Qäbälä FK reached Azerbaijan's top division in 2006 but their results have never met their ambitions – until now.
Despite high-profile managerial appointments such as Ramiz Mamedov and ex-England captain Tony Adams, Qäbälä have never finished above fifth or qualified for Europe. Yet with experienced former FC Lokomotiv Moskva and FC Dynamo Kyiv coach Yuri Semin in charge, optimism is high as they lead the Premier League after seven games.
They are certainly backing their ambitions with deeds. Looking to the future, Qäbälä have former Feyenoord player and academy director Stanley Brard heading their youth system – but the mere fact they were able to attract Semin this summer is significant.
"After I received this offer I spent some time getting information about the country, the club's infrastructure and their future plans," Semin told UEFA.com. "After a chat with the club's president I took time to make the decision, watched several league matches and finally accepted the offer.
"In general I am happy here, though of course I would like to see my team on a higher level as well as the league itself. We are working very hard on it, spending a lot of time on youth development. For instance, we have matches between the first team and reserves once a week, which really helps the youngsters."
Muscovite Semin – who has also coached FC Dinamo Moskva and the Russian national team – is also happy with life off the pitch. "Azerbaijan is obviously progressing and I have plenty to compare it with," said Semin, referring to spells working in Tajikistan and New Zealand. "Baku is a huge modern metropolis, while the smaller cities are very beautiful and becoming more modern. Money is being invested in different fields including football.
"The only thing I don't like is the number of spectators at matches. Earlier [in Soviet times] at Neftçi PFK matches the stadium was sold out, but not now. I think the main reason is that the league is not advertised enough."
Semin himself is popular, not just for his side's results but also for the brand of attacking football he has got Qäbälä playing. However, the 66-year-old warned: "I don't think we have achieved much. Everything can change.
"It is no secret that everybody expects us to finish top or at least qualify for Europe. I am satisfied with my side so far but we still have weaknesses. We should be better in defence and we are not consistent enough. I am happy with the standard of the newcomers but their real level can be judged only in May."
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