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[FM17] Trials and Triumphs of a Turkmen

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Trials and Triumphs of a Turkmen

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Meet Bahtiyar Saparow, a young Muscovite born after a brief fling between a local woman and a Turkmen migrant labourer... or so he's been told - Dad never stuck around to introduce himself, but Mum insisted on retaining his Turkmen heritage. Bahtiyar was a footballing star in the making at school, but his mixed heritage and absent father made him a regular target for the local bullies, and it was only a matter of time before the tackles took their toll. Taken out nastily during a trial at his beloved Spartak Moscow, Bahtiyar instead took to studying the sport. Now aged 22, and inspired by the World Cup held on his doorstep, he is about to step out into the wide world of football management...

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Played on FM17, with leagues loaded from Russia (3 tiers), Ukraine (3), Belarus (3), Georgia (2), Armenia (2), Azerbaijan (2), Kazakhstan (2), Uzbekistan (2), Tajikistan (2), Kyrgyzstan (2), Turkmenistan (1), Moldova (2), Estonia (2), Latvia (2) and Lithuania (2). All edited leagues are the wonderful claassen's.

I've holidayed two seasons to the end of the 2018 World Cup, which saw a weird and wonderful group stage lead to football very nearly, but also definitely not, coming home. Bahtiyar starts with no badges, no experience, and a willingness to travel to all parts of the former Soviet Union. His only goals are to make up for the playing career he was unable to enjoy, and to lead his favoured Spartak to success. Anything else on the way is a bonus.

A note for the reader - the editor is enabled. This will only ever be used for one of two reasons: cosmetic, narrative reasons, and the annoying habit of staff in smaller leagues to refuse to re-sign after a year because they get too big for their boots. If they were foreigners brought in, I'd cope, but this seems unrealistic and I have no qualms about extending deals by a year with the editor. That'll be all - now on with the show...

Edited by EvilDave

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Sounds fun, ED. Seem to recall an old Russian save of yours on 13 or 14 that was fun to follow, best of luck with this one.

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8 hours ago, withnail316 said:

Sounds fun, ED. Seem to recall an old Russian save of yours on 13 or 14 that was fun to follow, best of luck with this one.

Thanks withnail - and well remembered! I do have a tendency to float around the old USSR, so hopefully this should be as enjoyable...

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Bahtiyar was stunned, and a little confused. After sending out his somewhat limited CV to every professional club he could find an address for - and some he couldn't - he was actually receiving replies. Not only that, but not all of them were flat-out rejections. Many were, but many seemed pleaseto have an unknown twenty-something applying for their job. What's more, four offered interviews.

Slavia Mozyr were the first, and the biggest. These guys had been champions of Belarus once upon a time, and while those days were long behind them, they were still a huge side to be taking a punt on a nobody.

Taraz were also a relatively big name, although mired in the second tier in Kazakhstan. They would have high hopes of promotion, and not much to achieve it with.

Ysyk-Kol had no expectations and even fewer resources, but the side from the Kyrgyz resort town certainly offered the most picturesque surroundings.

Balkan were also keen, and this was the intriguing one. Second in the Turkmen top flight, their president had said it was an honour to have Saparow apply. It was good to be wanted, and in a strange sort of a way, it was home. 

Of course, that ignored the fact that Bahtiyar needed to interview for the posts. Sure, all were over Skype, but he'd never interviewed for anything before...

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Love the league setup and this could really be the start of some wacky teams and results. Good luck! 

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21 hours ago, Timetxu said:

Love the league setup and this could really be the start of some wacky teams and results. Good luck! 

Thanks! Hopefully it goes down something of a road less travelled - wacky is certainly the word for some of these competitions...

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Slavia weren't interested, nor were Taraz really - the bar was too high for me to even consider taking that one. Karakol were interesting but I'm not sure I could have even rented a room with the salary on offer.

Balkan though - well, that was a different story. Their president seemed deferential almost, asking me what I thought expectations should be and referring to me, a 22-year-old, in the polite form throughout. It seemed only a matter of time, but they offered me the job.

We're miles behind defending champions Altyn Asyr with just over a quarter of the season remaining, and the squad is thin. Our strikers look good but ancient, while Makan Saparow - no relation - will star in defence. It's a shame he has no interest in renewing his contract, so he'll stay month-to-month until someone comes in for him.

Despite their enthusiasm, the president still seemed to think we could win the title this year - an impossible ask - but I'll be focusing on staying ahead of Energetik and clinching second. Only the league winners are guaranteed qualification to the AFC Cup, so it might be worth us taking a run at the cup - we take on Kopetdag in a two-legged quarter-final, for which we should be favourites.

Before then though, my debut comes at home to bottom-of-the-table Lebap, and with the transfer window closed, I'll have to see what I can do with such an unbalanced and depleted squad. It could be the start of something beautiful, or the first step in spectacular failure.

--

Bahtiyar is going home. Not a home he knows, or even a home he has ever visited, but home nonetheless. Turkmenistan also happens to be the home of one of the world's most eccentric dictators, seen here rapping with his grandson. He also has a giant gold statue of himself atop a horse in the nation's capital, Asgabat.

Saparow won't be there though, he'll be in Balkanabat, the country's seventh-largest city out in the West towards the Caspian Sea. It sits in the foothills of the Balkan Daglary mountains - from which city and club take their name.

Speaking of the club, Balkan are four-time national champions, their most recent success coming at the end of a hat-trick of titles in 2012. Since then, the 10-team, 36-game league has been dominated by capital side Altyn Asyr, who have won in every year since 2014 and look set to make it five in a row this time round. 

Finally, despite being a relatively poor country, Turkmenistan's erratic, sports-loving dictator has made sport a priority (the subject of his song, no less). Which means that despite attracting just a couple of hundred fans to each game, Balkan play in this spectacularly-set stadium:

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Now that's all sorted - on with the show!

PS. @Jimbokav1971 - any advice on how to centre my video? Thanks!

Edited by EvilDave

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Ah yes, president Berdimuhammedow. The guy who makes Kim Jong-un look like an amateur dictator. The guy who saw his predecessor's insane personal cult and thought: "Hold my beer..." The guy who, earlier this year, had all black cars impounded because white is his lucky colour.

Good luck keeping your job - let alone your head... :lol: 

Edited by dllu

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On 05/08/2018 at 15:45, Jimbokav1971 said:

You can't centre a video I don't think. Pictures yes but not video's. (At least I never worked out how). 

Not to worry, thanks nonetheless - for some reason I had it in my head your music videos had been centred, but alas not.

21 hours ago, dllu said:

Ah yes, president Berdimuhammedow. The guy who makes Kim Jong-un look like an amateur dictator. The guy who saw his predecessor's insane personal cult and thought: "Hold my beer..." The guy who, earlier this year, had all black cars impounded because white is his lucky colour.

Good luck keeping your job - let alone your head... :lol: 

The very same - he's quite the character, and the levels of state 'everything's fine, honest' coming out of Turkmenistan on a regular basis is quite remarkable. Should make for an interesting background to Bahtiyar's career!

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The first game was hardly a thriller, nor did a penalty-earned win against the rock-bottom side inspire a huge deal of confidence going forward. Still, a win is a win, and somehow, despite having never played professionally or taken any coaching qualifications, I'm a full-time football manager. Life is baffling sometimes.

I'd only been there a few weeks when the staff told me about the latest batch of youth graduates to come through, and asked whether I wanted to sign any of them up. I watched them take on our under-18s - an absolute shambles of a side given how many youngsters are in the first team squad - and picked out the best of them. Umyt Geldiyew looks like a real star in the making for this level - don't be surprised to see him in the starting line-up if I'm here next season.

Back to results, and things were going well through September until we ran into Altyn Asyr. We'd been on a good winning run until that point - if you ignore the narrow and meaningless second-leg loss in the cup - but they took us apart after we scored early, and they look a class above. I'm going to have to be busy in the transfer market if we're going to catch up. Oh, and of course we drew them in the semis too. No trophy for us this year then.

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All that means we've tightened our grip on second place as Energetik, Asgabat and Ahal scrap it out behind us. It'd be nice to put Altyn Asyr under something like pressure, but they needed one point from eight games to seal the title, so we'll look at locking down the runners-up spot and somehow getting past them in the cup. We'll be better next year though, that's for sure. For starters, I might actually be able to play everybody in the right position...

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Good luck in Turkmenistan! Hope you can eventually catch up to Altyn Asyr. Love little competitions like these!

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17 hours ago, Minuy600 said:

Good luck in Turkmenistan! Hope you can eventually catch up to Altyn Asyr. Love little competitions like these!

Thank you! Altyn Asyr look a class above at the moment, but I'm hoping a good transfer window or two and we'll be up there.

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After the highs of September, a miserable month. We blew a two-goal lead against Merw only for Owekow to rescue us late on, and then three defeats either side of the international break all but end our chance of silverware for the season. Altyn Asyr sealed the league stupidly early, and a 2-0 defeat in Asgabat means the odds of us lifting the cup are slim to none. We'll need them to win the final - assuming we don't perform a miracle in the second leg - to clinch an AFC Cup berth now.

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The league is done - Altyn Asyr are champions once more, we should have second place sealed, and Lebap are as good as down needing to make up seven points in just five games. To be honest, the focus now turns to next year. We need more players, younger players and better players - it's the only way we're going to get anywhere near the top and challenge the champions.

--

Three goals in four games doesn't sound too terrible, but when they all come in the first match of the set you've got problems. Bahtiyar would have expected defeat away to Altyn Asyr, but losing to university club Yedigen and rock-bottom Lebap, even away from home, is unacceptable for a club of Balkan's stature.

Our young manager may be thinking about next season, but the fact of the matter is that the club president is a demanding man, and isn't overly impressed. Saparow's status has slipped to 'insecure,' and while he has another year on his contract, there's no guarantee he'll be given the chance to see it out. A strong end to the season may be necessary to prevent an early exit...

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Good read so far, I love a good journeyman save. I'm restarting my own but having old Soviet nations loaded.

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32 minutes ago, bigmattb28 said:

Good read so far, I love a good journeyman save. I'm restarting my own but having old Soviet nations loaded.

Go for it! I've managed in most of the old Soviet nations by now (apart from the Baltics I think) and they're all great fun. I'll certainly follow along if you go down that route.

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We end the season in mixed form, two meaningless but satisfying wins over Altyn Asyr tempered by more away day pain, this time at Asgabat and Sagadam. We need to be better outside of Balkanabat if we're to challenge the champions next season - on both occasions this month we were comfortably in control and failed to take advantage. Altyn Asyr are clinical - we must be too.

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30 points. That's the gap we need to make up if we're to lift the Yokary Liga next time round, which seems like a huge jump in a short space of time. However, that's what I'll be expected to do, so I need to find a way.

What's become apparent is that most of our current players aren't really good enough. We can overcome teams 3-9 more often than not, but Altyn Asyr are a class above, and we need the men to match them. The best player during my spell wasn't easy to pick out - Owekow probably edges it - but the harsh truth is that if he's our creative fulcrum next year, we can only hope for second. 

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This is the good news, however. Altyn Asyr's inevitable double means we grab Turkmenistan's second berth in the AFC Cup, allowing us to test ourselves against the best of Asia's second-tier nations. With the squad registration deadline coming very early in pre-season, a lot will depend on how early we get our business done, but I'd like to think we can at least make it to the groups. After that, there are too many variables to take in.

Either way, things are hopeful here in Balkanabat. We haven't been at our best this season, but the areas for improvement are obvious and we have the funds to make that happen. This is what I got into football management for - it's time to prove myself.

--

The one thing Bahtiyar elected to omit was the fact that despite his optimism, there was no guarantee he would survive the off-season. Not in a literal sense - President Berdimuhammedow was yet to take issue with our young hero - but the president of Balkan was placing some of the blame for his club's sub-par season on his shoulders. Budgets were in place and no moves had been made - at least, not in public - but there were rumours that Saparow's tenure might be one of the shortest in the club's history...

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I can see you cutting a big dent in those 30 points (no way can I see you losing 9 games again) but all of them? Huge ask. 

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On 11/08/2018 at 23:01, withnail316 said:

I can see you cutting a big dent in those 30 points (no way can I see you losing 9 games again) but all of them? Huge ask. 

It is a big ask indeed - have to hope Altyn Asyr slip up a bit as well as improving ourselves...

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So, I'm allowed to stay. Allowed is perhaps the wrong word - 'encouraged' might be better, in an odd turn of events. 

Let me explain. At the end of the season, Altyn Asyr's manager left his post, moving upstairs into a Director of Football role after a successful spell in the dugout. Out of nowhere, and without me making any moves, the national newspapers begin to ask whether 'impressive young talent' - they all used the same phrase - Bahtiyar Saparow might consider leaving his job at Balkan Balkanabat and moving to the capital. It was, of course, nonsense - I have less than a single season of experience - but it was enough to spook my own president into keeping hold of me.

However, expectations are high. Nobody has told me I need to win the title - 'around the top of the league' is what is officially expected of me - but I've been told to make sure we're in the AFC Cup again next season, and the only way we can do that is by winning silverware. Or by finishing second to Altyn Asyr is every competition going again.

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Elsewhere, I've been busy in the transfer market. Very busy in fact. I'll introduce you to my new signings soon enough, but suffice to say it'll be a very different Balkan side that lines up for our first game of the season...

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Good luck. AFC Cup could bring you some unexpected good results as you'll be drawn into a group with other Central Asian teams after which the opposition gets weaker once you face the rest of Asias lower tier leagues. Let's see if those results might inspire your director to like you more.

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On 13/08/2018 at 13:58, SmileFaceGamer said:

Good luck, time to catch Man City Altyn Asyr

You know, there may be more similarities than you think!
 

On 13/08/2018 at 14:30, Timetxu said:

Good luck. AFC Cup could bring you some unexpected good results as you'll be drawn into a group with other Central Asian teams after which the opposition gets weaker once you face the rest of Asias lower tier leagues. Let's see if those results might inspire your director to like you more.

I'll be intrigued to see how we get on - I've little to no idea of the standard of opposition to be honest!

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So, we've been busy. Very busy in fact, with enough players joining to give us a completely new starting XI. Not that we'll be making such radical changes, but we've spent money and we expect returns.

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Let's start with the foreigners. Aiazhan will start as our shadow striker, sitting behind the two forwards and looking to make late runs into the box. I'm expecting goals and assists from the little Kazakh.

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G'iyosov is the holding man, with capacity to drop into the centre of defence if we need him to. He's not quite the physical monster I was looking for, but he's a cut above anyone playing a similar role in Turkmenistan.

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Pavlenko is our full-back extraordinaire. He'll line up mostly on the right with Makan Saparow on the left, and between the two of them we should have the best defensive flanks in the country. Nikita here is clearly too good for the Yokary Liga, and it wouldn't surprise me if he doesn't stick around all that long.

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Onto domestic matters now, and Owekow is the big one. A club record buy from Altyn Asyr, he'll sit alongside G'iyosov with playmaking duties in front of the back four for years to come. He fits our mould perfectly, and weakens our biggest rival in the process. Negotiations were not easy, but eventually we got our man.

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Orazmammedow is the other first-teamer to come in, and is another to come from the champions. He was third-choice there and will get more time with us - he's got a keen eye for goal, is good in the air, and should cause opponents plenty of problems. Again, it's another step to weaken Altyn Asyr.

The rest of the incomings are mostly squad players to bolster what were pitiful numbers, and a couple of youngsters who may or may not prove their worth in the long-term. Quite frankly, the long-term is very secondary to the here and now at Balkan - the president wants the title, and my hope is that the five players shown here can go a long way to use getting it. 

We'll start the year with a mixture of friendlies and AFC Cup qualifiers before the league begins, and it'll be our Asian adventure that is the real test of where we are as a team. There are two preliminary rounds before we enter the group stage, and that has to be our aim. Beyond that, we'll simply have to wait and see...

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3 hours ago, EvilDave said:

You know, there may be more similarities than you think!

I’m starting to wonder if this isn’t infact the Turkmen league but the English one, nah the gaps too large. Gotta be the Scottish league with Turkmen teams in right? Either way good luck and especially in your European Asian venture

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After a long wait, plenty of activity in the transfer market, and a busy pre-season schedule, we're ready to go once again. The winter break has been good to us, eight friendlies played against lesser sides with only the one slip-up against Gara Altyn, and while it's been mostly old faces on the scoresheet, the new boys have gelled nicely into the team and system. There haven't been only thrashings, which you might expect given the gap in quality, but they'll come.

You'll also notice two games in there - the AFC Cup preliminaries. We were heavy favourites at home to Maziya of the Maldives and duly delivered, the visitors' goal coming deep into stoppage time with our passage already secured. Al-Ahed of Lebanon however were odds-on to roll us over in the Middle East, but we had different ideas. A cagey first 45 saw us soak up a lot of pressure, and as the hosts pushed men forward late on we hit them with two textbook breaks to book a place in the group stage.

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That puts us in a tough group, which precisely no-one expects us to get out of. Faisaly have an excellent record in the competition, Shabab Sahel will be looking to avenge their countrymen, and Hilal might be the one side we stand with as equals. However, we've already over-achieved in making it this far, and it all bodes rather well for the upcomign league campaign.
--

Bahtiyar was impressed - his Balkan outfit had looked good in pre-season, and more importantly had brushed aside a superior team on the road to make it to the AFC Cup. The club's president was impressed - a far cry from his general discontent at last season - and once again the Turkmen press was keen to sing the praises of the up-and-coming young manager.

Altyn Asyr were also competing in the groups, having qualified directly as league champions. Saparow had his sights on surpassing his rival club's achievement in Asia, but more pressingly in the league. If he could take Balkanabat to his title, his star would be well and truly rising.

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Well, that's about as good a start as we could have asked for in the league. A blistering start to the season with a 6-1 hammering of miserable Merw got the fans excited, and even a trip to Asgabat and Altyn Asyr brought about a point, two goals in as many minutes from veteran Garadanow giving us a lead we couldn't quite hold onto. We were less convincing against newly-promoted Asudalyk, needing a late penalty to claim the win, before repeating the trick against both Asgabat and Ahal. Last season we would have drawn or lost at least one of those matches - this bodes well.

In the AFC Cup, we've been less successful, although are not out of things yet. Faisaly were always going to be our toughest opponents, and even at home we struggled to keep up with them. Then came two away games in Palestine and Lebanon, and two points is a return which leaves us in with a chance of progression - we'd need to win both the return games and maybe even get something in Jordan, but we've got a puncher's chance at this stage. 

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After five games, we're clear of Altyn Asyr by a single goal - I'm expecting this to be tighter than last year, but as soon as we stay in first place I don't care how close they are or aren't. Asgabat and Ahal have also made good starts, having played a game more, while at the bottom it looks like being a long year for Asudalyk - making our nervy 3-2 win seem a little disconcerting.

Off the pitch, all those glowing media reports of my ability helped me convince the president to send me on some formal training. I'll look to complete the first of my coaching badges with the Turkmenistani FA, and if the president is still feeling generous in a few months' time, aim to keep progressing. Something tells me it may be results on the field that determine his mood. 

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An acceptable month, but while some of our league wins were nothing short of emphatic, a scrambled draw away at Yedigen and poor defeat at Kopetdag have removed any illusion of invincibility we may have had. Away form is our achilles heel - we scored nine unanswered goals at home in the league - and it's outside of Balkanabat that we'll need to step up our game if we're to hold onto Altyn Asyr. We did manage to break a record this month, as Umyt Geldiyew's opener at Yedigen saw him become Balkan's youngest ever scorer.

In the AFC Cup, it's all over. We haven't disgraced ourselves, but a second loss to Faisaly put us on the brink, and poor finishing at home to the Lebanese side means that even a win over Al-Quds in our final game will not be enough to see us through. It's been a humbling experience, but my hope is that we'll be back, and we'll be better next time round. 

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We're off the top, but crucially we remain above the champions and have a game in hand on leaders Asgabat thanks to our continental exploits. We're approaching a third of the way through the season and are still very much in contention. All we have to do now is stay there.

--

Balkan were out of Asian competition with more of a whimper than a bang, but Saparow's side were still going well in the league and looking good, especially at home. If they could solve their away-day worries they had every chance of being legitimate contenders for Altyn Asyr's crown - and it was a good job too, as nothing less seemed able to satisfy the demands of their glory-starved president.

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Well well well. It finally happened - a meaningful victory over Altyn Asyr, and what a win too. We were 2-0 down after 20 minutes, only to come storming back in the second half, and our pressure told as we first drew things level and then watched their discipline implode, six yellows and a red in the second period with the red mist fully descended. It cost them too - Geldiyew floated in a free kick, Meredow got on the end of it, and we started a hectic month in the best possible way.

It carried on too, eight wins from nine games as we played twice a week, every week. Only Ahal got the better of us, a somewhat rotated squad going down just days after a tough win over Asgabat, and we even managed a win in our final AFC Cup fixture, putting one over our Palestinian rivals to finish our campaign in third place. We only actually lost to Faisaly, so there's plenty to build on there.

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This is the story though. Nine points clear of Asgabat, and seven of Altyn Asyr even if they win their game in hand. Given that we're halfway through the season, we cannot help be considered genuine title contenders at this stage. We've got to hold our nerve, not do anything stupid, and make sure we take something from every game against the champions. If we can manage that, next year we'll be the ones going by that name.
--

It was happening. Balkan's inspired performances through May had given them a healthy cushion at the top of the table, helped by their dramatic win over Altyn Asyr. Young Saparow found the national media singing his praises on an almost weekly basis now, every victory celebrated by the Turkmen press and an almost unhealthy focus building on him and his team. It was unusual and unexpected, but as long as they kept winning it wouldn't be a problem. All Bahtiyar needed to do was keep giving them reasons to write.

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Away worries, what away worries?! June's truncated schedule began with two points thrown away at Merw, leads of 2-0 and 3-1 discarded with some awful defending, before a routine win back at home over Kopetdag. The big story came in the final game, away in the capital to face the champions, and Wladimir Bayramov's injury-time screamer from the edge of the area was the difference despite our hosts having the better of the game. That stretched our lead nicely after they'd taken advantage of our slip-up in Merw, and proved once again we can match them blow for blow.

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We now take a break for the best part of two months, resuming against basement dweller Asudalyk back in Balkanabat, where three points will be absolutely crucial. If we can hold that eight-point lead heading into the final set of fixtures, we'll be comfortable favourites to break Altyn Asyr's grip on the Turkmen title. However, if we start to slip and allow the pressure to get to us, the champions will no doubt be breathing right down our necks as we approach the finish line. Everything is very much still to play for.

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In the midseason break, we failed to keep a clean sheet but otherwise looked good going forward. Once the league campaign picked up again, we solved our issues at the back - three wins without conceding a single goal, including a hard-fought victory at Asgabat. Three more games, three more wins, and the title moves ever closer.

Otherwise, we brought in one player - Nazar Coliyew - as cover on the left side of defence - and at the end of season looking likely to bid farewell to another. Garadanow has scored 16 goals in just 20 games so far, but unless I can convince him to change his mind, we'll have to do without him next season.

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12 games to go, a lead of 13 points, and a hugely superior goal difference. Altyn Asyr appear to be having something of a poor year by their lofty standards, and we are now positioned to take full advantage. If we mess it up from here, I don't deserve to keep my job.

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Not the best of months - is the pressure beginning to get to us? Three draws, including two without scoring, saw us drop points in consecutive league games before a late strike from Geldiyew finally relieved the pressure against Sagadam. We didn't have to wait nearly as long away at a fairly abject Kopetdag, but it's evident that we need to find our ruthless streak from earlier in the year. The less said about the cup tie, the better.

In other news, the latest batch of youth graduates came up for assessment, and we'll hold onto a few. None will be world-beaters but there is some potential, and in two to three years I can see someone like Bordolimow getting a few games for the first team. He certainly wants it, at any rate.

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Our two draws allow Altyn Asyr to close the gap, but with eight games to go they still need us to slip up in a major way. We should see it out from here, we should be crowned champions at the end of the year - but it's never quite that simple. There's still plenty of work to do.
--

The season entered its final stages, and Saparow's men held onto their significant lead over Altyn Asyr. However, the past month had not been ideal - were nerves beginning to creep in and take effect? Young Bahtiyar suspected it might be curtains if he didn't see out a league win from such a strong position, and if he failed here, there would be few clubs willing to take him on. Could he hold his nerve?

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Five games down, leaving only three to play, and we've dropped just three points to Altyn Asyr - an agonising last-gasp goal against Asgabat costing us the draw. In contrast, when we hosted our closest challengers earlier in the months, we salvaged a point late on through Garadanow to ensure we maintained our gap. Our best performance of the month by far came at Ahal, where we destroyed our hosts with a 15-minute second-half burst that led to three goals.

It's not all good news however. We had to play all but the Merw game without Bayramow, our veteran striker's very career in doubt such is the seriousness of his injury. With Garadanow on the way out at the end of the season, if he does choose to retire we'll need an entire new strikeforce next season. Not only that, we broke a record we had no intention of setting - we are officially the dirtiest team to play in Turkmenistan.

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We are nearly there. That's all there is to say really. One more win, or dropped points for Altyn Asyr, and we will be crowned champions. We'll get our first chance in the next game at home against university side Yedigen, who are sitting second-bottom, ahead of no-one bar long-relegated Asudalyk. Surely, we can't blow it from here?

Regardless, I'll be here next year. The president, perhaps convinced by the media reports making me out to be the Turkmen Guardiola, offered me a contract extension which I happily signed. We've got something here, and it's worth sticking with.

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It's done. Two early goals from the retiring Garadanow, and we are the champions of Turkmenistan.

Let me say that one more time. Balkan Balkanabat are champions of Turkmenistan!
--

Saparow and his men lifted the title with two games to spare, brushing aside Yedigen to clinch the league at the first attempt. It was a title that few expected Altyn Asyr to relinquish, and one which they very much deserved.

With the nation's press lauding his every move and a contract extension signed, Bahtiyar was now left to see out the remaining couple of games and begin to plan for the next campaign. With his star on the rise however, how long would he stay in Turkmenistan?

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If there was a perfect way to finish a season, this was it. We secured the title with the win over Yedigen, and then put on something of a show for our hardcore handful of away fans, Garadanow going out on a high with three goals in his final two appearances before retiring and earning a league record in the process. He has undoubtedly been our player of the season, despite his body being largely unsuited to the rigours of the professional game. His stats speak for themselves.

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Altyn Asyr slipped up again in their dead rubber of a run-in, meaning the gap finishes at 10 points. Given that we were 30 behind them last season, that's quite remarkable. However, we must admit that they have had a poor year - while we finished 20 points better off, they dropped just as many, as we cannot assume they will sit still over the winter. With the title secure, we have to add quality if we want to keep it. Elsewhere in the league, Asgabat took their expected third position as Energetik dropped back, while Yedigen will be looking to improve next time round. Asudalyk, the promoted side, were just not good enough.

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The squad that won us the title can rightly be proud - I am particularly pleased with young Geldiyew, who has become something of a creative force at such a young age - but there will be changes nonetheless. Our strike force is old - Garadanow is retiring, Bayramow will soon be 40, and third choice Orazmammedow is also the wrong side of 30 by a fair margin. The next stage is to assemble a squad capable of dominating Turkmenistan, and then taking a genuine shot at the AFC Cup. There will be work to do over the winter.
--

And so, Bahtiyar's first full season as a football manager yielded success in the form of the Turkmen title, the young boss becoming a firm favourite in Balkanabat after overhauling reigning champions Altyn Asyr. He now faced the problem so often experienced by managers much older than he - how to build on a winning team. He had his targets, but whether any of them would consider a move to Turkmenistan was another matter.

For now though, his job was to spend a few days enjoying his success, lapping up the praise of the his nation's sports press, and receiving the honour of a presidential visit. Having stolen the idea from the Americans, the new national champions would be entertained by none other than President Berdimuhammedow. Of course, it was no doubt simply an opportunity for the leader to somehow insert himself into Saparow's story, but for a man with Turkmen blood coursing through his veins, it was a moment of great pride nonetheless. 

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On 25/08/2018 at 21:59, SmileFaceGamer said:

Well done. Very well done. Time to hold on

 

On 25/08/2018 at 23:06, kidthekid said:

great job winning the title

Thank you chaps - it was a good year, but Altyn Asyr will no doubt be back!

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The new season arrives after a decent enough tune-up, and in the annual curtain-raiser we blew Altyn Asyr apart. The statistics shows an even game with few shots and a midfield battle which we came out on the wrong side of, but the match played out very differently. Every one of our six shots was on target and from a strong position, and our counter-attack in the second half worked to perfection. We'll take four of these in the league, thank you very much.

Yes, we're back - and back with a bang. We've been busy in the market, struggling to find first-team players and so instead choosing to add further depth - while weakening our rivals in many instances -  as we pursue both retention of our domestic title and improvement in the AFC Cup. We also managed to move on a few players who were surplus to requirements - we wish them well as we move ahead without them.

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Wahyt is the one man who will go straight into the team, and is the ultimate answer to our striking problems. He's terrorised Turkmenistan since joining Altyn Asyr from Russia's Rubin Kazan in 2016, topping the goalscoring charts on an annual basis. They didn't want to sell, he didn't particularly want to move, but by offering him both a big fee and a bumper contract, we managed to land our man in the end. The trade-off here is that he won't be available for the AFC Cup, having helped our rivals make it to the groups, but he'll play every game for which he's eligible. It's little exaggeration when I say he's probably the best current Turkmen footballer.

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So, away we go again. Those who know these things have us and Altyn Asyr as joint-favourites for the coming season - an improvement on our second-place prediction last time out - and after our Super Cup win and Orazsahedov's arrival, we've got the confidence and the personnel to cement our position as the best team in Turkmenistan.

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We're also ready for our Asian campaign, where we will once again meet Faisaly - the only side to beat us in the competition last season. Joining us in Group C are Muharraq, another Gulf outfit with a strong record in the competition, and fellow Central Asian champions Istiqlol from Tajikistan. Faisaly will be favourites to go through, with Muharraq probably edging us into second. However, with a title under our belt and another year of experience, we won't be the outsiders we were last season - I firmly believe that, if we hit the ground running, we can make real waves on the continent this time.

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A flying start to the new season, tempered only be a frustrating goalless draw at a Yedigen side who made no effort to play for anything beyond a draw. With the exception of that one game, Orazsahedow has scored in every game he's played - including a last-gasp equaliser against his old club in our first meeting of the season - and is looking every bit the star striker we expected him to be. Most satisfying have been the two big away wins at Lebap and Energetik, especially given how we've struggled on the road in the past.

The real highlight though has been our form in the AFC Cup, where we have been simply untouchable. We romped to a 5-1 win in Dushanbe with four goals in the opening 20 minutes, then travelled to Bahrain and repeated the scoreline against favoured Muharraq. A routine 3-1 over the Tajiks at home puts us firmly in the driving seat for progression now, and while a scheduling quirk means we still have both games against Faisaly to come, I fancy our chances to take something from at least one of those games.

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We're not top, but we're ahead of Altyn Asyr and if we win our catch-up fixtures, we'll be leading the league in no time. There's very little chance Kopetdag will stay there despite their good start, and Asgabat have struggled badly in the first month, so my focus is firmly on us and the former champions. At the moment, the gap is a mere two goals, so we'll need to hit our straps quickly if we want to put a gap between us.
--

Balkan were off to a strong start in 2020, following up their Super Cup win with impressive league performances and some superb showings in Asia. Those that had tentatively made them favourites to retain the title were now feeling more confident, and Bahtiyar once again found his praises being sung in the press. There was plenty of football still to be played however, and he was not about to get carried away.

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On 28/08/2018 at 13:28, Benjoe said:

That was some rapid progress! 

Great stuff so far @EvilDave

Thank you! Altyn Asyr definitely had an off year, but we did well to take advantage. Onwards and upwards!

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An almost perfect month in the league, with only the away leg of our double-header with Ahal costing us any points. We shouldn't dwell on that though - we destroyed Sagadam, hit Altyn Asyr for five at their place, and showed Ahal what we were capable of just three days after the draw. Merw were the only other side to cause us any trouble - although Altyn Asyr did at least manage to score three of their own - but Aiazhan's goal came early enough that we were never really in trouble.

In the AFC Cup, we did what we need to - we still haven't had the better of Faisaly in three attempts now, but we brushed Muharraq aside to seal qualification to the next round. Our last group game, at home to the Jordanians, will determine who finishes top of the pile, but really our job here is done. We march on.

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Back on top despite having three games on most of the table, with Altyn Asyr unsurprisingly sitting in our slipstream. It's already looking like a table of two halves - anyone from Yedigen downwards is looking over their shoulder, with Energetik and Kopetdag presumably still keeping an eye on us and Altyn Asyr at the top end. We're the only unbeaten side left in Turkmenistan, our goal difference is already half as good again as our nearest challengers', and when we're on song we're regularly hitting teams for three, four or five. It might be early, but I'm confident.

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A hectic month, with no fewer than nine matches on our schedule - and we were absolutely flawless. We started as we meant to go on, smashing six past Asgabat in the first half of an emphatic 7-3 victory, before needing a late winner against the same opposition at home just days later. Yedigen, Kopetdag, Sagadam, Merw and even the mighty Altyn Asyr then failed to trouble us in the league, five successive clean sheets and as many wins giving our title credentials a real boost.

In the AFC Cup, we took our momentum into the winner-takes-top clash with Faisaly and romped away with the match, winding up 3-0 winners and securing prime position for the second round. That landed us a home tie in the one-off second round against Bahraini side Al-Hidd, and two Bayramow goals saw us ease into the last eight. We'll play none Altyn Asyr, who also managed to win their group, meaning that Turkmen representation in the semi-finals is guaranteed.

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Our perfect month in the league puts us firmly in control of the Yokary Liga, with Altyn Asyr now a full nine points back after both failing to keep pace and losing 3-0 in Balkanabat. All those clean sheets have done our goal difference a world of good as well - it is becoming a significant advantage. At the other end of the table, Merw are starting to struggle, sitting four points adrift of Lebap having played two more games. However, that is of little concern for us - at the halfway point, we're in the best possible position. If we maintain our current momentum, we'll certainly stay there.

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A short break for international fixtures - a large number of our players are in the Turkmenistan side now - before two more weeks of Saturday/Wednesday football and then a gap and then no competitive fixtures until mid-August. Despite the tight schedule, we were superb once again, continuing to rack up the wins and in some style to boot. Ahal were the only side to get so much as a consolation goal against us, with both our front two of Bayramow and Orazsahedow and the attacking midfield pair of Geldiyew and Aiazhan among the goals. Newly-promoted Lebap are by no means the best side in the league, but to hit seven past them in two weeks is promising indeed.

The only bad news to come out of Balkanabat is the impending retirement of the aforementioned Bayramow. It makes perfect sense - he's now into his fifth decade and has lost almost all of his pace - but equally he has the technical ability to keep going at this level, and alongside an out-and-out goalscorer like Orazsahedow has absolutely thrived. He'll leave a big hole, but he owes us nothing.

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Those four wins have consolidated our position at the top of the pile even further, and after almost two thirds of the league season we have dropped a mere six points. If last year's title win could be attributed in part to Altyn Asyr's failings, anything we win this time round will be entirely our doing. Looking at the fixture list, the only game we might look at with any sort of trepidation at the moment is our final trip to the former champions - an unbeaten season is, whisper it quietly, looking like a possibility. 

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After a month off in July, we tuned up with three goal-heavy friendlies and then returned to league action with something of a stuttering August, big wins over Energetik and Sagadam tempered by a rare goalless draw with Asgabat and a frustrating afternoon at Yedigen. A 50% win isn't exactly what we were hoping for as we enter the business end of the season, and we need to hope our most recent result is a truer indicator of our form.

Off the field, there was plenty of activity. In unsurprising news, Orazsahedow managed to break not one but two records, and this despite the fact that we're only two-thirds of the way through the league season - he truly has been a superb signing, and perhaps the main difference between ourselves and his old club Altyn Asyr. We also brought in another striker - Alex Boliyan - on a free after he was discarded by his Uzbek club. A former Balkan player and a Turkmen international, he lowers the average age of our strikeforce even at 30, and has plenty left in his legs.

However, the major news came with the sale of Nikita Pavlenko, our Uzbek full-back who elected to return to his homeland. He has been superb for us since joining, and will certainly be missed. We can manage without him - Coliyew will fill in until the end of the year - but the manner of his departure, with the club president giving me no say in the matter, cannot be ignored. We stand on the brink of back-to-back titles, and yet I am evidently not trusted. How much longer am I expected to stay?

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Our two draws allowed Altyn Asyr to claw two of the 11 points back on us, but with just 10 games remaining we sit unbeaten and in a very strong position. We simply have to be favourites from here, even without Pavlenko. The top four look fairly set for the season at this point, and Merw are beginning to look cut away at the bottom, while everyone from 5th-9th could end up anywhere in that range. Not that we'll be paying too much attention.
--

Are the first cracks appearing in Balkanabat? Bahtiyar thought his days of worrying about the future were over after his first half-season was followed with the title, but the sale of star defender Pavlenko for a relatively small sum without his say-so has our young hero on edge. Before the incident, he had looked positively on the chance to become a Balkan hero - now, he is wondering how far the club can go, and how much longer he wishes to work with a president clearly unwilling to back his man...

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Seven games in just 18 days is not enough to stop the Balkan march, and while there was no great variety in our opponents through September, there was glorious little variation in our results as well. We met Kopetdag three time - twice in the cup quarter-finals and again in the league - and handing them two 3-1 defeats to go with a fairly meaningless 1-0 in the second leg of the cup. Altyn Asyr were the other side to meet us thrice, and we found ourselves up against it after a 2-1 home defeat in the first leg of our AFC Cup clash.

However, we roared back in Asgabat, forcing a late own goal to send us to extra time, and once we were there we had all the momentum. A red card five minutes into the extra 30 for the hosts left them with a lot to do, and it was new boy Boliyan who got on the end of Geldiyew's ball to fire us into the final four. Baghdad side Al-Zawra'a would be our opponents there, and after an even home leg we have an advantage to take with us to Iraq. Three days prior to the that was our league meeting with our nearest rivals, and with Orazsahedow back in the side after being cup-tied, there was only ever going to be one result.

Off the field, the first leg against Altyn Asyr was my 100th game as a manager, and I'm beginning to feel like the genuine article now. Last year's title obviously helps, but a bit of longevity and a good run in continental competition makes me believe I might not be terrible at this. The latest youth candidates came through too, and while there are no talents in the ready-to-start mould of Geldiyew, young centre-back Garadanow is one the coaches have got their eye on.

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We are on the brink now, with a huge 15-point advantage over Altyn Asyr and a ridiculous 27 ahead of third-place Energetik - they're closer to going down than winning the league with eight games to go. There are now three questions left to be answered - when we will officially be crowned champions, whether we can do so unbeaten, and whether a clean sweep of Super Cup, League, Cup and AFC Cup is achievable. Having won the first, all but sealed the second and into the semi-finals of the latter two, there has to be a possibility. If we manage it, there will be a whole load more questions about my future - after all, what will there be left to achieve here? 

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A perfect October in every respect. If my players had any hint of pre-title nerves, they were brutally crushed in the first four days of the month. Ahal came to Balkanabat and left on the wrong end of a 5-0 hiding, and then we smashed Energetik for six in a thoroughly dominant display to move ourselves to the brink of retaining our trophy.

Then came a two-week international break before our trip to Iraq, and we came through. Al-Zawra'a took the lead to edge ahead on away goals, but a penalty just after the break put us back in front, and a second from Boliyan midway through the second half left our hosts needing three to head through. They didn't get any, and we made it. In the final we'll face Vietnamese side Dong Tam Long An, who like us will be appearing in their first ever final. With a one-legged affair on the schedule and no neutral venue, we lost out in the drawing of lots, meaning we have to travel to Vietnam for the showpiece.

Back home in the cup, Energetik posed us no problems whatsoever in the cup semi, setting up a final with who else but Altyn Asyr. Between the two games, we travelled to Asgabat knowing that a win would secure the title. And, well...

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We didn't make it easy for ourselves, but we did it. Owekow's red card was unnecessary and it looked for all the world as if we'd end up goalless, but Makan Saparow got down the right, fizzed in a low ball and Boliyan was on hand to stab it home and seal back-to-back league titles. We are undeniably the best team in Turkmenistan.

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In the end, even defeat would have been sufficient as Altyn Asyr slipped up, and with a massive 20 point gap we really have been dominant - the only thing left for us to do is go through these last five games without being beaten. At the bottom, Merw have done well to make up the gap to safety, and Lebap are now favourites to go back down to the second tier. The only 'second' we have to worry about is the second half of a potential quadruple.

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What an end to the season! First things first - the AFC Cup final in Vietnam, where we were slight underdogs by virtue of having to travel to the home of our opponents, although neither of us had enjoyed success at this level before. We started the stronger of the two sides despite the home fans getting on our back, and Geldiyew's strike silenced the Vietnamese crowd. Four minutes later fellow attacking midfielder Aiazhan doubled the lead with a similar effort, and we had one hand on the trophy. A late strike set up a nervy final five minutes, but in truth we dominated the game and deserved our trophy. The first Turkmen team to win the competition, the first Turkmen side to win any international competition since the now-defunct President's Cup in 2014, and proof of significant progress. The prize money was very welcome too, and the club is now back in the black. No doubt the president is thrilled.

To the league, where we had already sealed the title and needed to see out five more games to complete an historic unbeaten year. An Orazsahedow hat-trick helped us see off Merw with no difficulty whatsoever, and four days after our AFC Cup triumph we showed little signs of fatigue as we brushed aside Yedigen. Sagadam were the one side that caused us problems, our hosts netting a late leveller to share the points, but neither Lebap or Kopetdag culd stop us cruising to both the unbeaten season and a record points tally.

Finally then, the cup final, and a chance to prove once and for all that we, rather than Altyn Asyr, are now the dominant side in Turkmenistan. I had been hoping for a blow-out, but instead we got a cagey affair settled by a single Boliyan strike midway through the first half. Altyn Asyr struggled to get going once they were behind, and while we could have scored more there were few occasions on which we were truly troubled. A clean sweep, the perfect conclusion, and the season well and truly dominated.

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The table does not lie - we were utterly dominant on the home front. A mere 12 points dropped over a 36-game season, a goal difference approaching three figures, and a 24-point chasm to our nearest rivals. If there was a record to be broken, this year we broke it - it will take Altyn Asyr and the other sides a long time to haul their way back into anything like contention. We have the best side in the division by a long way, and after the last couple of years have the reputation and clout to attract the nation's top talent.

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We benefitted from a settled starting line-up with ample depth to boot, and those who did find themselves starting regularly were simply superb. New signing Orazsahedow broke records all over the place, youth academy poster boy Geldiyew provided goals and assists in huge quantities, while at the back the form of Makan Saparow made us all but forget the acrimonious departure of Pavlenko at full-back. If there's one complaint I'd have it's the age profile - while I've endeavoured to bring in younger players, we still have the retiring Bayramow, plus Boliyan, Coliyew, Jumanazarow and Nurmyradow featuring at least semi-regularly and over the age of 30. The trouble is, there are no obvious replacements out there, so we make do with what we've got.

As for my own future at this point, it's uncertain at best. The Pavlenko episode rankled badly, and the fact of the matter is that we've simply got nothing left to achieve in Turkmenistan. I could cement a dynasty here - we're in prime position to do so - but if I'm ever to find myself at Spartak, I'll need to leave Turkmenistan at some point. We'll see if there are any openings elsewhere as campaigns finish around Central Asia - and even see if President Berdimuhammedow has any sage words when we meet again...
--

Bahtiyar and his team had not only defended their title, they had destroyed all opposition to their crown. Lifting the Super Cup and Cup - both against the last dominant club, Altyn Asyr, cemented their position as the top Turkmen side, and the biggest prize of them all, the AFC Cup, saw them go where no club from their country had ever been before. Orazsahedow's arrival allowed them to kick on to even greater heights, and they look well set to dominate for years to come.

Whether or not young Saparow is the man to lead them into that era is in doubt however. Back-to-back titles, continental success and a clean sweep of trophies no doubt makes him a prime target outside of his homeland, and after the disagreement with his club president over the sale of Uzbek full-back Pavlenko his attachment to the side has somewhat waned. The winter could prove very interesting indeed.

 

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