Azad Rahimov, Youth and Sports Minister for Azerbaijan, has insisted that his country’s football federation expects to press ahead with its bid for the finals, in conjunction with north-western neighbours Georgia.
The 2020 finals appeared bound, originally, for Turkey. But its simultaneous interest in bringing the Olympics to Istanbul that same year irritated UEFA president Platini and left open the bidding field for an overblown, 24-team tournament.
The Irish Republic, Scotland and Wales registered one ‘expression of [co-hosting] interest’ and so did Azerbaijan with Georgia – once the Azeris’ bid to bring the 2020 Olympics to Baku had been kicked into touch last May by the executive board of the International Olympic Committee.
Platini signalled, however, in Kyiv in July, that UEFA was not enthused by either prospect; he proposed taking the finals to 12 cities around Europe with the semi-finals and final in one further country. Both England and Germany have expressed an informal interest in staging the climactic three games.
Rahimov, however, does not believe that Platini’s innovation will be approved when the UEFA executive meets in January to review responses from all its national associations. Hence, Azerbaijan and Georgia will go battling on.
Rahimov said: “I don’t agree with the idea of Michel Platini. Anyway, it’s only an idea, it’s not been confirmed and has still to be discussed in the executive board of UEFA.
“I believe that it will not be successful and will not be agreed for so many countries to host 2020 in different cities. It could be interesting but it is not possible as a means of helping countries develop sport and football infrastructure. Let’s wait and see what will be.”
In the meantime Rahimov – Sports Minister for a stable seven years in the fast-expanding Caspian Sea state – believes that a footballing priority should be building the national team.
He said: “Progress will be if we can get to the Euro playoffs in four or five years . . . My main wish is to have a strong national team and the right start has been to create our own football from the very beginning. For example, we are just establishing a new under-13 league.
“You have to begin with the young people. We opened an under-17 football academy four or five years ago and there is another under construction as well as a special training place in the mountains . . . Finding the right young players and teach them football is our main aim.”
Poor leadership at the head of the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA) has not helped. That has been amended.
Rahimov said: “People here are enthusiastic and love football but we had a problem with many years of stagnation in our federation.
“We had one president for 11 years who was against everything – the government, the country, everything. He thought he could develop football with a gold credit card. He was against the Ministry, the Olympic Committee, he was a difficult person.
“Another was elected who was only happy when we lost because then he didn’t have to pay bonuses. So that was another three years lost.
“Now, for the past two or three years we have had a new president who loves football with a passion. We just need a little more professionalism in there but, as for all the rest, we are now on the right way.”