Egor Titov: Enigmatic Footballer, Esoteric History

Egor Titov is a Spartak Moscow legend, spending thirteen years at the club during and after the great Oleg Romantsev’s reign. As such, his opinion cast’s a heavy shadow in the corridors of Tarasovka. His post-playing career has been spent as the assistant to fellow Spartak legend Dimitri Alenichev at both the Red-Whites and now Enisei Krasnoyarsk, currently atop the FNL and looking strong contenders for promotion to the Premier League.

Titov is most likely largely unheard of too many non-Russian audiences, but keen Welsh football fans may recognise his name from the tournament spot that never was as Russia defeated Wales over two legs in the playoffs for Euro 2004. A strong Welsh team led by Mark Hughes on the touchline and Ryan Giggs, John Hartson and Craig Bellamy on the pitch defeated Italy 2-1 in their qualifying group to finish second behind the Azzurri and subsequently faced Russia in the playoffs. An injured Titov did not take part in a 0-0 draw in Moscow for the first-leg as Welsh hopes for an end to 45 years of waiting morphed into genuine rising hopes of qualification. He reappeared in central midfield playing alongside one Dmitri Alenichev in the return fixture at the Millennium Stadium, a tempestuous affair as two equally gifted and technical sides outmatched each other for 179 minutes of football, except for a Vadim Evseev goal 22 minutes into the second-leg.

Egor Titov danced by Gary Speed in midfield, only to be up-ended by Darron Barnard as he bore down on goal. Rolan Gusev’s resulting free-kick was nodded by an exposed Paul Jones by the diminutive right-back as Titov bore down on his teammate and embraced him wildly. The controversy? Just days after the victory Titov tested positive for Ladasten, a brand of Bromantan and a Cold-War psychostimulant developed for the military to lessen the effects of fatigue upon troops in Afghanistan and Chechnya. The use of the drug explains how Titov could play a full hour before being substituted for Vladislav Radimov, despite only recovering from injury the day before the match.

The result stood, but Titov was given a twelve-month suspension from football by the Chairman of the Russian Premier League, Vitali Mutko – the same man who as Minister of Sport thirteen years later is accused of complicity in state-sponsored doping. Accusations of cheating were thrown towards Russia, mainly by angry Welsh fans but nothing was uncovered, until over a year later, after Titov had returned to action for Spartak Moscow. Sport-Express reported evidence of a doping culture at Spartak Moscow, as Russian international Maksim Demenko was quoted as saying;

The players were used as guinea pigs…small white pills were given to first-team players before each game.

That man Mutko – again – promised a full investigation into the matter but no other Russian player tested positive until CSKA duo Sergei Ignashevich (who also played in the Wales game) and Aleksei Berezutsky failed a drugs test after a Champions League game with Manchester United in 2009. Once again, Mutko and the RFU is central to such allegations today, but, aside from this one blemish it cannot be denied that Titov is a brilliant footballer, and has himself claimed all wrongdoings were just merely by accident, aiming to hope to recover in time for the game and not use performance-enhancing stimulants.

The Moscow-born former midfielder hit the headlines again last season for a seemingly controversial comment on the Carrera – Alenichev debate, and which one is responsible for Spartak’s recent success. Many personalities and journalists have taken somewhat subjective and demanding stances, but as such nearly always the case, a balanced, objective analysis always seems closer to the truth.

READ MORE: Carrera’s Catenaccio or Alenichev’s Authoritarianism?

I outlined the debate extensively at the time, which can be read by following the link above, but here I will just focus on Titov’s part in the debacle. The debate has roared on since, with many ex-Spartak players, pundits and current stars weighing in. The first to throw his weight behind Carrera was Titov himself. He initially, and quite outspokenly, proclaimed that he believed no Spartak player had a ‘winning mentality’ but did concede that only came through continued victories.

Titov did, however, reserve much praise for the current incumbent of the so-called ‘poisoned chalice’, citing his vast experience in Italy as vital to upholding the Red-Whites’ title run. Beyond this, Titov further claimed;

After Alenichev, only Carrera could fix [Spartak] tactically and add [that] Italian fire.

Some in the press has received this comment to be particularly controversial considering Titov’s current role and loyalty to Alenichev. They claim he does not just praise Carrera but dismantles all possibility of last season’s foundations the  Alenichev formed to be considered part of Spartak’s success at all. However, I believe it is actually a compliment to his current boss and leader at Spartak; he is simply praising the ability of Alenichev; proved by his successful spell at Arsenal Tula, and now at Enisei.

Just why would Titov enter the debate in the first place, as opposed to calm the divide growing between his beloved club and boss? He owes naught to the RFU, Mutko or any powerful TV station but does owe a great debt to Spartak Moscow, the club who continued to render his services during the ban and stayed loyal to their player until his move to FC Khimki in 2008. Beyond this, however, one would argue he is preparing himself for management one day. He currently deserves much praise alongside Alenichev for his role in propelling Enisey to the summit of a notoriously difficult FNL, and it should be a matter of time before he follows luminaries such as Viktor Goncharenko and Sergei Semak in making the step up from assistant to the man in charge. Despite the drugs test and subsequent investigations, Titov is still a talented coach.

Egor Titov’s intentions and agency are arguably the most esoteric and interesting of all personalities in Russian football, and his who story is literally an “Only in Russia” allegory.

Author: James Nickels

Born and raised in South Shields, the direct mid-point between Sunderland and Newcastle in North-East England during an era of sustained success and European football for the Magpies, while the Black Cats floundered in the lower divisions, so naturally I decided to support Sunderland. I’ve developed an interest in Russian football over the last decade or so, but it piqued while studying for my Masters’ Degree in Russian and Soviet History, and I’ve been hooked by Spartak Moscow ever since. Considers Eduard Streltsov the best of his generation, and a fond proponent of his repatriation.

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