Special for the Armenian Weekly
Just over five months ago, Armenia ended its Euro 2016 qualifying campaign on a very low note. The 3-0 reverse suffered to Albania at home put the finishing touches on one of the poorest Armenian campaigns in recent memory. The ill-fated campaign saw Armenia finish bottom of their group, going winless in the process. As if things weren’t bad enough and adding insult to injury reports of match fixing, betrayal, and serious mudslinging played out in the media soon afterwards. Interested parties from the Serbian, Danish, and Armenian media ran stories of unusual goings-on surrounding the result. Albania’s win ensured their first berth at a major finals. Denmark missed out based on Albania’s victory. The Serbian media had more than a passing interest in Albania’s advancement also based on their two tumultuous encounters with Albania earlier in the campaign.
At a time when players, fans, and management were licking their wounds and coming to terms with a disastrous campaign, Football Federation of Armenia (FFA) President Ruben Hayrapetyan chose to throw his players under the proverbial bus. At a time when leadership was needed, petty egotism reigned supreme. Yes, the players had under-performed, and yes, the managerial structure had been disrupted. The dismissal of Bernard Challandes earlier in 2015 and failure to capitalize on advantageous positions on the pitch were factors that no doubt contributed to a downward spiral as the campaign came to a close. But the mere suggestion that the players had somehow betrayed the crest, betrayed the jersey, fans, and country they represent was wrong.
When rumors emerged that Armenian players had taken bribes before the match, Hayrapetyan could have done more to support the players, to support his association. Instead, his words were ambiguous, open to interpretation, and fed the media frenzy—a frenzy that had fans up-in-arms and put players in a position where they had to defend their own integrity as professionals. By penning an open letter to categorically deny any impropriety, senior players were left to fend for themselves. When Hayrapetyan later suggested his comments were misinterpreted, he did not back down from his criticism of “certain” players for their lack of commitment. Following a FIFA investigation, no concrete evidence was ever found to support the accusations.
As the controversy continued, fans from the First Armenian Front (FAF), Armenia’s biggest football fan club, protested against the FFA president and called for his resignation, citing his lack of commitment at finding a top manager to right the ship, his indifference to solving conflicts with high-profile call-ups from abroad, and the ongoing concern of ticket pricing and allocation for the fans. Hayrapetyan remained headstrong in the face of valid criticisms, stating he would evaluate his position while refusing to bow to fan pressure.
In response to the firestorm, Hayrapetyan appointed Varuzhan Sukiasyan to the managerial post on Dec. 10, 2015. Sukiasyan is an experienced, homebred manager who has managed in Armenia at both the club and national team level. The 59-year-old is also the current head coach of club side Ararat Yerevan. Perhaps that is what is needed considering the climate between senior players and the big brass. It could also be described as a comfortable appointment for Hayrapetyan, however. After all, shopping around the managerial post of a team that could be perceived as being in a shambles would have been a tough task, let alone to Europe’s elite managers.
The news that Robert Arzumanyan is stepping away from the international scene at the age of 30, after 74 solid caps at the heart of the Armenian defense, further underscores the fragile relationships in the camp. Arzumanyan was one of the nine senior players to pen the open letter last fall. Perhaps he was one of the unnamed players who Hayrapetyan claimed had betrayed us all with poor performances. Yura Movsisyan is another notable signatory left out of the first squad under Sukiasyan. To assume he is concentrating on Major League Soccer (MLS) following his recent loan move from Spartak Moscow to Real Salt Lake may be fair. The talismanic striker has already opened his account for the season, showcasing the speed and power we know he has in his locker. But it might also be fair to assume the FFA doesn’t do enough to get players in, especially from far afield.
The squad that was announced for the first training camp and friendly of the latest Sukiasyan era has as many debutants as it has experienced players. Giving young players a run out is important, as the next hidden gem of a player can reveal himself by only being given a chance.
Armenia are to play Belarus on Fri., March 25, at the Republican Stadium in Yerevan, a match and performance that may only be a friendly, but will be somewhat of a litmus test of the “state of the union.”
Roman Berezovsky, Armenia’s recently retired goalkeeper and veteran of 20 years, will be honored by the FFA and fans alike as the match versus Belarus serves as his farewell. A true servant to the national team, and second on the all-time caps list, he will be sadly missed.
For U.S. fans, talk of the national team gracing our shores in 2016 is an exciting development. Although concrete details have yet to emerge, reports suggest two charity matches are to be played in the late May/early June time frame.
Gevorg Prazyan, Arsen Beglaryan, Gor Manukyan, Hrayr Mkoyan, Levon Airapetian, Varazdat Haroyan, Taron Voskanyan, Hovhannes Hambardzumyan, Gaël Andonian, Sergey Avagimyan, Norayr Grigoryan, Arthur Kartashyan, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcos Pizzelli, Aras Özbiliz, David Manoyan, Artak Yedigaryan, Zaven Badoyan, Tigran Barseghyan, David Hakobyan, Benik Hovhannisyan, Gor Malakyan, Edgar Manucharyan, Artur Sarkisov, David Arshakyan, Heham Kadymyan, Mihran Manasyan
Coach: Varuzhan Sukiasyan