Massimo Carrera – Russia’s New Champion

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It is often said that it is always darkest before the dawn.  That has certainly been the case this season for Spartak Moscow. When the club was eliminated in the Third Qualifying Round of the Europa League after losing 1-0 at home to Cypriot minors AEK Larnaca on 4th August, it seemed that the Red-Whites were in for yet another chaotic and underwhelming season. This opinion was only strengthened when the owner Leonid Fedun promptly sacked head coach and club legend Dmitry Alenichev after the game, just three weeks into the season and the following hiring process of his successor, where the media were fed with leaked information about the preferred candidates as well as their strengths and weaknesses. In the end, Spartak promoted Alenichev’s newly appointed assistant coach Massimo Carrera in what would be his first ever head coaching job.

Fast forward nine months, and the situation is completely different. Spartak have just secured one of the most convincing championships in a long time as their amount of points after 27 rounds would have won them the title in eight of the 10 seasons this decade.

Speaking to Sport-Express after the title was secured Sunday, the man in the center of attention, Carrera, was modest when asked about his contribution to the victory: “It was not I, Massimo Carrera, who won the Russian Scudetto, but we, Spartak Moscow, who won it,” he said. “It is very important to understand that.”

Nevertheless, it is difficult to look past the Italian’s role in the great victory, as he has achieved something the ten different coaches before him failed to do – win the championship. Coaches like Stanislav Cherchesov, Michael Laudrup, Unai Emery and Murat Yakin have all tried, and ultimately failed, more often than not in spectacular and embarrassing fashion.

Ever since picking up the mantle from Alenichev, Carrera steered the club like an experienced captain, and he never allowed them to wander from their destined course. Even when water entered the ship, like the 4-0 defeat in Samara to Krylya Sovetov, or the cup exit to FNL side SKA-Khabarovsk, Carrera managed to get everybody back on board and quickly left the failures behind only return to more successful waters once again.

His first game as Spartak head coach was a 1-0 victory at home against Krylya Sovetov. It took the Red-Whites 70 minutes to get ahead, and over the next weeks, Spartak kept grinding out victories, and Carrera went his first six games undefeated. During these, Spartak conceded just two goals, and four league games into the season, they took the first place.

Then, however, came the end of September, where Myaso and especially Carrera showed their first signs of weakness. In the cup, they faced SKA Khabarovsk, the most eastern club in the second tier, more than 6,000 kilometers away from Moscow. Unlike CSKA, Zenit and Krasnodar, Carrera brought his full squad to the game, but he seemingly regretted halfway, and decided to keep regulars Quincy Promes, Ze Luis, Roman Zobnin, Artyom Rebrov, Ilya Kutepov and Jano Ananidze on the bench in what turned out to be a disaster. Spartak eventually lost 1-0, and Carrera had to substitute Promes, Ze Luis and Zobnin in a failed attempt to turn around the game.

The long trip obviously took its toll on the players, and Spartak lost the following two games, 0-1 at home to Ufa and 4-2 away to Zenit. It looked like Spartak were about to do their usual mid-season choke and throw away the good start to the season, but Carrera was able to avoid this.

Unlike other foreign coaches like André Villas-Boas and Mircea Lucescu from Zenit, Carrera never made excuses. He didn’t try to blame others for the club’s mistakes, but kept the eye on the prize the entire time, and never forgot the target.

And so, Spartak bounced back from the failures as they won the next six games, including a 3-1 victory at home to arch rivals CSKA. The other five games were all won 1-0, and especially the victory against Amkar Perm at home – which was secured after an overtime winner by midfielder captain Dennis Glushakov – proved that something had changed. Spartak were able to win games even when things weren’t going their way, and they no longer collapsed when facing adversity. Instead, they rose to the challenge and improved. Although Spartak always went into the seasons with great expectations, the club had become used to mediocrity and mid-table finishes, but for Carrera only victories were options, and the players adopted that mentality.

“I am grateful to all the players, from the first to the last, that they became a united force,” Carrera said in his post-championship interview with Sport-Express. “The guys never surrendered or lost heart in those moments when things weren’t going well.”

Instead of having 11 individuals on the pitch, Spartak had a team. The experienced players; Rebrov, Glushakov and Promes all stepped up, and did their part to push the team forward, all on behalf of individual achievements. This season, Promes has scored seven goals less than last season, but he already has more assists than in the previous two combined.

Glushakov also had his best ever season in the Red-White shirt. From his spot on the central midfield, he managed his teammates as Carrera’s leader on the pitch with a determination not seen since he played for Lokomotiv Moscow. So far, he has scored six goals, all of them securing victories for the team including in both games against CSKA. At one point, Carrera dubbed him the ‘Russian Gerrard’, and no name could be better suited for the midfield general.

Then came the winter break, where the team was strengthened by new signings, and in the spring, they never looked back. Unlike in pre-season, all eyes were on Spartak before the Clausura began in March, and Carrera’s troops could no longer go under the radar, but like in the autumn, they kept grinding out victories as if they had done nothing else their entire life. Then, on 16th April, they defeated Zenit 2-1 in Moscow, which allowed the fans to finally start believe that the championship was coming home. On that day, Spartak were by far the best side on the field, and it was fully deserved when Aleksandr Samedov secured the victory after 80 minutes.

The following week, Spartak lost 3-0 in Rostov-on-Don, but once again they bounced back, winning the next four games, including a 2-1 victory away against CSKA, and secured the championship.

In a season, where both Zenit, CSKA, Krasnodar and Lokomotiv all struggled at various points, and Dinamo were in the FNL, it is easy to talk Spartak’s victory down to the failures of their rivals, but nothing could be more wrong. In his first job as head coach at one of Europe’s most difficult jobs, Carrera has turned the club around and thus started what could become a new era for Spartak. The long era of mediocrity is no longer an option.

Toke Møller Theilade

Author: Toke Møller Theilade

Brøndby supporter, groundhopper and more importantly Editor-in-Chief at Russianfootballnews.com. As a hopeless romantic, I still believe Fyodor Smolov and Viktoria Lopyreva has a future together.

Comments

  1. oleola1922 says:

    SPARTAK MOSCOW!

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