Author: Senan SHAFIZADE
There have been changes in the Azerbaijani wrestling team. Olympic champion Namig Abdullayev’s appointment as the head coach of the national freestyle wrestling team was unexpected for many. He replaced Zalimkhan Huseynov.
At the end of his sports career, the former leader of the national team served as vice president of the Azerbaijan Wrestling Federation. N.Abdullaev agreed to lead the team in a difficult period, hence encouraging the entire sports community of Azerbaijan.
Wrestling is a traditional and a serious type of sport in Azerbaijan, meaning that two or three gold medals in various tournaments are often not considered a satisfactory result. Therefore, the demand on the coach is high. Will the famous athlete be able to fulfill the new mission successfully? What are his plans for the revival of the former glory of the national team?… We asked these and many other questions to Mr. Abdullayev himself.
“Congratulations on your appointment! It was unexpected indeed...”
“It is a great honor for me to be the head coach of the national team. I am grateful to the administration for their trust. I have worked with the junior and youth teams of Azerbaijan before. And lately I have supervised the development of athletes in light weight categories. That is, I have always been near the national team. It’s not something new to me. There are no former wrestlers, we are constantly interested in the team's results.”
“What does the leader of the national team feel as a head coach?”
“You know, this team has always made Azerbaijan happy. Our athletes always returned with medals from all prestigious competitions, including the Olympic games. I think I can keep the bar as high as before as a head coach. The 2021 Summer Olympics will be held in Tokyo. It is going to be the main test for our team. Previously, our wrestlers were often treated unfairly. But this has not been the case for almost 15 years, because the acting president of our federation, Namig Aliyev, is a member of the bureau of the United World Wrestling (UWW). This also helped to revoke the red card unfairly issued to our wrestler Haji Aliyev at the last world championship.”
“I think coaching is not something new to you, is it?”
“That’s right. Working as vice-president of the federation, I was responsible for the development of wrestling in the districts of our republic. In recent months, I helped our wrestlers by getting involved in the training of the national team. I always give the necessary advice to the young athletes. I supervised the training of the wrestlers, since the former head coach Zalimkhan Huseynov could not return to Baku due to the pandemic. In this context, the job is not new to me.”
“Can you point out the distinctive aspects of wrestling between your period and the present?”
“Firstly, the rules have changed, which created difficulties for the wrestlers. The training process is changing. Wrestling is experiencing an unprecedented rise throughout the world. That’s why you cannot see weak athletes at competitions any more. All athletes wrestle double as powered against Azerbaijani wrestlers. In fact, we are favourites of all competitions. Therefore, our rivals are preparing against us in a special way.”
“It is unlikely that you, as a head coach, are satisfied with the number of licenses won for the Olympic Games...”
“Of course I’m not. Our freestyle wrestlers won only one license for the Tokyo Olympics. The only qualified member of the team is our Olympic champion Sharif Sharifov (97 kg). But we still have time. It is necessary to get as many licenses as possible. At the moment, the team continues training in line with the lockdown rules. However, training cannot replace competition. Feelings are completely different between the two. Training cannot give you the feeling and imperssions you get in tournaments. Of course, the coronavirus has affected all sports, including wrestling. But the most important thing for us is to remain healthy.”
“Can we expect any changes in the national team?”
“The national freestyle wrestling team of Azerbaijan is one of the strongest in the world. There are many titled athletes in our team. Usually, we change the composition of the team after the Olympic games. We cannot make major roster changes ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. Some of the athletes end their careers after the Games. And then we enroll new wrestlers from the youth team. Today, our main goal is to increase the number of licenses and ensure the best performance at the Tokyo Olympics.”
“When will your first competition as a head coach take place?”
“As you know, all competitions have been postponed due to the pandemic. For the same reason, licensed competitions were suspended either. UWW is planning to host the world championship in December. The strongest wrestlers of the planet will compete in Belgrade. Olympic licenses will also be awarded there. We expect a tense struggle in Europe.”
“Head coach always becomes a subject of discussions and criticism. Are you ready for this?”
“Of course, there will be criticism. Healthy criticism is always good for the cause. It stimulates development. The government of Azerbaijan closely monitors and supports the development of sports in the country. It is well known that it was the national leader Heydar Aliyev who launched the development of sports in Azerbaijan. His successor, President of the National Olympic Committee and the incumbent President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev always cares about all of our athletes. All social problems of champions are being solved. In turn, our job is to achieve high results. As the head coach of the national team, I will try my best to ensure the successful performance of every wrestler in the team.”
“Do you know your assistants already?”
“The senior coach and coach are Zalimkhan Huseynov and Arif Abdullayev, respectively. Huseynov is currently in Daghestan together with our fighters. If we come to an agreement, he can stay in the team. The final decision will be made by the leadership of the federation.”