Thursday, November 12, 2015

Armenia NT in 2012-13: Great players, woeful management

Nobel Arustamyan revealed over the weekend that Armenian nationals Yura Movsisyan and Aras Ozbiliz will be leaving Spartak Moscow on loan to other, so far undisclosed teams. Below are my articles on Yura's and Henrikh Mkhitaryan's accomplishments in their clubs and national team.

Movsisyan started his tenure at Spartak with a hat trick
Yura Movsisyan signs `huge contract' with top Russian club
by Emil Sanamyan

The Armenian Reporter
Published: Sunday December 09, 2012

WASHINGTON - Armenia international Yura Movsisyan has signed on with the most popular Russian football club Spartak Moscow, the athlete and his new and former clubs confirmed on December 8.

Owner of FC Krasnodar Sergey Galitsky said in his Twitter that "we let Yura go since he was offered a huge contract. He did a lot for us. We thank him for everything... and he knows that he can always come here." In 2011 and 2012, Movsisyan scored 23 goals in 50 matches for FC Krasnodar.

Media reports suggest that Spartak gave the 25-year-old Movsisyan a five-year contract and a salary valued at between 1.5 and possibly over 2 million Euros. The transfer was estimated at 8 million Euros, and if this is correct it is the highest amount ever paid for an Armenian national team player.

The previous record was set by Ukraine champions Shakhtar Donetsk who acquired Henrik Mkhitaryan for about 6 million Euros in 2010. This season, Mkhitaryan has emerged as the top goal scorer in the Ukrainian championship with 18 goals in 17 matches, his transfer value has risen to over 17 million Euros.

Movsisyan also had a bumper season playing for mid-ranked FC Krasnodar, scoring 9 goals in 13 matches. At Spartak he will first need to win a spot on the main squad, with the Moscow team currently retaining five other forwards. The team is currently languishing in the 9th place, just a spot ahead of FC Krasnodar. But unlike Movsisyan's former team, FC Spartak is in a perennial hunt for top prizes.

Movsisyan can be inspired by the fact that his compatriot Nikita Simonyan remains Spartak's top goal scorer in history, knocking in 133 goals in 233 matches between 1949 and 1959. Simonyan subsequently coached FC Ararat Yerevan in its glory days in the early 1970s.

Having joined the Armenian national team in recent years, players like Mkhitaryan, Movsisyan and Aras Ozbiliz - with 7 goals in 15 matches for Russia's FC Kuban this season - make Armenia a team to be reckoned with today and in years to come.

Armenian Reporter
Armenia football: time for management change
Commentary by Emil Sanamyan
Published: Tuesday March 26, 2013

Armenia has lost its third straight match in the World Cup qualification campaign and has essentially lost all chances of going to Brazil. It is not like the chances were great from the start -Armenia did end up in one of the toughest qualification groups. But fans around the world expected much more from the very talented offensive line than a total of two goals in four matches, for an aggregate of 2-7.

These performances revealed and made more acute the particular problems with player selection, tactics and motivation that are the domain of the team management. They stand in particular contrast with successes of the team's players in their clubs. This naturally calls for an assessment of management failures of Armenia's football federation chair Ruben Hovannisyan and coach Vardan Minasyan.

Certainly, had Armenia won all or most of its recent matches, the many of the problems listed below may have continued to be overlooked. But following the abysmal performances, it is useful to review the list of sins and omissions.


Speaking after the 0-3 loss to the Czechs on March 26, Minasyan came across as not quite adequate psychologically. Far from sounding apologetic about the result, he lashed out at journalists in a passive aggressive tone: "Did I ever saying we were going to Brazil? Our aim is to improve our game... Our level of play hasn't worsened, we just stopped getting results."

After struggling to put a goal past Malta, Armenia have not played a single qualification match in a motivated manner for complete 90 minutes. Armenia folded to Bulgaria, Italy and the Czechs long before the final whistle. All this is evidence of Minasyan's failure to motivate many of his players to remain focused on the game for its entire duration.

In comments following the match, one of Armenia's top players Henrikh Mkhitaryan took a swipe at several unnamed teammates that he believed did not play the game full-steam. But the problem with having unmotivated players on the field is not with these players per se, it is with the coach who puts them on the field. And today, the range of Minasyan's options has improved compared to what it was in 2010 and 2011.

In those years, Armenia did not always shine, but motivation was clearly there in all matches, including in the matches it lost to Ireland and Russia.

And when Armenia's players aren't coached by Minasyan, they remain rather motivated. Mkhitaryan is the top goal scorer in Ukraine's premiere league, having racked up 19 goals in 20 matches; Yura Movsisyan leads Russia's goal scorers with 12 goals in 15 matches and Aras Ozbilis is not that far behind with 8 goals in 16 matches.


Armenia came to the March 26 match with its two insides (most significantly Karlen Mkrtchyan) and one defender disqualified, and three other players injured. This precipitated perhaps the most fateful decision of the match: Minasyan put Mkhitaryan to defensive tasks. Instead of sticking to short passing game that brought it success in the past, Armenia relied on long balls from the goalkeeper Roman Berezovski and right flank approaches by the young Kamo Hovannisyan. Neither tactic proved effective.

While Movsisyan and Marcos Pizzelli created some danger for the Czechs, with Mkhitaryan pulled back the offensive play looked disjointed. Edgar Manucharyan and Gevorg Ghazaryan, who have not had playing experience in their respective clubs for months, looked bleak; Ozbilis and Artur Sarkisov who have done great for their clubs in recent weeks did not come into play until late in the game, when Armenia already allowed the first Czech goal.

And that first Czech goal was as banal as the second and third Italian goals, and as many of the goals Armenia allowed in previous matches. Armenian defenders were once again beaten on a high pass. This keeps happening primarily because most of the Armenian players are vertically challenged. The only defender above 180 cm (6 ft.) tall deployed against the Czechs was Robert Arzumanyan and he too did not play his best match. The 190 cm tall Artem Khachaturov recently recruited from Moldova remained on the bench. While at 20 years, Khachaturov may lack experience, Minasyan's choice - Taron Voskanian - was lacking in both experience and height.


The questionable tactical choices for specific matches come on the back of even more questionable selection policies of the national team. Repeatedly in recent years, Football Federation of Armenia (FFA) chair Ruben Hayrapetyan took a personal dislike of players, including several that could well compensate for Armenia's height disadvantages (Joaquin Boghossian, Denis Tumasyan, Grigor Meliksetyan), on the grounds of their allegedly insufficient patriotism or lack of skill.

"Don't ever ask me about" so-and-so, Hayrapetyan would tell journalists, when asked about a particular Armenian player he would not be recruiting. This same attitude left Armenia with an untested (and also vertically challenged) substitute goalkeeper after Berezovski was sent off in a crucial match against Ireland in 2011.

Even more obviously woeful has been FFA planning for friendlies that are expected to prepare Armenia for the qualification matches. In preparation for the match with the Czech Republic, Armenia was scheduled to play with two football minnows Luxembourg in February and Turkmenistan in March. The latter match got cancelled due to re-scheduling in the Asian qualification tournaments, leaving Armenia to play against its own under-21 team. And the Luxembourg match was played on an awful quality pitch in the middle-of-nowhere French town that lacked television coverage.

Last year, FFA scheduled two matches in two days, effectively leaving the secondary roster to play against Serbia, with the main team playing Canada the following day.

A way forward

Whatever may be his sins elsewhere, Hayrapetyan does deserve recognition for his role in Armenian football, particularly for the development of FC Pyunik, which he founded in 1992 and that helped produce players like Mkhitaryan, Mkrtchyan, Manucharyan, Ghazaryan and others, as well as the building of the Avan sports academy, which opened in 2010. But after more than a decade of Hayrapetyan as head of FFA, it is time for a change.

Thankfully, Hayrapetyan is not the only one to have generously contributed to the development of Armenian football. The most attractive replacement is probably Oleg Mkrtchyan, a billionaire businessman who is the chief sponsor for Russia's FC Kuban (with Ozbilis and Pizelli), Ukraine's FC Metallurg (with Mkrtchyan and Ghazaryan) and Armenia's FC Banants. Mkrtchyan has also helped Armenia's team get around on his personal jet and has been a frequent guest of the Armenian president's VIP lodge during Armenia's home matches.

Perhaps even more urgently, there is a need for a new coach. When Minasyan was appointed in late 2009 at a tender age of 35, his CV included just three years as Armenia's assistant coach that came just a few years after he himself retired as a football player. The appointment most likely reflected not Minasyan's exceptional skills, but Hayrapetyan's exasperation with searching for a coach abroad. Between 2002 and 2009, Armenia saw eight head coaches come and go, almost none remained for more than a year. The timing of Minasyan's appointment coincided with the rise of Movsisyan and Mkhitaryan, the two key players that made Armenia's string of successes in 2010 and 2011 possible, and helped Minasyan look better than any of his predecessors, at least for a while.

Prior to appointing Minasyan, FFA did reach out to the most successful active coach of Armenian descent, the Uruguay-born Sergio Markarian. In an interview, Markarian said he declined because the offer combined his coaching of the national team with one of Armenia football clubs, presumably FC Pyunik. (Incidentally Minasyan has been coaching both through most of his national team tenure.)

After several successful spells on the club level in South America, the 68-year-old Markarian has since 2010 coached and much improved the Peruvian national team. In 2009, Markarian appeared interested in coaching Armenia. Perhaps, it is time to give him another call.

May 27, 2013
Armenian Reporter
Armenian footballers are top scorers in Ukraine, Russia championships
by Emil Sanamyan

Several leading players of the Armenian national football team have successfully concluded seasons for their clubs in Ukraine and Russia.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s season has been particularly spectacular.  With 25 goals in 29 league matches for Ukraine champions Shakhtar Donetsk, Mkhitaryan set the new goal-scoring record in the twenty years of independent Ukrainian championships. He scored two more goals for his team in the UEFA Champions’ League and the Cup of Ukraine, for a total of 29 goals for the season.

Playing against leading European teams such as Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea and Juventus in the Champions’ League, the 24-year-old Mkhitaryan reportedly caught the attention of several clubs, including the illustrious but currently struggling English FC Liverpool; however, no firms offers have been made public. Mkhitaryan’s contract with FC Shakhter is until 2015 and his transfer value is estimated at over $20 million, an amount that only a limited number of clubs can afford.

After transferring mid-season from FC Krasnodar to FC Spartak Moskva, Yura Movsisyan managed to remain one of two top goal scorers in the Russian Premiere League with 13 goals in just 18 appearances for the season. Two injuries, in the fall of last year and again in the spring, kept Movsisyan out of 12 league matches. Spartak’s fourth place qualified it for the UEFA Europa League next season.

Also qualifying for Europa League was FC Kuban that came fifth in the Russian championship and where Aras Ozbiliz had been widely recognized as the best-performing player with nine goals and four assists in 22 appearances. There were reports of interest by top Russian clubs in buying Ozbiliz’s transfer, but no concrete transfer news.

Kuban’s other Armenian player Marcos Pizzelli scored five goals and made six assists in 21 appearances, but having lost a spot on the team’s main squad towards the end of the season, Pizzelli this week transferred to Movsisyan’s former team, tenth-placed FC Krasnodar. “Fans of the Armenian national team, come back!” twitted Krasnodar’s owner Sergey Galitsky after the news of the deal.

Veteran goalkeeper Roman Berezovsky has re-signed as the seventh-placed Dynamo Moskva’s back-up for another year. Berezovsky allowed seven goals in as many matches for the team, but has remained on the bench for the last ten seasons after Dynamo’s main goalkeeper recovered from an injury.

In his first Premiere League season for FC Volga Nizhny Novgorod, Artur Sarkisov scored three goals in 18 appearances, most of them as a substitute; Volga placed twelfth.

The season has been largely disappointing for Gevorg Ghazaryan and Karlen Mkrtchyan of Ukraine’s Metallurg Donetsk, which placed a respectable fifth and again qualified for the Europa League. After a good start and three goals in the season’s initial stage, Ghazaryan lost his spot on the main squad and had been unable to improve his tally. Mkrtchyan remains on Metallurg’s main squad, but played only 16 matches this season after two disqualifications and an injury.

This week, national team players began arriving in Yerevan ahead of back-to-back World Cup qualification matches: at home against Malta on June 7 and away against Denmark on June 11.

The team’s management appeared in a state of flux, as the football federation refused to accept the resignation of coach Vardan Minasyan following a debilitating home loss to the Czechs in March.

Armenian Reporter
June 21, 2013

Yura Movsisyan: Armenia will only improve with time and experience

Following an outstanding performance with two goals in 0-4 victory over Denmark on June 11, Armenia’s Yura Movsisyan responds to the Armenian Reporter‘s questions via Facebook:

Q. Have you played at that Copenhagen stadium before, while you were in the Danish league and have you scored there before?

A. Yes I have played there before with Randers FC but I didn’t get to score. But that never played a role in my thinking because every game is a new game.

Q. Is this the fastest goal of your career? And do you think it proved decisive for the outcome?

A. Yes it was definitely the fastest goal of my career and it was for sure a very decisive goal for us because it gave us an advantage in which we knew Denmark had to play more open and direct.

Q. This is the third time in two years that Armenia wins with four goals, and in each case you were the author or you assisted in the first goal. Do your goals tend to spur others on the team to action?

A. I believe that the whole team depends on the strikers to score the goals and that’s why I think it is great when I score the first goal then it takes pressure off the whole team.

Q. Despite the score, Armenia continues to give up the ball a lot and not much progress can be seen compared to two years ago. How and when could this be improved?

A. This is still a young team with young players. For many of the players each game is the biggest game in their life so for them to be nervous is very normal. This is the reason you have players with experience so when things do not go according to plan you can have them step up and help the others out. This will only improve with time and experience.

Armenian Reporter
Henrikh Mkhitaryan seals record-setting $35mln transfer to German club
Armenian Reporter July 9, 2013
by Emil Sanamyan Washington - The Armenian national football team's top goal-scorer Henrikh Mkhitaryan has transferred to Borussia Dortmund, the Champions League finalists.

Armenian Reporter
Armenia in Brazil? Not one miracle but five
by Emil Sanamyan
Published: Friday October 11, 2013

Washington - Armenia's national football team finally delivered on its home field, beating Bulgaria 2-1 in an intense match played in Yerevan on October 11 and thus maintained a slim chance of qualification for the 2014 World Cup to be played in Brazil.

Like two years ago in its Euro 2012 campaign, Armenia's qualification chances hinge on a win in its final match played away - but this time instead of Ireland it will be Italy, currently ranked fourth in the world and third in Europe. That match will be played next Tuesday, October 14 in Naples.

If that was not a steep enough mountain to conquer, Armenia would also need its Group competitors to lose points: unless Denmark doesn't draw or lose to Malta, and the Bulgarians and the Czechs don't draw among themselves, Armenia will be left out of the second spot, with Italy already guaranteed the first.

But even taking the second spot will not be enough. Of the nine second spot finishers only eight best group performers will be going into playoffs. Here Armenia's qualification would depend on both Turkey's failure to beat the Netherlands and Romania's failure to best Estonia or, alternatively, on Croatia losing to Scotland.

And then there are the playoffs, where Armenia would have to contend with teams such as Croatia (no. 10 in the world), Portugal (no. 11), Greece (no. 12), Bosnia (no. 18) or, if Armenians get really lucky, Sweden (no. 22).

So, as things stand, on its way to Brazil, Armenia will need not one but five full miracles.

Revenge in Yerevan

Armenia would not be facing such long odds had it enjoyed greater stability in play and a longer bench of quality substitutes.

The home losses to Malta (0-1) and Denmark (0-1) were particularly costly and they both came in the absence of forward Yura Movsisyan - for the first half in the Malta match and over yellow card disqualification vs. Denmark. When Movsisyan played Armenia dominated Denmark 0-4 in an away match last June and snatched a last-minute 1-2 victory from the Czechs last September.

But the first sign of a troubled campaign came already a year ago after the 0-1 away loss to Bulgaria. In that match Armenia also lost two players to red cards and one to a long-term injury in what Armenians universally considered a "dirty" performance by the hosts bent on stifling Armenia's offensive prowess by all means possible. The pitch antiques came after an unusual performance at the airport, where the Armenian team was met by a scantily clad model handing out candy.

When it came time for the Bulgarian team to arrive in Yerevan, it was met at the airport by angry taunts from Armenian fans. At the stadium, a huge banner unfurled by fans announced that "Justice will be restored in Yerevan." To make sure prophesy would hit home, the banner carried a likeness of the late celebrity Bulgarian fortune teller Baba Vanga. The trick appears to have worked.

Just before the half, a fine play by Aras Ozbilis got one of the Bulgarian players red-carded and the Istanbul-born midfielder then beautifully converted a free kick. Man down, Bulgaria equalized from a free kick it took at one-hour mark, but then lost a second player to another red card some minutes later. On 87th minute Henrikh Mkhitaryan's pass found Movsisyan, who beat Bulgarian defense and threw Armenia fans into wild jubilation.

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