Monthly review: FC Pyunik must gel quickly if they are to defend their Armenian Premier League crown.
By Khachik Chakhoyan
Armenian champions FC Pyunik are hoping to integrate some young talent into their first team when they enter the Commonwealth Cup on 15 January.
Vardan Minasyan has lost three key players during the close season, with Edgar Manucharyan sold to AFC Ajax, Apoula Edima Edel Bete departed for FC Girondins de Bordeaux and Galust Petrosyan now employed by CSF Zimbru Chisinau. That key trio will be replaced by youngsters from Pyunik's feeder teams and two Cameroonian triallists as Pyunik travel to Moscow for the Commonwealth Cup, a competition for the champions of the ex-Soviet republics.
In contrast, last season's runners-up FC MIKA are largely unchanged as they look ahead to the 2005 season. The squad - only missing striker Armen Shahgeldyan, who will remain at Lebanese club Al-Ahed until May - will begin the latest in a series of short training camps in Ararat from 12 January.
If FC Banants are to improve on last term's third position, they will need to compensate for the loss of a string of players. Captain Hovhannes Demitchyan and goalkeeper Aren Babayan have left the club as free agents while six players who played on loan from FC Metalurh Donetsk last season have returned to the Ukraine.
To make matters worse, highly rated young centre-half Ararat Arakelyan has had a trial at Metalurh with a view to a move. One positive, however, is the arrival of forward Vahe Tadevosyan from rival club FC Ararat Yerevan. Banants begin training on 7 January ahead of an international tournament in Turkmenistan next month.
Elsewhere, Arkadij Andreasyan has returned to coaching duties at Ararat determined to improve his squad's physical condition. In addition to selling Tadevosyan, the coach, back at the club after a one-year absence, declined to offer new deals to out-of-contract pair Serbian Aleksic Srjan and Georgian Georgi Sulaberidze.
FC Dinamo-Zenit Yerevan, finally, will return to Syria for pre-season training hopeful that the three Georgians on trial at the club will prove sufficiently skilled to lift the side higher than their fifth-placed finish last season.