Pyunik starved of competition
by Khachik Chakhoyan
Thursday, 2 November 2006
While FC Pyunik celebrate winning a sixth straight
Armenian title, the state of club football outside
their native Yerevan is a cause for concern.
Strength in depth
This season’s triumph, their ninth in total, was never
in doubt for Pyunik. They had lost a number of players
from the side that prevailed in 2005, but still had
enough strength in depth to beat off competition from
the usual suspects at the top of the table – FC
Banants, FC MIKA and FC Ararat Yerevan.
There are no foreign players at Pyunik, save for
Russian-born Boris Melkonyan, and even he has played
for the Armenia Under-21s. However, although they have
plenty of local talent, their chances of competing
successfully in Europe have been hampered by the
weakness of Armenian domestic football.
The club have bowed out in the first qualifying round
of the UEFA Champions League for three successive
seasons, and like many former Soviet Republics,
Armenia is struggling to do justice to its young
players. The Soviet regime held sport in high regard
and a number of Armenian players represented the USSR.
Since independence, though, investment in sport has
been cut dramatically and many teams are struggling to
Only Pyunik and Banants have decent conditions for
training youngsters, although both MIKA and Ararat are
looking to up their efforts in this area. But out in
the provinces, a lack of facilities, finance and
infrastructure is hindering the development of junior
football. In the past, cities like Gyumri and Vanadzor
were seen as hotbeds of Armenian talent. Now, Gyumri’s
local outfit FC Shirak are stuck at the foot of the
standings while Vanadzor does not even have a
professional club any more.
The Football Federation of Armenia is trying, with
UEFA’s help, to improve youth soccer, but at the
moment things are pretty dire. Tellingly, five of the
sides in the second division are the reserve teams of
top-flight clubs, and only one – FC Lernayin Atrsakh –
showed any interest in winning promotion this term.
The talent still exists in Armenia. Edgar Manucharyan,
a star of the Armenia squad that reached the 2005 UEFA
European Under-19 Championship finals, is at AFC Ajax,
while another youngster – Zhora Hovhannisyan – is on
the books at Olympiacos CFP. Other prospects are
learning their trade with the leading local clubs, but
it may be a while before any Armenian team, even
Pyunik, have the muscle to hold their own in Europe.