Gurban Gurban, 45 years old, is a real legend of Azeri football: during his career as a forward, he scored 178 goals in 399 league matches. With 13 goals scored in 63 international matches, he is also the Azerbaijan's all-time leading goal scorer.
In 2008/09 he was appointed as manager of Qarabag: from that moment he has been able to win the national title of the Azerbaijan Premier League 4 times, and to reach the group stage of the Europa League twice.
In the current season, he has managed Qarabag to qualify to the group stage of the UEFA Champions League. He is the most successful Azerbaijani manager in European competitions with 28 wins.
We have spoken in an exclusive, with him about the situation of Qarabag, a club playing in exile away since 1993, when their hometown Agdam was completely wrecked by the Armenian army; but we have also talked about Champions League and the next match against AS Roma.
Qarabag have a unique story in European football: what does it mean to you to be a club in exile?
"As an Azeri, it's difficult for me to speak about it. As you know, we have more than 1 million of refugees and some parts of our territory are occupied unjustly by the enemies. But I'm working at this club with great pleasure and I never forget about my own responsibilities. I always think about the people who has been forced to leave their motherland, their houses".
Have you ever been to Agdam? What were your feelings, visiting a ghost city?
"Yes, I have been there. But I cannot describe my feelings just in one interview. It was a really pretty city. You have to see it with your own eyes. It hurts me a lot that now we cannot visit those places anymore".
Why aren't you playing anymore in Guzanli?
"We have played there in the past seasons. If it depended on me, I would like being more time there. But unfortunately, the conditions for playing football there are not pleasant. For these reasons, we are forced to play in Baku".
How do your supporter live this particular conditions?
"The situation is not agreeable for them. They are suffering a lot. They love very much their Qarabag football club. They live with this team".
Do you think one day you will be able to come back again in Agdam?
"It's always necessary to live with the hope. I always pray to Allah that one day these territories will be ours again. I believe in this very strongly".
What does it mean for you to have reached the group stage of Champions League?
"It is most prestigious tournament in Europe. The best clubs, players and coaches are in this tournament. As you know, we are a small football country and for us it's a pride to represent in this competition our country and the city that was occupied unjustly".
You have lost 6-0 against Chelsea in the first match. How can you explain this big gap?
"Obviously, that there is a lot of difference between Qarabag and Chelsea. But the final score could have been different. It was our first game in this tournament and we have paid a high price for our inexperience".
How are you preparing the next match against AS Roma?
"As a club Roma has a big history. They are at the same level as Atletico Madrid and Chelsea. They have a good coach, good players and a good game style. Obviously, we are preparing to play against a very strong rival. I cannot emphasize any player of Roma, because, they all are top players".
This is the first season of Roma without Totti: which are your feelings about this?
"Totti was one of the best. Although he has retired, I still cannot imagine Roma without Totti".
What do you think about who tells that Qarabag is just a toy in the hands of Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan, and thet your fantastic results are working for his propaganda?
"I am a person far from politics. And I don't give importance what they write on this. I know one thing: that the president of our country does a lot of effort to return our occupied territories. But there are some countries bother us.
As Azeri citizens, we also are doing everything to represent our country worthily. And we want to demonstrate to the whole world that these territories belong to Azerbaijan. I am very happy to have this opportunity.
Also, I see that you got enough information about Azerbaijan and our occupied territories. Thank you for this. Generally, I always want to see the peace everywhere, in all the parts of the world".
- In conversation with Emanuele Giulianelli