FIFA.com has spoken exclusively with Armenia coach Joaquin Caparros after three straight victories in Qatar 2022 qualifying.
When Joaquin Caparros was appointed Sevilla coach back in 2000, he could never have guessed where he would be coaching 21 years later.
From then until 2005, he became an idol at the Andalusian club, contributing to the development and consolidation of future stars like Sergio Ramos, Jesus Navas, Jose Antonio Reyes and Dani Alves. After taking charge of a variety of clubs in Spain, Switzerland and even Qatar, he returned to Sevilla in 2018, where he had two short spells as interim coach interspersed with a period as the club’s director of football. Then in early 2020, he got a call from Gines Melendez that would change everything.
The veteran coach, who had enjoyed great success while in charge of Spain’s youth teams, was the one who sought out Caparros to offer him the Armenia job, having himself being appointed technical director of football at the country’s football association the previous year. Now in need of a coach for the national team, he knew right away that Joaquin was his man.
“They want to develop, and they know that this depends on the credentials of the coaches they have. They’re doing great and we’re seeing results that give credence to the president and everyone involved. It’s the path we have to follow,” Caparros tells FIFA.com when asked about the change in Armenian football.
“I still had time on my contract with Sevilla, but Gines Melendez told me about the Armenia opportunity, so I met him and the president of the national federation. There was a good feeling and a sense of empathy, so we hit it off and came to an agreement quite quickly. They trust us and there’s very smooth communication,” Caparros says of the decision to embark on this adventure.
Since then, the mutual affection between Caparros and Armenia has only deepened, helped by a dream start for the coach. “Getting promoted to UEFA Nations League B was reward for the work being done, but it was also unexpected because we were competing against quality teams like Georgia and North Macedonia. It was a success and provided a major morale boost for the country and the squad. It reaffirmed that Armenia must have faith in the work being done,” said the former coach of Athletic Bilbao, Deportivo La Coruna and Mallorca, among others.
That promotion was the best possible prelude to the European qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, in which Armenia have made a perfect start, winning their opening three games in the last week of March to lead Group J.
“We’ve begun the qualifiers with a lot of enthusiasm but remain conscious of how tough our group is. We’ve started well, but we’re keeping our feet on the ground. We’re in with teams like Romania, Iceland, North Macedonia, and especially Germany, which are very strong. That’s where we find ourselves, but we’re hopeful and excited, and no one can take that away from us,” Caparros says.
The 65-year-old knows it is a time for calm heads, especially when you look back at what has happened so far in the evenly matched Group J. “Being in a group that throws up crazy results is good for us, but we know it’ll still be very difficult. We’re talking about teams with a lot of [good] players and a great deal of history, like Germany, who are always favorites.”
However, when asked about specific objectives, Caparros is not prepared to look beyond September. “We have to take it one game at a time and see how far we can go. We’re not playing again [in the qualifiers] until September, so we’ll see how the players are doing. We’re relying on our strength as a team as well as mental fortitude.”
And while he has only been in charge of Armenia for ten games, the Spanish coach has hit it off really well in the eastern European country. “From the start, everyone’s been empathetic, from the president down to the coaching staff. It’s a joy to go to team gatherings and be with the lads, because they’re so committed.”
Caparros has only good things to say about his day-to-day work with the national team. “We have an amazing academy. There are ten football pitches here, all maintained superbly, and a residential building with luxury rooms. Everything you need… We’re very comfortable,” he says.
But surely for a Spanish coach in Armenia, the language barrier is a problem? “Within the squad we speak four languages: Russian, Armenian, English and Spanish,” Caparros tells FIFA.com, insisting it has not been an issue: “There’s very fluid communication, and furthermore football is a universal language. When the whistle blows, everyone understands each other. This non-verbal communication has been fundamental.”
Asked what it would mean for Armenia to reach a major tournament like the EURO or World Cup, the coach says, “Just winning promotion in the Nations League was very emotional, so I can only imagine what it would be like… However, I’ve not even thought about it. I’ve been in football for many years, so I know we have to take it one step at a time. So let the people of Armenia enjoy the victories, and let us focus on our working methods,” he concludes.
Caparros is clearly proud of this Armenia team and the work they have done, so it will be fascinating to see just how far they can go together.
Armenia have gone undefeated for eight games since their 2-1 reverse to North Macedonia in September 2020. That fixture came in the 2020/21 UEFA Nations League, in which Armenia won promotion to League B.