Few cities can compete with Moscow in the number of top-flight football clubs with Spartak, Dinamo, CSKA, Lokomotiv and Torpedo all having won the national championship at some point. And few coaches can boast of having trained them all. This is the however the case of Konstantin Beskov. « Konstantin who ? » you might ask. While Beskov’s name isn’t famous outside of the Russian borders, it is the emblem of the beautiful game during the Soviet era. The titles gleaned to all the teames he led, and the tactical duel between Beskov’s Spartak and Valeriy Lobanovskiy’s Dinamo Kyiv during the 1980’s is legendary, and so is Beskov’s three stints as coach of the Soviet national team.
Kontantin Beskov – The football player
Konstantin Ivanovich Beskov was born in Moscow on November 18, 1920. Born into a working-class family, the young Konstantin spent his childhood in an comunity apartment offering little comfort on Avenue Entusiastov. He was barely six years old when his uncle took him to a football match. For the young Konstantin, it was a revelation. He wanted to become a footballer, and just two years later, his mother gave him a ball he would keep for the rest of his life. From that moment, Beskov spent all his free time playing football, kicking the ball against the wall on a field and playing with his friends the children from the streets nearby. As a player, Beskov was born in the streets of Moscow.
In 1934, at the age of 14, he joined the factory 205 team, and at the same time he became captain of the Park Targansky team, with whom he won a trophy in 1936. The following year, he joined the team “Sickle and Hammer” and from 1938 to 1940, he played for Metallurg Moscow in the Championship of the USSR. For Metallurg, the striker played 44 games and scored 13 goals.
In 1940, he was drafted for the Red Army, although he didn’t stay there long. In 1941 he had already transferred to Dinamo Moscow until the beginning of the Second World War, during which he was assigned to a special motor brigade in Moscow. When the war finished, Beskov and his teammates returned to training, and in 1945 Dinamo won the Soviet championship ahead of CDKA Moscow, the current CSKA. With many of the other Soviet teams being weakened, these two clubs dominated in the years following the devastating war. In fact, it wasn’t until Spartak’s league title in 1952 that their monopoly on the title was broken. Beskov added another league title in 1949 as well as the cup trophy in 1953.
Legendary tours and defeats
After securing the first post-war championship, Beskov took part in Dinamo’s legendary tour of Great Britain in 1945. At this point, Great Britain was the absolute super power in football, but despite this Dinamo managed to defeat Cardiff 10-1 and Arsenal 4-3, while they drew with Chelsea and Rangers. During the tour, Beskov dazzled the spectators with some great performances, scoring five goals and making four assists.
Two years later, in 1947, Dinamo went on a similar goodwill-tour, this time to Sweden. Here they beat Norrköping 5-1, IFK Göteborg 5-1 and last but not least Skeid 7-0. Once again, Beskov was the hero of the tour, scoring nine goals.
Five years after the tour to Sweden, Beskov returned to Scandinavia as he took part in the Summer Olympics in Finland. After beating Hungary 2-1 in the preliminary round, the Soviets clashed with Yugoslavia in the first round. After the diplomatic split between the two countries in 1948 when the Yugoslav leader Josip Tito had refused to submit to Stalin’s interpretations and visions of communism, the relationship between the countries was bad, which meant that more than just sporting glory was at stake. Despite being 3-0 down at halftime and 5-1 in the second half, the Soviets showed great mental strength to come back into the game and draw 5-5, thus forcing the two teams to meet again in a rematch two days later. This time, the Yugoslavs won the match 3-1 and the Soviet leaders took it as a national embarrassment. The coach, Boris Arkadiev, decorated Master of Sport of USSR in 1942, was stripped of all his titles, and CDKA Moscow, who had contributed with both Arkadiev as well as several players, were forced to withdraw from the league and were later disbanded. On top of this, some of the players, including Beskov, were deprived of the decorations they had earned during their career. They were eventually all rehabilitated, but Beskov learned the hard way that a defeat could bring down the anger of the officers and cause negative consequences for himself and his team.
Konstantin Beskov – The coach
After scoring 104 goals in 231 games in the Soviet league, Beskov retired in 1954 at the age of 34 to begin his conversion to a coach.
The following year he became assistant coach for the selection of the national team, before getting his first job as head coach in 1956 when he took over Dinamo’s local rivals Torpedo. In 1957 he became coach at the training centre of Luzhniki where he stayed for three years, and was able to meet some of the future winners of the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne and future masters of Soviet football such as Valeri Voronin and Viktor Shustikov from Torpedo as well as Gennadi Logofet from Spartak and Vladimir Fedotov from CSKA.
“Beskov explained us the technical execution of the gesture,” Shustikov later said, and continued , “Then clearly showed us several times how to do it. First in slow motion and then faster and faster.”
In 1960 he took command of CSKA, with whom he finished fourth in the championship of the USSR twice during his two years in charge of the Army Men. His stints at Torpedo and CSKA clearly showed a coach relying on young people despite the negative reactions from his superior officers, who preffered he played with the more experienced players at his disposal.
As a coach, it was clear that Beskov could make miracles. He first showed it with Torpedo with whom he avoided relegation, and later with Zaria Lugansk who he elevated from 21st place in the second division to the top flight over the course of two years.
Following a brief time with Lokomotiv, he returned to Dinamo, the club that had given him his breakthrough, in 1967. Here, he won two Soviet cups in 1967 and 1970, and on top of that they became the first Soviet team to ever reach a European final. In 1972, Dinamo reached the final of the UEFA Cup Winners Cup against Rangers in Barcelona, a match that was unfortunately lost 3-2. This was Beskov’s last defeat as Dinamo coach, and not long after he left the club.
Beskov and Spartak
In 1976, Spartak found themselves in an unusual situation for a club of their status, as the club was relegated from the top flight. The board wanted to revive the club by calling a coach that could bring them back to the top, and that coach was Beskov. Being the flagship player of Spartak’s eternal rival, Beskov initially refused Spartak’s approaches. However, the insistence of the politburo changed Beskov’s mind, and this would be the start of 12 great years for both Spartak and him, years that are still remembered with warm memories by all Spartak fans today.
With him, Beskov brought several young and unknown players such as the goalkeeper Rinat Dasaev from Astrakhan, Georgi Yartsev from Kostroma, Sergey Shablo from Riga and Yuri Gavrilov from Dinamo Moscow, and his signings had an immidiate effect. Already in his first season in charge of the Red-Whites, Spartak secured promotion and returned to the top, where they finished fifth in the 1978 season before winning the championship in 1979, only three years after Beskov was put in charge.
The championship was furthermore the beginning to one of the most intense rivalries in the history of Soviet football, as Spartak would go on to fight with Dinamo Kyiv in the next 11 years until the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1987 Spartak won the league again, and during the Beskov era, the ‘People’s Team’ recorded 186 victories, while also developing a playing style which was the opposite of the calculated game of their Ukranian rivals.
Beskov against Lobanovskiy
The Beskov era would not have been so special without a worthy opponent, and that opponent was Dinamo Kyiv’s Lobanovskiy. The rivalry between the clubs grew as they became the most successful and popular in the Soviet Union, and in the 1980s it was on the same level as Spartak’s local rivalries with Dinamo and CSKA. Part of the driving force was the two coaches’ tactical duels and visions of how football should be played.
While Lobanovskiy preferred a physical game based on calculations and strict discipline, Beskov opted for an offensive game based on short passes in order to develop the action. Lobanovskiy was inspired by Dutch total-football, and his team moved by predetermined patterns, while the short-passing style of Spartak was more free and allowed spontaneity. At the same time, Lobanovskiy was perceived as a strong coach with discipline on and off the field unlike Beskov, who allowed a little more freedom to his players.
Despite Beskov’s efforts, Dinamo Kyiv were often the better side, but this didn’t prevent Beskov from being loyal to his philosophy, and the Spartak fans to continue their support of it. Spartak’s team was however built around talented players like Rinat Dasaev, Yuri Gavrilov, Vagiz Khidyatullin, Sergei Rodionov, the pacey Sergei Shavlo and of course the greatest of them all – Fyodor Cherenkov.
After a disappointing fourth place in 1988, Beskov was eventually fired during his holiday, but this didn’t mean the end of his philosophy. His protégé Oleg Romantsev continued the teachings of his mentor, which lead to Spartak dominating Russian football during the 1990s with Romantsev winning no less than eight Russian national championships on top of his Soviet championship in 1989.
The departure from Spartak didn’t stop Beskov, who continued his career at FC Asmaral Moscow, before moving to Dinamo Moscow in 1993 at the age of 75. With Dinamo he won the Russian Cup in 1995, which remains the last time the White-Blues ever won a meaningful trophy.
Beskov and the Soviet Union selection
During his long career as a coach, Beskov also left its mark on the national team of the Soviet Union, whom he led on three different occassions.
The first time was in 1963, and a year later the team participated in the 1964 European Championship set in the fascist Spain. Being the reigning champions, the Soviet team qualified to the final after victories against Italy, Sweden and Denmark. In the final at the Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid they faced Spain, and the match brought back memories for Beskov from the lost match to Yugoslavia 12 years earlier.
A goal in the 84th minute allowed Spain to celebrate victory in front of 79,000 cheering spectators, and Nikita Khrushchev’s anger was similar to the one of Stalin after the fiasco in Helsinki.
“You dishonour the red flag,” Khrushchev said, “You have soiled the honour of the Soviet state,” and the punishment was similar to the one in 1952 as Beskov was immidiately sacked.
10 years after the painful defeat in Madrid, Beskov received his chance for redemption, as he was chosen to lead the Soviet team to the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. There, the Soviet selection finished third after beating Brazil in the bronze medal match.
Three years later, his service was once again needed, as he also led the national team between 1979 and 1982 alongside his job at Spartak. With Beskov on the touchline, the Soviet team once again finished third in the Olympics in 1980, this time held on home soil in Moscow. Two years later the Soviet disappointed at the World Cup in Spain, where they were eliminated in the second round.
After the World Cup, Beskov sent a harsh message to the top of Soviet football, stating that : “The national team has definitely played below its level, but declaring that the whole World Cup in Spain was unsatisfactory could be only from our football federation and from the Committee of Sports of the USSR, which for decades has assessed the interventions of all the Soviet athletes in this way : ‘He won, he is a hero, he lost, he is a coward and weak’.”
Lessons from Beskov
During his career, Beskov emphasized the importance of intelligence in his players, both in a football sense as well as a human one. “Firstly,” he once said, “I am concerned about the understanding of the game. If we can say like this, the depth of the feelings for football. The most important thing is the head, and not the physique. The natural abilities, speed and technique can compensate for the lack of physical quality, but the absence of human qualities are difficult to compensate for.”
Beskov also had a rather controversial way of watching the games, as he believed that football was a spectacle. For this reason, he always watched the games from the stands with the crowd.
“I always stand in the stands,” he said, “To be able to appreciate the features of the game. In addition, I always had to feel the mood of the spectators. It was important for me to know how the fans rated the players. If we won but the game were disappointing, I was unhappy. We are playing for the spectators,” he concluded.
As a human, a coach and a player, both the Russian and the international football world are grateful for his contribution to the game. The way his sides played the beautiful game can be compared to the ones of FC Barcelona and Josep Guardiola.
Beskov died on May 6 in 2006, and it was truly a loss for all supporters of Muscovite clubs, as Beskov remains the tacticians for all Muscovites. Forever.
Follow Vincent on Twitter: @Spartak_M_VT