Until last month no English club had got through a UEFA Futsal Cup group – but next week Baku United FC will attempt to progress for the second time this season.
Baku are a cosmopolitan side, their name owing to backing from the Odlar Yurdu Organisation which aims to develop British-Azerbaijani relations and promote Azerbaijani culture in the United Kingdom. Their duly international squad contains Portugal defender Arnaldo, who helped SL Benfica win this competition in 2010, and is coached by former Interviú Madrid boss Chema Jiménez. However, one of their local players is Doug Reed, who joined the newly crowned English champions this summer after spells in Spain, Cyprus, Croatia, Serbia and Brazil.
The 27-year-old defender was in the team as they topped preliminary round Group B last month, ahead of KS Ali Demi and hosts Wisła Kraków, to advance to the main round of qualifying. Now they face experienced FK EP Chrudim, hosts AC Omonia Nicosia and FC Litija in Group 4 from Tuesday – and Reed told UEFA.com about their preparations and ambitions.
UEFA.com: How have preparations gone for the main round?
Doug Reed: We have been in Spain for a three-week training camp and have worked very hard together. I am very happy about our preparation but we will have to wait and see whether this gives us the desired results.
UEFA.com: What did you think of your two preliminary round performances?
Reed: After the first game [4-1 against Ali Demi] we were content because we achieved our aim of getting three points, even if people were quick to doubt us as they expected a bigger winning margin. The game against Wisła was always going to be crucial; the 7-0 scoreline doesn't reflect how close it was. I think we can still perform better but we demonstrated we are able to compete.
UEFA.com: How do you see your three main round opponents?
Reed: [Chrudim] have a long history in the tournament and I'd say they are maybe the strongest team. I know some of the Omonia players, including former team-mate Rob Ursell, and they have a good squad – plus they will have their home support. I don't know much about Litija but I have played in that region [Slovenia] and players from there are always physically and technically very strong. Overall there is not much between the teams and I expect some very close games with any team able to qualify.
UEFA.com: No British club previously has built a team like Baku's – what are your ambitions?
Reed: The club has very ambitious plans and the UEFA Futsal Cup is a central part of that. Our immediate objective is to reach the elite round, which in our first season in the competition would be an incredible achievement for the club and a significant step for English futsal.
UEFA.com: You have genuine world-class players in the squad: what has it been like working alongside Arnaldo, Betinho and other top internationals?
Reed: This is something I have been fighting for all my career. My motivation and joy from futsal comes from challenging myself and trying to improve every day. At Baku we have an excellent squad, a knowledgeable coach and a professional environment to work in. I am enjoying myself a lot and am able to test myself against other strong players.
UEFA.com: How proud does it make you to be an English player in a squad that strong?
Reed: I was 20 the first time I played futsal and 23 when I first played professionally. With the sport still very underdeveloped in England, it is very difficult to develop as a player there. Despite these obstacles, it makes me very proud to have reached a level where I am able to compete with players brought up with the game in countries where there is an established futsal culture and environment.
UEFA.com: Can you see the club's success helping nurture potential England players?
Reed: The club is providing a competitive and professional environment for the English players in the squad that wasn't previously available in England – this will increase the level of the national league. It can only be a good thing for the development of English players and the national team.
UEFA.com: You have played abroad in several leagues. How did those experiences benefit you?
Reed: Those experiences helped me immensely, as both a player and a person. I went abroad to challenge myself: playing with, and against, good players every day and working with excellent coaches, something that was not available in England. I would encourage any English player to do it, because it is difficult to make significant improvements without these things, though hopefully one day soon English players will be able to find them here.
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