RIP Konstantin Sarsania, the Sports Director Behind Zenit’s Success

Saturday morning the Russian football world was met with both shocking and tragic news as Zenit St. Petersburg announced that sports director Konstantin Sarsania had passed away aged just 49.

The news surprised everybody as Sarsania hadn’t previously been sick, and the news truly came out of nowhere. The reason, it turned out, was thrombosis, explaining why his health deteriorated so quickly.

Sunday morning, Sarsania’s old friend Roman Oretsuk, a well-known Russian football agent, told the press what had happened the previous day.

‘On Friday, he felt ill and was hospitalized’, Oretsuk explained. ‘In the evening, he felt a bit better, but then his condition worsened again. On Saturday, he went into coma and died several hours later in the arms of his son, without regaining consciousness’.

Having previously worked as an agent, Sarsania had a massive network both in and outside of Russia, which became clear after the news of his death spread as condolences were sent from all over the world.

‘A very bright and open person has left us’, Gazprom chairman Aleksey Miller said, ‘Konstantin was incredibly talented, gifted and energetic. A true professional genuinely in love with his work. This is a terrible tragedy and an irreplaceable loss for all those who knew him personally or worked with him, his passing is a loss for all Russian football. The memory of Konstantin Sarsania will be everlasting’.

 

A real football-man

Sarsania was born in Moscow in 1968, and as a child he joined Dinamo Moscow. Eventually, he reached the first team, but he never broke through and only managed three cup games in the white and blue kit, which led his departure in 1988. Over the following years, he represented several smaller Russian clubs before moving to France in 1991, when he signed with Armentieres. In France he also represented Dunkirk and Lens, before he retired at the age of 25 in 1993.

Despite hanging the boots on the shelf, Sarsania stayed in football as an agent. In 1998 he received his FIFA license, and suddenly things started to happen quickly for the future Zenit icon.

In the following years, he was heavily involved in youth football, and he made many important connections that would later benefit him as a sports director, among these the future Portuguese superagent Jorge Mendes.

 

Sarsania made Zenit a powerhouse

Sarsania was appointed sports director of Zenit in July 2006, seven months after Gazprom had bought the club, and he immediately began building arguably the strongest side in Russian history.

At the time, Zenit already had a strong core of players with future legends like Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Andrey Arshavin, but Sarsania’s transfer gave Zenit the push needed to take the club to the next level.

The combination of Gazprom’s almost unlimited resources and Sarsania’s eye for transfers proved to be a golden combination.

Soon after his arrival, he bought Anatoly Tymoshchuk from Shakhtar Donetsk, Nicolas Lombaerts from Gent and Miguel Danny from Dinamo Moscow, who was personally recommended by Mendes. Half a year later Roman Shirokov was also signed. It was like Sarsania had a magic touch on the transfer market, as he couldn’t do anything wrong.

In 2007 Zenit won the club’s first championship since 1984, and in 2008 the club won the UEFA Cup and later the European Super Cup. At this time, Sarsania was working as the club president’s personal adviser regarding transfer policies.

Having laid the foundation Zenit needed to dominate Russian football for years to come, Sarsania set his eyes on new goals.

In 2009 he left the club with the desire to become a head coach. In the following years, he coached FC Khimki, Fakel Voronezh and Lithuanian side FC Atlantas before eventually returning to Zenit in May this year.

 

Returning Zenit to former glories

In the years Sarsania was away from Zenit, the results slowly worsened. Despite exorbitant investments in players like Hulk and Axel Witsel, Zenit only won three championships in the seven years Sarsania was away from the club. Most clubs would be happy with this, but considering the size of Zenit’s budget compared to it’s competitors, money wasn’t enough. Furthermore, they have missed out on Champions League football for two seasons in a row, meaning St. Petersburg have had little to celebrate in recent years.

With head coach Mircea Lucescu set to leave the club after last season, Sarsania’s first major task was to find a replacement. The choice fell on Italian Roberto Mancini, who arrived in St. Petersburg with a past at major clubs like Internazionale and Manchester City.

Finding a coach wasn’t all he did though, he also had to rebuild the squad. One of the main reasons for Zenit’s disappointing results in the previous seasons, Sarsania found, was the lack of local players in the squad. During his first time in the club, local born and bred stars like Arshavin, Kerzhakov, Vladimir Bystrov and Igor Denisov were the leading players in the squad. At the time of his return, third choice goalkeeper Mikhail Kerzhakov was the most significant local player.

To solve this problem, he brought in Denis Terentyev from FC Rostov and Daler Kuzyaev from Akhmat Grozny. Especially the latter was a touch of brilliance as Kuzyaev turned out to be by far the best signing made in the country this summer, and recently received his debut for the national team.

Another problem was the lack of sheer quality among the players available for the coach. Under André Villas-Boas and Lucescu, the squad was slowly drained for quality, and great players were replaced by guys with sub-par standards. Despite the resources available, the players were no longer better than those of the Moscow clubs, and massive sums were wasted on mediocre players.

Sarsania knew this, and this summer saw a staggering eleven foreign players leaving the club as well as a handful of Russian players. After the clean-up, there was room for players who actually elevated the level of the squad like Leandro Paredes, Sebastian Driussi, Matias Kranevitter and Emanuel Mammana. All players who could help Zenit dominate once again.

And dominate they did. Just five months after Sarsania returned to St. Petersburg, the club is back at the top of Russian football, leading the league and being the best performing team in Europe. It has thus truly been a pleasure to follow the Blue-White-Sky Blues this season, but sadly Sarsania won’t get to see the results of his fantastic work.

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.

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  1. […] er am Tag darauf starb, offenbar an einer Thrombose. Wie sehr er Zenit geprägt hat, kann man bei Russian Football News im Detail nachlesen. Sarsania wurde 49 Jahre […]

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