the players and comradeship that is as strong as I have found whilst playing. The aim this season is to finish as high as possible and get a good cup run.”
“The standard in the third division here is very similar to the Bostick Premier League (Isthmian League Premier) in England but not as physical. The club has good support at home this season we have had up to 500 fans and for away games we
will see about 60 or 70 travel.”
Unlike the Isthmian League, the Cypriot third division is not regionalised and is a national league but due to the geography of the island, away travel is limited to a maximum of around two hours which encourages away support. However what might not encourage them is the varied stadia across the division. Westlake says it can range from “old national stadiums in Nicosia to village grounds with scaffolding seating.”
The former Lowestoft man has two goals from his 13 appearances so far this season and there is also another Brit at Olympias. Irishman Vincent Faherty joined the club this year having made more than 200 appearances in the League of Ireland for the likes of St Patrick’s Athletic, Dundalk and Sligo Rovers. There is even another Englishman in the same division, Sam Shaban plays for Ethnikos Assias and has eight goals already this season.
Still only 21, Westlake has a long career ahead of him and whilst he is already playing regular football at a decent standard, his goal in life remains a simple one.
“My ambition is simple, I want to be the best I can, to work hard and keep aiming high. Within the next few seasons I want to develop my career whether it’s in Cyprus or any other part of the world.”
His return to England may have only lasted one season but the regular game time he is receiving now is making it seem like a very smart decision to move back. He had the academy upbringing that many can only dream of and his hybrid of Cypriot and English styles could see him go from strength to strength in the future.