Armenian second-half Football Diplomacy
Baku, Azerbaijan, Sept. 13
By Alan Hope – Trend:
Small step for Qarabağ, giant leap for Azerbaijan
On Sept. 12, 2017, an Azerbaijani football club, from the presently Armenian occupied city of Agdam (aka “Caucasian Hiroshima”), called Qarabağ (Karabakh), played its first match in the UEFA Champions League group stage with the mighty Chelsea FC.
The first step onto the major European arena wasn’t that pleasant of an experience for Qarabağ, as it suffered a loss. Nonetheless, the team had gained an invaluable experience in dealing with its own anxiety on the background of astonishing atmosphere of the top English League stadium. Thus, the underdog didn’t prevail, as David lost to Goliath at the Stamford Bridge.
Obviously, the expectations of Azerbaijani fans weren’t that high, as two teams are professionally incomparable. Abramovich’s £552.96M market valued Chelsea is in the 13th place of the UEFA club rankings and in the 3rd place of the current English Premier League season. Six-time English champion had won the 2012 UEFA Champions League, 2013 UEFA Europa League, 1971 and 1998 Cup Winners Cup and 1999 UEFA Super Cup. Moreover, the team is a seven-time FA Cup, five-time English League Cup and four-time English Super Cup winner.
In comparison, five-time Azerbaijani Premier League champion and six-time Azerbaijan Cup winner Qarabağ is ranked 91st in the UEFA club rankings. The team’s total market value is estimated at £15.55M. While Chelsea can afford topnotch footballers, Qarabağ mostly relies on the coach Gurbanov’s well-devised game plan, designed for the maximal use of players’ skills. At the same time, the players, who seemed emotionally overwhelmed in the latest game, usually show a well-composed team play.
Nevertheless, current achievements in the UEFA tournament will substantially increase Qarabağ’s financial basin, which, in turn, will help the team in improvement of its performance.
Notwithstanding the current loss, the team’s fans, still supportive and hopeful, are confident that the team will be more presentable in its future games with FC Roma and Atlético. Furthermore, in view of the current success noted in the Azerbaijani football, Qarabağ, making its “first baby steps” in the supreme European tournament, should remember that, practice makes perfect!
Oh Ararat, Where Art Thou?
In perspective of the Azerbaijani success story, as the country puts ever-growing efforts into the development of its sport industry, something peculiarly interesting is happening in Armenia. It seems that the Armenian football, traditionally known for its skilled players and great accomplishments, such as the 1973 win of the Soviet Premier League, as well as the Soviet Cup victories of 1973 and 1975, had ceased to exist.
In the past few years, the Armenian Premier League has started to look more like a “walking corpse.” The League had shrunk to the size of the smallest in Europe, as it comprised only six teams. Its previous flagship team, Ararat, victorious in the Soviet times, is in the last place in standings. The Armenian national team is in the next-to-last place in the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifiers group stage, producing only two victories in eight games. The only good thing that the Armenian Football Federation had come up with in the past few years is the Manchester United’s topnotch player Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who, in reality, is a product of the French ASOA Valence.
On the background of the abovementioned, it appears that the Armenian government, disenchanted with its Football Diplomacy when it tried to conduct bilateral diplomatic negotiations with Turkey effectively exchanging presidential visits to the national teams’ qualifier games back in 2008-2009, has decided to transform the idea of diplomacy into a money laundering operation sprinkled with some self-righteous propaganda. As such, a series of football and futsal clubs, branded Ararat, were created in Russia, France, Germany, Estonia, Cyprus and Iran.
The biggest of the mentioned projects is the FC Ararat Moscow, which is currently enrolled in the Professional Football League (the third tier league in Russia). The team, supposedly created by the Armenian Youth Association of Moscow and owned by the prominent journalist turned businessman Ashot Gabrelianov (of Life News agency), is market valued at £3.02M. In the short time of existence the club had acquired several skilled players, including former Russian national team members, such as Pavlyuchenko, Izmailov and Rebko, and attained the first place of the PFL’s Central Zone division, with goals of promotion to the Russian First and then Premier Leagues. Nonetheless, Ararat’s founders, rallied upon “good intentions,” have caused a few recent shenanigans.
On Aug. 31, 2017, the team announced that due to £260K embezzlement of its funds by the club's president Valeri Oganesian, Ararat will be disbanded. While the law enforcement was investigating the matter, the club’s owner Gabrelianov announced that the financial dispute with Oganesian was settled, and the club is being sponsored by the Armenian businessmen Karapetian and Avagumian. Later on, at a press conference, the team’s coach Grigorian had basically claimed that it was a sort of a PR move, related to the lack of media attention to his personality, asking the press rather in rhetoric, “Don’t you agree that it isn’t boring with us, the Armenians?”
Well, it is certainly not boring, but maybe, instead of diverting the Armenian money into foreign markets and conducting PR campaigns for self-promotion it would be better and, more than that, appropriate to invest into Armenia’s own sport industry and one day, just like the case with Qarabağ, to become a witness to a game of Armenia’s Ararat in the UEFA Champions League?!