Interview: Armenia coach Joaquin Caparros on a unique experience

The country he coaches has been at war and it has taken an emotional toll on him

Joaquin Caparros
| sport

Albert Gracia

Joaquin Caparros (Utrera, 1955), said that when he sat down with Armenia to talk about taking over their national team he felt good things. There was a lot of work to do but a good sporting structure, and a group of players who leave everything out there on the pitch. But nobody could have told him he would live through a war - Armenia and Azerbaijan, for the Alto Karabaj region, with dozens of dead. Nor that the experience he has stored could save him from the emotional impact of war.

Luckily Armenian football has enjoyed better times. They are in Group B of the Nations League and ahead of Germany in World Cup 2022 qualifying. Three wins from three games and all without star man Mkhitaryan. SPORT interviewed the Spaniard.

A few days have passed since the media spotlight was directly on Armenia. How are you feeling?

We are very happy, because it was unthinkable to be in the situation we are in now (leaders of their group). Although we were on a good streak and had been promoted to League B of the Nations League, nobody expected this. Even so, there is still a lot more to do. And more so in a group where there are teams like Germany, Iceland or Romania. There’s a long way to go, but we are very happy with the work so far, of course.

I suppose this would not have happened without a good structure behind it ... What are the keys to success?

Well, this is everyone's job, from the president who takes charge of the Federation and put Ginés Meléndez in the position of sporting director, through to the coaching staff. We do great teamwork, everyone does their bit so that Armenian football takes one more step forward. Then there is a great squad, who are all very committed. They are guys who feel their nation, their national team, who feel their jersey. 

Did you ever hesitate to accept the challenge?

Not at all. When Ginés told me about it and I met with the president in Madrid, there were no doubts. They gave me very good feelings. I accepted it, delighted, (but) knowing that it was going to be difficult. And it is complicated. All teams have a lot of players to choose from, less for us. We are getting young people with potential, but they are still guys who have just recently debuted with the national team. The results are positive and that makes people believe in them more.

With the group how it stands, is the World Cup the goal?

You don't have to be cautious, you have to be very cautious. We must keep our feet on the ground. But it is true that now there is no one who will take people's joy away, especially after what the country has gone through. There is a lot of the group left to go and we know the quality of the opponents. We are going to go game by game.

Joy in the middle of a war with Azerbaijan, where even your captain went to the front lines... does this give more value to everything you have achieved?

Sure, much more value. It not only has sporting value, but also emotional value for an entire country that was very sad for everything that had happened. Many people have died, young boys of 19-20 years. It’s been a very punished country. The grief that Armenia is experiencing has served to motivate us. We wanted to give people a little happiness. This is the greatness of sport and football.

From what you say, it was almost an obligation to compete as you are doing.

Yes. We are the focus of many people. I have never experienced anything like this emotionally in my entire career. We are talking about a heavily punished country. Sport has brought them joy and a smile after some very tough months.

It’s a success even without Mkhitaryan, your great star…

In our national team, the group must always prevail. We are a team, no one can stand out. Everyone has to put their will and their ability at the service of the team. And the truth is that it has been so. If there is something to highlight in the team, it is that we are that, a team. We have been a great team in capital letters. If we want to take another step on our way, it has to be from the base of being collectively strong.

Your first experience of international football is not going badly…

The national team ‘can’ had not been opened yet and this team may be a little different because of everything that surrounds it. The war, the fact that up to four languages are spoken in the dressing room ... We had to empathize with all that. The whole dressing room is united. In the end, non-verbal language speaks louder than verbal in our team.

Are you thinking of staying in Armenia or an immediate return?

Well we have a contract until Nov 21 of this year, until the last group game is played. But I won’t look beyond that. What I think is enjoying each game because experience tells me that’s how I have to go. I want to enjoy what we’re enjoying. As I said, there’s a good atmosphere between players and the technical team, as much from what we’ve brought as what there already was in Armenia. Time will tell.

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