Former head coach of Armenia’s U21 football team Flemming Serritslev is back in Yerevan.
Mediamax Sport met with the coach to talk about Armenia football and his views on its current state and challenges.
Mr. Serritslev, what brings you back to Armenia?
Since I came here, in 2009, it became my second country. I really love Armenia, especially Yerevan. I have a lot of friends here, and there is always a fantastic atmosphere. When I lived here, in 2009-2010, I always went to Republic Square to listen to the music in the event. For me it’s one of the most beautiful squares in the world. I’ve traveled a lot, but the Republic Square is one of my favorites.
You worked with our U21 team and it was doing quite well under your management. What did you demand from the players to make them win?
I tried to improve their self-confidence. When I came here, I felt they were really afraid of making mistakes. If you never dare make mistakes, you will never develop. You as a coach have to accept that young players are making mistakes. One of the things I brought was that I gave them more freedom than they were used to, better possibilities to express themselves. I taught them they could learn from their mistakes.
Many of U21 players, such as Mkhitaryan, Ghazaryan and Mkrtchyan, now play for the national team. However, their generation has failed so far to impress in international tournaments. Why is that so?
Some years after I left Armenia, those young players were doing very well, almost qualifying for the European Championship. I remember the game against Ireland, where Armenia had a chance to qualify for the first time.
Maybe, some of the players lost the belief in themselves. That’s what I tried to teach them: you have to believe in yourselves. Self-confidence comes when you’re winning. It took a lot time before my U21’s started winning. We lost the first four games, but then we won games, and especially after beating Turkey, my players started believing they could beat the best teams in Europe.
Do you follow the Armenia team now? What are Armenia’s chances in the Nations League, in your opinion?
Of course, I follow the competitions and the national teams, and especially because I worked here, it is very interesting to watch Armenia’s games. Looking at the Nations League now, I believe Armenia still can win the group.
The team was left without a manager after Vardan Minasyan’s resignation. Did the Football Federation of Armenia offer you the job?
No, I did not get an offer. Of course, I know many of the players and how to work with them, but Armen Ghyulbudaghyants takes over the team. I know him very well. He is very committed to his job and he knows all the players. I think he was the best choice in the short period of time the federation had.
What problems have you noticed in Armenian football, what stops it from developing?
The first problem I noticed was that you only had six teams in the league. Now it is nine, which is better, but still not enough. I have to say though that the level of the matches is pretty good.
There is something you need to change in Armenian football, and that is physical training. It is one of the easiest things, actually, because it is much more difficult to educate the players tactically. The games here are too slow, so the level has to be raised in terms of physical competition.
The players and the coaches have to come together to raise the level of the game in Armenia. It has to be cooperation between referees, coaches, and the players. Football is a contact sport, so the players must become faster and stronger.
What do you think about the young generation of Armenian footballers?
I mostly follow the senior national team, not the U17’s or U19’s, so I cannot really give an opinion about the young players.
What is your advice to Armenian players?
Most of them are playing abroad. You have Gevorg Ghazaryan, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Sargis Adamyan, Yura Movsisyan, who’s back in the squad. I don’t think Armenia had before a center forward like him, strong and fast. He is 32 and the whole team is actually quite old now, you will need younger players soon to have continuity in the team. Armenia has to fill in younger substitutes, or have problems in three or four years from now.
Will you attend Armenia’s next games?
Yes, I will. I can’t say much about Gibraltar, but you have to beat Macedonia. I am 100% sure Armenia can win. It’s not too late to win the group.
Armenia lost the first leg against Macedonia. What mistakes should the team leave behind?
I think some coaches focus too much on the bad sides of the game. It’s much more important to find positive things from the match. Of course, you have to change some technical things, as a coach. It’s important to focus on the positive. I think Armenia has good chances in these two games.
What do they need to do to use these chances?
One must always work hard, no matter who your opponent is. I believe Armenia can beat Gibraltar. It will not be easy, but everybody knows Armenia is the favorite for that game. As I said, it is very important to believe in yourself.
What about your occupation at the moment? Where do you work now?
I have been coaching the Papua New Guinea team. My contract has expired, but the results we achieved were very good. They improved 53 rankings on FIFA performance list, which was an important achievement for the country. Now I work at UEFA.
Gohar Nalbandyan and Hasmik Babayan talked to Flemming Serritslev
Photos: Emin Aristakesyan