The standard-bearer breathes its last
The football season in Azerbaijan is gaining momentum. 6 rounds of the Premier League matches have revealed the first favorites of the championship race, the second-raters and the losers. From this year on, Baku-based FC ‘Neftçi’, the oldest and the most titlist football club, could be also subsumed under this category.
The standard-bearer has been ‘topsy-turvy’ since the middle of last championship. During the season the team changed two coaches, then it came under the control of Vali Gasimov, the sporting director. Formerly a renowned forward of FC ‘Dynamo’ Moscow, the Spanish FC ‘Betis’ and the Portuguese FC ‘Vitória’, who had never succeeded as a coach, somehow played out the last season with his team and failed in the European League summer qualifiers. It became clear that Gasimov was in for trouble as early as during the European Cup matches. There were media reports, experts’ statements, fans’ complaints, but all that in vain. FC Neftçi’s ambitious, but, at the same time, inexperienced coach, promised every time, that the team would get on track, saying ‘the guys just need some time.’
As a result, the standard-bearer reached an impasse and after losing ignominiously to FC ‘Gabala’ (0: 8), the management staff ventured upon the drastic changes.
On a related note, as far as the football club management is concerned, since March 2015, the indigenous football club of Azerbaijan has been managed by the Supervisory Board (SB). This is the structure that the Executive Committee of the Association of the Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA) has recommended to all teams. However, not all of them decided to carry out the structural changes. FC ‘Neftçi’ went in for that with pleasure. 7 individuals of different age, social status and line of activity, were assigned to monitor the developments in the football club. Chingiz Abdullayev, a renowned Azerbaijani writer, was appointed the Head of the Supervisory Board, whereas the following SB members were selected by sponsors: Bahram Bagirzade, a popular showman (a member of the Club of Cheerful and Quick-witted); Farhad Badalbeyli, the State Conservatoire rector; Samad Gurbanov, the football veteran; 2 representatives of SOCAR and 1 Justice Ministry official. In short, the reputable set!
However, the aforesaid hardly made the team play better. Quite the contrary. The Supervisory Board immediately shed all responsibility for the team’s performance, claiming that its function was ‘to observe and oversee the process of building a serious club, with transparent accountability.’ Whereas Vali Gasimov, the head coach, as well as Elnur Mammadov, the executive director, and his deputy, Mubariz Khudiyev, should bear responsibility for the results. Eventually, the latter three were those, whose ‘heads safely rolled’ following a shameful match against ‘Gabala’.
They were replaced by new people, with new ambitions and high objectives. Elnur Eyvazov, 30, who was absolutely unknown to the sports circles, was appointed the Executive Director. As for the new sporting director, Orkhan Huseynzade, this candidate is particularly noteworthy. An actual founder of Baku FC ‘Olympic’, which later became AZAL, as well as the vice-president of the FC ‘Standard’ and ex-chief of the AFFA International Department, he got back to intense football activity that he’d started back in the early 2000s. He performed as the UEFA delegate and the FIFA commissioner. Therefore, the club has high hopes for him.
Regrettably, just pinning hopes on the experience and knowledge of one or two persons could be hardly enough, especially amidst such a deep crisis. FC Neftçi won’t be able to radically change its composition until winter, because the deadline for new players’ applications expired on August 31, and it makes no sense to invite a stronger foreign coach, since it’s unlikely that the available material could be shaped into something worthy. Indeed, what is one supposed to do with a group of football players that failed to finally become a team? Eventually, the management staff offered the coach post to Elhan Abdullayev, the local expert, who, alongside this, assisted Robert Prosinečki, the head coach of Azerbaijan national football team.
With the newly appointed coach, FC ‘Neftçi’ has already lost 2 out of 3 games. The team has been ranked 7th in the 8-team championship. In short, the situation is more than bitter. The new coach rightly complains about the lack of football players: there were just 4 players on a subs’ bench during his debut match-3 defenders and a goalkeeper! The situation was slightly better during the second match and there were as many as 7 people waiting for their chance after recovery from injuries and invitation of a player without a contract. However, it didn’t bring any salvation either!
There are still plenty of questions to the management staff and former coach. It’s hard to explain, how was the team formed before the launch of the season, based on what criteria were the present players selected, why are they so few and, most importantly, who monitored the processes within the team? The Supervisory Board traditionally rested the entire responsibility on the already dismissed staff, whereas the latter have just withdrawn into the shadows and are wait for all that hype to subside.
Anyway, today FC ‘Neftçi’ resembles a toy in the hands of some capricious children. They are dragging it along the floor, snatching it out of each other’s hands; each trying to hold it in one’s hands longer than others. But they take little care of it. They don’t give it a thought that it’s a costly toy that could easily break if treated that way. And even if that doesn’t happen, it will sooner or later become an unnecessary thing. Either the children will grow up, or they will have enough of it. Thus, there is nothing the Azerbaijani football standard-bearer could do but to wait and hope that they will stop playing with the toy. And the sooner it happens, the better.