Soccer: Lean Year Leaves Banants Hungry For Success

by Khachik Chakhoyan from Yerevan
June 17 2009

Having snatched a UEFA Europa League place from a poor campaign last
year, Armenia’s FC Banants want to make amends, with captain Arthur
Voskanyan aiming "to improve our international standing and cheer up
the fans".

‘Radical changes’

A 10-0 aggregate defeat by FC Salzburg in the UEFA Cup first qualifying
round and a fifth-place finish in the eight-team Armenian league
represented a poor return for the Yerevan side, who had registered
top-three finishes in the preceding six campaigns. As the 2008 season
closed, club president Sargis Israelyan concluded: "Undoubtedly this
campaign hasn’t been good enough, so we have to make radical changes."

Cup final The first such adjustment came last October when 42-year-old
Armen Gyulbudaghyants replaced Danish coach Kim Splidsboel. His
subsequent success in leading Banants to the Armenian Cup final
earned his charges a spot in the UEFA Europa League first qualifying
round. The final itself was lost 1-0 to national champions FC Pyunik
on 9 May.

Mentoring process Third in the top flight, or Bardzraguyn khumb, after
eleven games of the new, 2009 season, Gyulbudaghyants has already
revived the club with an increased emphasis on young talent. "We
have to work with and improve our own local players," he said. "It
won’t be easy, but with experienced team-mates around them, these 18
to 20-year-olds will find their feet. We have to be good enough for
the Europa League as well as the Armenian league."

Significant signing The arrival of Armenian international Hamlet
Mkhitaryan, back home after a spell in Iran with Rah Ahan FC, should
help in that respect. "The squad has its own style and character,
giving us hope that we will be good enough on the international stage,"
said the 35-year-old. "His team-mates can learn a lot from him,
but he isn’t going to be only our signing," added Gyulbudaghyants.

European target "We have players from Ghana, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast,
Russia and Belarus on trial, so I hope some of them can help us
towards our main goal – getting as far as we can in the Europa League,"
continued the coach. Banants have fallen at the first hurdle in six
of their seven UEFA Cup seasons, but captain Voskanyan insisted:
"We are aiming to qualify for the next round."

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