After years of promises and online rumours, Azerbaijan’s Football Federation finally created the Second League. Long seen as a pie-in-the-sky concept backed only by romantic football lovers, this ambitious project if implemented properly, will forever change the nature of Azerbaijani football.
In an ideal world where nothing ever goes wrong and Azerbaijani football hasn’t mastered the art of seizing the moment, the list of the benefits that a national second league can bring is huge. That includes, but is not limited to, more minutes at a higher level for predominantly young and local footballers; a new market for clubs to buy and sell players, as well as for Azerbaijan Premier League clubs to send players on loan; opportunities for lapsed and new fans to be brought in by the colour and passion of a new league; more content to offer broadcasters and market; and more pathways for footballers, administrators, referees, coaches and media alike.
The current structure dictates the Second League teams can’t be relegated, meaning teams near the bottom of the standings don’t have much to play as the season progresses, making for ‘dead rubber’ matches. For advocates of the league, it represents an important missing link on the domestic scene, offering benefits that can drift not just to those within it but also up and down the pyramid, and a vital step towards developing the game.
Cynics claim it is a hubristic vanity project too far for a sport already teetering on the edge in the country. They say the FA has far bigger priorities to address within its existing framework; it is a distraction from bigger problems that exist everywhere from the elite to the grassroots level.
Both arguments have some validity. At any rate, this should have happened a long time ago. But whereas multiple tiers might be considered the norm on a global scale, there has never actually been a second tier in Azerbaijan for a reason. One of the primary reasons a second tier hasn’t been established in the country is that, very simply, they haven’t been able to justify the cost or find a way to make it sustainable.
For fans from Azerbaijan’s rural areas like Aghdash and Shamkir, football is a lifeline. The sport is the tie that binds generations. From father to son, family to family, friend to friend. There is a fabric that weaves through all of us who follow this beautiful game.
There were a couple of players already at some clubs whose names might be familiar to Azerbaijani football fans. Chief among them is Rahid Amirguliyev, the former Khazar Lankaran and Qarabağ midfielder who joined Shahdag Gusar after five seasons with Sabail. Once a highly-rated young midfielder, Javid Imamverdiyev has moved to Kür-Araz. Meanwhile, controversial but ambitious Javid Huseynov is in charge of Karabakh-based Jabrail, while globetrotter Amit Guluzade manages Fuzuli, a new club from Karabakh.
However, as fans of the Azerbaijan Premier League will know, nothing is ever certain until the final whistle blows. The unpredictability that characterizes this realm is part of its allure. Azerbaijani football has always been known for its shocks and surprises, and this season is no exception. Teams like Sheki City and Göygöl have been causing upsets, further stirring the pot and ensuring that no game can be taken for granted. All clubs have their fate in their own hands, and expect a thrilling climax to a season that has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride.
By: Fuad Alakbarov / @DrAlakbarov
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Lynne Cameron – PA Images