Pyunik's unique talent

FC Pyunik's teenage striker Edgar Manucharyan is the hottest property in Armenian football.

By Khachik Chakhoyan

His hero is Ronaldo and he has been compared to Romanian legend Gheorghe Hagi, but after scoring two UEFA Champions League goals for FC Pyunik, and topping the goalscoring charts back at home, 17-year-old striker Edgar Manucharyan is becoming a phenomenon in his own right.

Ten goals
Last season, the striker's 12 goals helped Pyunik win the Armenian title, and his winning run has stretched into 2004. Aside from the two he scored in last week's 3-1 win against FK Pobeda in F.Y.R. Macedonia, he has already scored ten goals in seven league starts and three substitute appearances at home.

Meteoric rise
Manucharyan has been recognised as a player of significant talent ever since he first kicked a ball in earnest at the age of nine. Former USSR international and FC Ararat Yerevan midfield player Khoren Hovhannisyan, who was named as the country's Golden Player in the Armenian Football Federation's UEFA Jubilee poll, said: "I know Manucharyan from his first steps in football.

'Bright future'
"He played in the youth teams together with my son," added Hovhannisyan. "It was clear that he was very gifted from the very first day. He is fast, and he is very determined to work to improve. He has a bright future if he keeps on training hard and thinks only about football."

Terrific pace
Few in Armenia would disagree with that assessment. Manucharyan's skills are exceptional in a player of his age and he boasts terrific pace and a great eye for goal, as Pobeda found to their cost. He has also starred for Armenia at Under-17, U19 and U21 levels, with a senior team call-up on the horizon.

Leading figure
One of the top Armenian journalists, Football Plus editor-in-chief Suren Bagdasaryan, has followed his progress closely, and said: "Edgar is an event in Armenian football on his own. It is not often that players like this come along. He has all a striker needs, and it is no accident that he is a leader at Pyunik and with the national teams. If Manucharyan maintains his professional attitude, he will become a top class player. However, for that he will need to switch clubs."

Going west
Certainly, that looks like the most likely option for the player. He may harbour ambitions to play for Manchester United FC, but having had trials with French clubs FC Girondins de Bordeaux and Olympique de Marseille, as well as piquing the interest of United's rivals Manchester City FC, his future may lie elsewhere.

Level head
Pyunik vice-president Karen Harutyunyan is convinced that a number of other clubs are watching Manucharyan - something that the striker himself must also have noticed. Nonetheless he remains patient. "Right now I am Pyunik's forward, so I hope to help my team," he told back in November 2003.

Next challenge
His next chance to do so will come in the home leg of the tie against Pobeda as Pyunik aim to earn a second qualifying round tie against Ukrainian giants FC Shakhtar Donetsk. And Pyunik coach Vardan Minasyan is certainly not ruling out the prospect of more goals for Manucharyan in Yerevan.

'Top form'
"He is on top of his form and rarely leaves a pitch without scoring a goal," said the coach. "He helped us to beat Pobeda in the first leg by scoring twice and making an assist. There are very few players of such talent in Armenia, and you can already call this lad the finished item." If he continues to develop at his current rate, the world will soon be forced to agree.