Reminiscing 2005: CSKA Moscow’s Golden Year

Ever since its inception in 1911, CSKA Moscow has seen everything. From being forced to withdraw from the league in 1952, to winning the last ever Soviet championship in 1991. However there has undoubtedly never been a year as special in the club’s history as 2005, when the Red-Blues became the first and only Russian club to win the treble.

Fans remember Yuri Zhirkov’s goal to put the horses, as the club is known, ahead in the UEFA Cup Final in Lisbon like it was yesterday, for it is probably the most precious goal in their history. Not only did the treble make Russian history, it gave the CSKA faithful some much-needed comfort, as the past decade wasn’t too kind to the club. From the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, up until 2005, the army men had only won three titles, and a season like this one was desperately required.

CSKA spent the Soviet era in the shadow of their city rivals Spartak and Dinamo. Spartak with a total of 23 trophies, with Dynamo getting 18 and CSKA finishing in third with 13. After the dawn of a new era, Spartak continued to dominate Russia, winning nine out of the first ten league titles. CSKA had a dry spell in the same period, failing to win even a single league title.

By the early 2000’s, all hope seemed to have been lost, most fans believed that the Armeytsi would spend another long period of time being inferior to Spartak, who seemed to be getting stronger each season. However, in 2001 Evgeni Giner took over the club from the Russian army, and he began the transformation of the club to what we see today. The Ukrainian-born businessman used both his money and management skills to develop the club, and the results were obvious. In 2003 CSKA won its first Russian championship, and in 2004, the club received a huge financial boost as a sponsorship deal worth $58 million with Roman Abramovich’s Sibneft oil company was signed.

READ MORE: Evgeny Giner – Raised Above Criticism.

The transfer windows in 2004 brought in some of the most important players in CSKA’s history. Sergei Ignashevich, Daniel Carvalho and Yuri Zhirkov came in to the club, along with a certain unknown 21-year-old Brazilian called Vagner Love. That season, CSKA finished just one point behind league-winners Lokomotiv and Love made his mark instantly, becoming the club’s top scorer in all competitions.

Vagner Love murial at CSKA’s VEB Arena. Photo: Toke Theilade

The following season, expectations were high. CSKA had a great team, loads of money, and a highly rated manager in Valery Gazzaev. Spartak had finished 8th in 2004 and Dinamo were not as big of a threat. But this did not mean that the season would be a cakewalk. Lokomotiv Moscow were looking strong under head coach Yuri Semin, and new challengers had risen in Zenit St. Petersburg and Rubin Kazan. There was only one player signed in both the windows combined, but a whopping 14 were sold with club legend Sergei Semak being the most notable departure.

Back in the day, qualifying for the Champions League and Europa league was much harder to do than it is now. The league winners started in the second qualifying rounds of the UCL, while the second placed team got qualified to the group stages in the UEFA Cup. This meant that as CSKA won the 2003 league and the 2004 league did not finish until November 2004, CSKA were the winners.

Anyway, the Red-Blues faced Neftçi Baku and Rangers in the second and third qualifying of the UCL, and won comfortably in both. Other than the impressive results in the league and in the UCL, CSKA’s playstyle was extremely pleasing for the fans. Vagner Love was a whole new beast, Akinfeev was in top form, Sergei Semak couldn’t stop scoring and young Daniel Carvalho was quickly becoming a favourite among the crowd. The entire team was a perfect example of a well-oiled football collective.

CSKA were drawn in a relatively tough group, with Chelsea, Porto and Paris Saint-Germain. Despite critics predicting the Russians to finish last, they finished third after a relatively impressive campaign, beating PSG twice. Meanwhile in the Russian cup, the army men were met with an early scare as Sokol Saratov had won 2-0 in the first leg of the fifth round, luckily though, CSKA were awarded a 3-0 victory in the second leg and progressed to the round of 16.

Enter 2005. The Horses were drawn with SL Benfica in the round of 32 of the UEFA Cup. Benfica had finished second in the Portuguese League but CSKA won comfortably. They played Partizan Belgrade in the round of 16, just two days before the start of the Premier League, and won against them too.

By mid-April, CSKA were in the semis of both the Cup and the UEFA Cup, and had a steady start to the season, winning two games, losing one and drawing another two. All eyes were on the army men, it was not often that a Russian club made it this far in a European competition, so it was natural that folks around the country were excited for the club’s semi-final against Parma of Italy.

Fast forward to May, CSKA win 3-0 against Parma in Moscow, Carvalho scores two and Vasili Berezutski scores one. History is made. The red-blues are the second club to make it to the final of a UEFA competition (excluding the Intertoto Cup), after Dinamo Moscow lost to Rangers in the Cup Winners’ Cup final in 1972. The final is at the Estadio Jose Alavalade in Lisbon, in the backyard of Sporting Lisbon, CSKA’s opponents.

Gameday arrives. 47,000 people in the stadium, most of them Sporting fans, it makes for an intimidating atmosphere. Rogerio puts Sporting ahead 29 minutes in with a stunning goal, and things look dull for CSKA. Both teams attack and it’s turning out to be an entertaining affair, then, in the 56th minute, Aleksei Berezutsky scores from a header off a free-kick and CSKA gain momentum. Nine minutes later, Daniel Carvalho supplies Yuri Zhirkov who scores and puts Moscow ahead. Gazzaev runs about the touchline, as ecstatic as he can possibly be. Vagner Love makes it 3-1 and that’s that. CSKA Moscow are UEFA Cup Champions, they are the first Russian club to win a European competition. 4,000 kilometres away, Moscow erupts, the streets are swarmed in celebration and rightly so. The scenes are beautiful.

But, the story is not over yet, CSKA have to play the second-leg of the Cup semi-final against Zenit, after losing the first one by a goal to nil. Thankfully goals from Evgeni Aldonin and Carvalho mean that the dream of winning the treble is still alive. The red-blues have to play second division FC Khimki, who have had a great run in the cup. Due to a hectic schedule, CSKA had only played one game in the league, which they won against Spartak.

Yuri Zhirkov scores the only goal in the cup final and hands his club another title. Two-thirds of the work is done, but there are still 26 games to be played. CSKA go on a good run of eight games without a loss before losing two in the space of three. After that, the story is sort of anticlimactic, the army men go a huge twelve game unbeaten run and win the league. The season’s last game versus Alania Vladikavkaz finished 4-3 to CSKA, in what was a dramatic game, much like the season.

A massively successful season comes to an end. CSKA are the first Russian team to win the treble, first to win the UEFA Cup, records are broken right, left and centre. Carvalho finishes as top scorer and the team looks better than ever. Everything is roses, life couldn’t be better.

That, was twelve years ago. Now, things are different. CSKA have a great, brand new stadium, a squad filled with budding talents such as Mário Fernandes and Aleksandr Golovin, legends like Akinfeev, the Berezutski twins and Ignashevich are approaching the end of the careers. The beautiful and modern VEB-Arena has a tower in the shape of the UEFA Cup, that houses offices. The structure gives the stadium its unique identity and immortalises the victory in Lisbon. Since that historic year, CSKA have won four leagues and five cups, and are the most successful club in Russia in this millennium. All of this was kickstarted with the fantastic 2005, and it is needless to say that the legend of the year lives on.

Author: Hanu Trivedi

I went to Russia once and got mesmerised. Support CSKA and Real Madrid. Quite optimistic, I don’t know if that’s good or bad when talking about Russian Football.

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