The Football Federation of Armenia (HFF) together with the leading Armenian football weekly Football-Plus held a poll in 2001 to decide the country's best player of the 20th century. Former Soviet Union and FC Ararat Yerevan midfield player Khoren Hovhannisyan won the vote. He was subsequently nominated as Armenia's Golden Player as part of UEFA's Jubilee celebrations in 2004.
When Khoren Hovhannisyan received the accolade of Armenia's Golden Player, the HFF president, Ruben Hayrapetyan, paid tribute to the former Ararat and USSR midfielder when he said: "There has been a lot of talent in our football, but I saw Hovhannisyan on the pitch and this led to me becoming a football fan. His contribution to the past, present and future of Armenian football could not be overstated."
The subject of those words played 295 games for Ararat in the old Soviet championship. Remarkably, he also scored 113 league and cup goals from midfield, and his performances helped Ararat win the Soviet Cup in 1975. A year later, Hovhannisyan triumphed with the USSR at the UEFA European Under-20 Championship – the start of an impressive international career.
In 1980, with the Soviet U23 side, he picked up a bronze medal at the Olympic Games in Moscow. Then, at the 1982 FIFA World Cup, he shone on the biggest stage as one of the stars of a USSR team denied a semi-final place by goal difference alone. His magnificent goal against Belgium in a 1-0 second group stage victory was a particular highlight and those World Cup displays drew the attention of several top clubs – including New York Cosmos who put together, in vain, a $3m deal to entice him to the North American Soccer League.
It was virtually impossible for a Soviet player to leave the country at that time, however, and save for a brief stint with FC Pakhtakor Tashkent in Uzbekistan, Hovhannisyan saw out his playing days with Ararat. In all, he won 38 international caps for the USSR, scoring eight goals.
Hovhannisyan embarked on a coaching career with FC Iskra Yerevan from 1987-89, then had a spell at Ukrainian club FC Tavriya Simferopol in the 1991/92 season. With the collapse of the USSR, he headed back to Armenia to guide Ararat to the title as player-coach in 1992 before another spell abroad in Lebanon with Omendmen Beirut.
When he next returned home, Hovhannisyan joined FC Pyunik where he was coach between 1994 and 1998, lifting two league titles and the Armenian Independence Cup as Pyunik landed the double in 1996. During that period he also took the reins of the Armenia national team, but his tenure – which began with a 4-0 loss to Peru in June 1996 – ended 16 months later after a 2-0 World Cup qualifying defeat by Ukraine. Hovhannisyan later served as president of Pyunik but resumed coaching in 2003 with a stay at the helm of the Armenia U17 side.
It is perhaps no surprise that Hovhannisyan's son, Zhora, has become a professional footballer, given the example of his father, who was well known for his mentoring role with his old team-mates. Arsen Chilingaryan, a former colleague at Ararat, said: "I was lucky enough to play with Hovhannisyan and it takes one word to describe what he's like – a professor. It is very rare when a player like Hovhannisyan is born, he was a leader of the side and a friend to all."
Another ex-Ararat player, Arthusha Movsisyan, added: "He had a vision and he could lead others with his example. Not too many people can become leaders, but he was a natural. Hovhannisyan was a great player and he fully deserves to be the player of the century in Armenia."
Last updated: 26 January 2011
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