On October 4 this year, Spartak Moscow honored the memory of Fyodor Cherenkov. One year had passed since the death of “the most beloved of all Spartakovtsys” as he is described in Robert Edelman’s book about Spartak Moscow in the Soviet era.
Veterans and former teammates, youth players from Spartak’s academy named after Cherenkov and supporters of the Red-Whites gathered at his grave in the Troyekurovskoye cementary in Western Moscow. On top of this, the players of Spartak-2 wore t-shirts with a picture on Cherenkov on their chest before their FNL game against Torpedo Armavir, coached by Spartak legend Valeriy Karpin, and after the match these shirts were given to the fans.
These actions shows how much Cherenkov meant to Spartak, and as RFN’s Joel Amorim wrote in May, Spartak’s former number 10 is indeed one of the forgotten heroes in football.
A fast recognition
Born on July 25, 1959 in Moscow, the young Fyodor quickly fell in love with the beautiful game.
“I remember, I was playing football constantly. As soon as I finished school, we were out in the courtyard of the school and we played football until it was dark outside. My father brought me to Luzhniki to watch Spartak games against Dinamo Kiev and since then, I remained Spartakovets.”
The first time the public got a taste of Cherenkov’s talent, was when he played a role in the movie “Not a Word About Football” in 1973. In the movie, Cherenkov is seen scoring a beautiful scissor kick goal, and while his role was small, it was a sign of bigger things to come.
Cherenkov began his football career with team in the local Moscow district, and during a youth tournament, which attracted teams from all over the country, he was discovered by coaches from the club Kuntsevo. Here, he spent two years before his coach sent him to Spartak Moscow’s football school, a move that would affect the rest of his life.
In 1977 Cherenkov graduated from the school, and encouraged by Spartak president and founder Nikolai Starostin, he moved to the reserve team. Cherenkov did however not last long in the reserve team, as the first team coach Konstantin Beskov, a former Dinamo Moscow player, promoted him to the first team not long after with high hopes for the midfielder. The promotion had a huge influence on Cherenkov, who later recalled his first training session under his new coach:
“I don’t really remember my first meeting with Beskov. We arrived at the training camp where we were 40-50 persons. The training was fine for me. It’s still amazing. The coach thought I could play with the first team. And as soon as I started playing, he asked me more than the others.”
After his debut, it quickly became clear for the fans that Cherenkov was a player with great technical ability as well as an excellent understanding and vision of the game. Following the death of Cherenkov, Sport-Express correspondent Aleksandr Prosvetov thought back on his first meeting with the legend as he wrote:
“I had the pleasure to be present on June 11, 1978, at the stadium Lokomotiv when, in the 76th minute of the match against Ararat, Fyodor, who was only 19 years old, took the place of Evgeni Sidorov. The spectators in the grandstands were laughing thinking, “but who is this kid?” But Spartak won 3-0 and Fyodor showed quickly his fluency, his intelligence in the passing game, integrating very well into the team’s combinations.”
He became one of the main players of the Red-Whites, and after the departure of Yuri Gavrilov to Dnipro in 1985, Cherenkov became the supreme leader of Spartak. His feints, passes and attacking mind earned him the love of the fans, and made him one of the club’s most beloved sons.
One of the best descriptions of Cherenkov’s brilliance comes from the current General Director of Spartak Sergei Rodionov, who played together with Cherenkov at Spartak between 1979 and 1990. When he was hired as General Director of Spartak, Rodionov recalled a conversation he had with Cherenkov about Beskov’s instructions, which made Cherenkov insecure about his abilities.
Cherenkov told Rodionov: “Sergei, I’m probably a bad footballer.” “If you are bad, then what are we?” Rodionov then replied. “Konstantin Beskov said that a player must have two or three solutions when he receives the ball.” “So what?” “Me, I don’t have any solutions. I don’t know what to do when I have the ball. Therefore, I am a bad footballer.” To this statement, Rodionov replied: “Fyodor, that’s not what it means. What you do on the field is all intuitive.”
According to Rodionov, Cherenkov was simply a natural talent unaware of his own genius.
Between 1977 and 1993, Cherenkov played 416 games for Spartak and scored 96 goals. He won the Soviet championship in 1979, 1987 and 1989 as well as the Russian championship in 1993. Furthermore, he won the Soviet Cup in 1987 and the Russian Cup in 1994, as well as being voted Player of the Year in the Soviet Union in 1983 and 1989.
Among the highlights of his career were his two goals against Aston Villa in the 1/16 final of the 1983/1984 UEFA Cup, not to mention his stunning goal against Nantes in the same tournament two years later.
A difficult disease to cure
Talented and loved by most football fans in the country, Cherenkov unfortunately struggled with some serious mental health problems that forced him to be leave the game he loved to be hospitalized not long after his decisive double against Aston Villa. After eliminating the English side, Spartak took on Anderlecht in the quarter final, and moments before the players entered the pitch in Tbilisi, Cherenkov started to become delirious. His teammates thought he was joking, but they soon realized that they were wrong. Instead of playing in the quarterfinal, Cherenkov was sent to hospital, where the doctors diagnosed him with a mental illness.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t a one of a kind episode, but every time Cherenkov managed to return to the pitch on the same high level as when he had left it, something that proved his tenacity and determination.
Igor Rabiner, one of the most respected Russian journalists and Spartak specialists reported these words of Cherenkov on his illness: “If the disease has been given to me, it was on purpose. Nothing happens by accident and I have to live with it and never deviate from God’s commandments.”
No success with Sbornaya
The illness was one of the reasons why Cherenkov never hit the same highs with the Soviet national team as he did with Spartak. Between 1979 and 1990, he played 34 games for Sbornaya in which he scored 12 goals. One of these goals came in a friendly against Brazil at Maracana in 1980, when the USSR won 2-1. To this day, this remains the only Soviet and Russian victory against Brazil.
On top of this, Cherenkov was a part of the Soviet squad which won bronze at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, a tournament in which he scored four times.
The lack of success is one of the major disappointments in an otherwise impressive career, and at the World Cup in 1982, his former coach Beskov didn’t select him. Later, Cherenkov failed to make an impact on Valeriy Lobanovskiy’s Kyiv-inspired team. The creative and spontaneous Cherenkov simply didn’t fit into the rigid and strictly planned Soviet game in those years.
Spartak… and Spartak
Like many other great players from the Soviet Union, Cherenkov didn’t have the opportunity to move to the biggest leagues when he was in his prime. Unlike many others, however, this was not only because of the political situation, but more importantly because of his love for Spartak.
“I had an unofficial proposal from Aston Villa in 1983” Cherenkov once said, “But I never imagined playing anywhere else, in another team. Spartak for me, it was EVERYTHING!”
In 1990 he did make an exception as he signed a three year contract with the French second division side Red Star Paris. This turned out to be a short adventure though, and after only a few months, he returned to Moscow where Spartak were waiting for him with open arms.
“Sergei Rodionov and I wanted to play together,” Cherenkov later said, “and we wanted to try and play abroad. My game there was not a success. That year was difficult for me.”
While Rodionov stayed with Red Star until 1993 when he retired, Cherenkov played for the Red-Whites of Moscow until retiring the same year. He played his last game for Spartak on the 7th of November against Rostelmash at the age of 34, and nine months later he was awarded a farewell game at Dinamo Stadium in Moscow as Spartak took on Italian side Parma.
“This game was a gift!” Cherenkov recalled the happy occasion, “35,000 spectators, while during the season the maximum was 10-15,000. Before the match Nikolai Ozerov [Editors note: chairman of board at the Spartak Sport Society and a famous Russian sports commentator] read compliments of President Yeltsin and then screams suddenly resounded, “Fedia don’t leave!””
While his active career was over, Cherenkov left neither football nor Spartak. From 1994 to 1999, he worked as a coach for different teams in the club, from youth to the first team, while he also played for Spartak’s veteran team.
A man with a big heart
Unlike many superstars, Cherenkov was a humble and simple man. He travelled to training sessions in Moscow’s famous metro and was happy to sign autographs and chat with the fans, something Spartak legend Nikita Simonyan also stated at the opening ceremony of a monument of Cherenkov outside Otkritie Arena earlier this year.
“His contribution to the style of Spartak is priceless,” Simonyan said. “He was an amazing man. He was humble. He did not enter any door without knocking, even though he could kick any open.”
Unfortunately, his illness became worse in 2014, and after ten days in a coma, Cherenkov died on the 4th of October. Around 13,500 people took part in his funeral three days later, and Leonid Fedun, the president of Spartak announced that one of the stands on the brand new Otkritie Arnea would be named after Cherenkov.
During the derby game against Lokomotiv at the end of October, the supporters remembered their hero with a heart-warming tribute. Cherenkov’s passing came too early, but his contribution to Russian football will never be forgotten, and his performances and personality will continue to inspire future generations of football players.
Vincent Tanguy is a French citizen, living in Moscow since 2007. When moving to Moscow, he fell in love with Spartak, and earlier this year he created the website Spartakmoscou.com where he writes about the Red-Whites in French. He is a keen follower of both the Russian Premier League as well as the French Ligue 1, where he supports PSG. Vincent has a big interest in Soviet football history, something he loves to write about, and he thinks that Spartak is criminally underrated in France, which is why he tries to show his countrymen just how important the club was for Soviet and Russian football.
Follow Vincent on Twitter: @Spartak_M_VT