RFN would like to welcome Manuel and Connor as two new additions to this Week 30 Round Table. Stay tuned for more and expanded Round Tables in the future as we discuss the latest issues in Russian Football.
Andy – @AndyShenk – a Moscow based writer and Russian language translator, Andy supports Anzhi
Pavel – @russianpotter – a Nizhny Novgorod-based young journalist and Spartak supporter, Volga attendee
Manuel – @homosovieticus – PhD Student with focus on Soviet history and football, as well as blogger at Futbolgrad.com (@futbolgradlive)
Connor – @Con_027 – Russian Football follower, CSKA supporter
1) What is your opinion on the early coaching drama in the RPL? Cherchesov has left, and rumors Bilic may be gone as well. Will anyone else leave?
ANDY: I’m surprised that Terek didn’t bring Cherchesov back. You can side with Ramzan Kadyrov, who justified the move by stating that Cherchesov told players to focus more on a top-8 finish than reaching the Europa League and refused to shake a young Chechen player’s hand (Murad Tagilov) after a recent game, or with Cherchesov, who accomplished Terek’s initial goal of a top-8 finish. But either way, the club improved this season and certainly held its own against more expensive squads like Lokomotiv and Dinamo.
On the plus side, we get to see Yuri Krasnozhan take another shot at managing in the Premier League after three suspicious firings in the last two years. And Cherchesov isn’t likely to be without a job for long. He rebuilt his reputation in Russia with his work at Terek and will have offers both in the Premier League and abroad in the very near future.
Right now the most likely positions to open up in the Premier League are at Anzhi, Lokomotiv, and newly-promoted Ural and Tom, which have both been rumored to be looking for new bosses.
PAVEL: Ramzan Kadyrov is a very, very specific man. That’s all. It’s not the best decision to let Cherchesov go – look at what he’s done this year, but it could get even better as Krasnozhan was impressive everywhere he worked. Hopefully Karpin will leave too (although the possibility of it is about 0,000000001%). He hasn’t contributed anything to Spartak, and he didn’t contribute the first time either. Bilic? Not sure it’s the best decision now. I think they had to let Couceiro work. Too late now.
MANUEL: Simple answer, yes! I don’t think Bilic will be gone right away, but his contract will be up in the winter, and Lokomotiv are unlikely to extend it at this point. There is the chance that Bilic is going to leave on his own terms, leaving Lokomotiv relieved of the massive pay-out clause, which is part of his contract. Of course the clubs involved in the relegation battle, might also choose to fire their coaches if they fail to either get promoted or retain the league. Altogether coaching changes are always likely. I suspect that we will see the departure of a big name coach in the off-season. My number one bet would be Luciano Spalletti, but Guus Hiddink is always good for a surprise as well.
CONNOR: I personally can’t understand Terek’s decision to sack Cherchesov, 2 points off Europe on not a huge budget with high competition. To expect any more at this point wouldn’t be unrealistic. On Bilic, he hasn’t been given a long time yet (like most foreign managers) but he has been backed in the transfer market, whether they sack him is anyone’s guess. Obviously Spartak will be needing a manager which might start a merry go round.
2) What are your thoughts on the final positions in European qualification?
ANDY: Kuban are the feel-good story of the 2012/13 season, in my opinion. Despite three different managers – Dan Petrescu, Krasnozhan and Leonid Kuchuk – they didn’t blink down the stretch and provided some of the most engaging, high-tempo matches this spring. The fans and the weather are fantastic in Krasnodar and I hope that they can reach the group stage in the Europa League this fall. Russia needs more provincial clubs that can compete in Europe and inject some fresh blood.
Rubin are also moving forward with a new stadium. Hopefully they can play late-winter ties at the new arena, if they advance that far in the Europa League. The matches against Atletico, Levante and Chelsea in Luzhniki were a disaster from a Russian football PR perspective.
Spartak, meanwhile, appear to be just barely holding together. The team really needs success, with the long-awaited stadium opening next spring, and Europa League could be a double-edged sword. If they advance deep into the competition, several matches could be played at Otkritie Arena to a rocking stadium, but if the club is eliminated early, there will be even more negativity to deal with, especially if the league is proving a challenge as well.
PAVEL: Spartak – a tough season. Probably the best we could get there, minding the fact that we have no coach, no leader and no decent team. And, yeah, we were pretty lucky with Dinamo. They deserved it more.
Kuban – dream came true, although with their strategy it just had to happen. Nevertheless, there’s an opinion that the final result is mostly based on Krasnozhan’s work and I’d like to check it out the next season. They’ve started to lose players, too.
Rubin – they’re not a top Russian team. They are falling down to their original positions, in my opinion. It’s probably a final impact.
Everyone else just got what they deserved.
MANUEL: I am not really surprised by the final standing. Kuban is perhaps the biggest surprise, but they are there because of lack of competition. The clubs finishing behind them had too many problems and Kuban just seemed more stable as a club altogether this season. I am not surprised that Dinamo Moscow failed to qualify for Europe (I will elaborate below). Anzhi’s third place finish is logical, considering the amount of money the club has paid for new players. Also Anzhi have the best coach of the league. Guus Hiddink is a magician – he would have saved the Titanic if he had been the captain. Terek Grozny in my opinion have failed to reach a European qualification place because of the antics of Ramzan Kadyrov. A club needs stability from management to perform and that clearly is not a given at Terek.
CONNOR: I was surprised Dinamo didn’t make it in the end, although had they not had such a terrible start, they might have finished above Anzhi. Rubin probably deserved it in the end despite their lack of entertaining football and just sneaking in. Happy for Kuban as they have a great fan base and some decent players. Spartak weren’t very impressive throughout and were inconsistent at best, their performance very much depending on the manager.
3) What went wrong for Lokomotiv this season?
ANDY: I don’t know the inner workings of the club or the team inside-out, so my bland answer would be that Lokomotiv were just the best candidates to struggle this season, given the increased competitiveness at the top and the club’s turmoil on and off the pitch for several years now. They had a lot of new players, a new manager and a fan base ready to pounce at the first sign of trouble, which can be a toxic combination.
If the players and the coach, whether it be Bilic or someone else, can focus this summer and make a good start to the season, I think Lokomotiv can make a big turnaround. They showed tons of potential all season, just zero consistency, and a fresh start could see a transformed side.
PAVEL: Everything. I wouldn’t blame Smorodskaya for all of it, at least, she’s a perfect crisis manager. Despite the result, Lokomotiv are much better than they were in 2010.
Bilic? He needs one more season to understand fully what he’s been trying to do there. CSKA disgracefully dropped the last season’s ending, you know.
Team? They’ve lost their leader. Literally. Glushakov wanted to move. Club didn’t let him. He has no motivation and had a poor season. There aren’t any players at Loko that could be leaders. Not counting Loskov, but it wouldn’t be worse if he’d appeared on the pitch.
Plus their fan problem and other important stuff. However, just as Rubin, they’re not a top team anymore. Forget it – their best now is to qualify for Europe.
MANUEL: Simply put the club is a mystery to me, all things considered they should be doing much better. The club has amazing infrastructure, is one of the few clubs with a modern stadium. They have the financial backing of RZhD (Russian Railways). But I think Lokomotiv have management problems, with the fans up and arms against the President Olga Smorodskaya. I believe that she might be one of the main reasons the club is doing so poorly, bringing in Bilic was a mistake for example. Signing him to a massive contract was another. Bilic was hired after he had decent (not great) results with the Croatian national team. Bilic, however, was unproven at the club level. This is a typical Klinsmann scenario; Bilic was just not able to transform himself from a decent national team coach to a good club coach. Overpaying him was simply Smorodskaya’s mistake.
CONNOR: A lack of goals really. Their strikers didn’t perform; Pavlyuchenko, Maicon, Caicedo and Obinna scored just 13 goals between them and no midfielders scored more than 2 goals either. Losing to teams like Amkar and Volga at home gets you no where. They needed to utilise Dame N’Doye more who was their top scorer but I don’t think Bilic was ever really sure what his strongest starting 11 was, forever chopping and changing the strikers rather than having a settled squad.
4) What do Dinamo Moscow have to blame for missing out on Europe?
ANDY: Their collapse in the last two matches against Alania and Volga was shocking. All they needed was a win over Volga at home to edge Rubin out on the tiebreaker. Missing Kokorin and Dzsudzsak in that final game, after the ejections in Vladikavkaz the week before, cost them a place in Europe.
PAVEL: Their start to the season. If you lose 5 games in a row, you have no right for a mistake. Especially a late mistake. Especially three late mistakes. Petrescu did a great job. I’d bet on Dinamo for the next season, if they’ll buy just one serious player.
MANUEL: Dinamo Moscow, the cursed club. I for one don’t believe in bad luck in football. Perhaps one can have bad luck over a couple games, but year after year? I believe Dinamo have major structural problems. The club, like Lokomotiv, has the financial backing and should be doing much better. At Dinamo there is simple a lack of a strong core of players that completely identify with the club. When one looks at Europe’s most successful clubs, teams like Barcelona, Bayern, or Dortmund come to mind. All these clubs concentrate on a core of players that have been brought up through the youth system.
Even in Russia the most successful clubs of the last years have concentrated on that approach. Both Zenit and CSKA have a core of Russian players that play for the club as well as the national team. At Dinamo the officials have always focused on buying random players without concern on what they can bring to the dressing room. Kuranyi is such an example; he was brought in with the thought of providing leadership. But Kuranyi was not even able to provide leadership at Schalke or Stuttgart, where he was fluent in the language, as well as part of the culture. Aleksandr Kokorin might one day develop into that sort of player but he is simply too young at this point.
CONNOR: Their poor start is wholly to blame. Once Petrescu came in and sorted the squad out, they were a completely different team. Despite losing 7 of their first 8 they still managed to challenge for Europe which should be applauded. Makes you wonder how the rest of teams in Europe didn’t have a bigger lead over Dinamo.
5) What is your prediction for Rostov v. SKA-Energiya Khabarovsk is the relegation playoff? What is your prediction for Spartak Nalchik v. Krylia Sovetov Samara in the other?
ANDY: The Premier League clubs will win both matchups, if Rostov even have anyone to play, that is. I could see Nalchik clawing out a draw at home, but I think that Krylia Sovetov will roll in Samara. The fan support there has been strong all spring and they should have a big showing on Thursday.
Rostov, again, who knows what’s going to happen with that mess. No matter who they end up facing from the FNL, Miodrag Bozhovic’s club will advance. They’ve got some decent attacking power and will be feeling great after Sunday’s 3-0 pasting of CSKA.
PAVEL: The difference between RPL and FNL is incredible. Look at Mordovia in 2012 – crushing everyone in the FNL and then losing 14 games of 19 in RPL. Even though all the Volga -2011 Georgians are now at SKA and the flight to Khabarovsk is loooooooong, Rostov have a good enough team to confidently win it.
The same. I don’t think there will be any serious pressure from Nalchik (and, I don’t want to see them in the RPL, too).
MANUEL: I have a little soft spot for Krylia Sovetov and hope that they stay up. The higher ranked team will be the favourite, and Krylia Sovetov should be able to retain the league. Seeing Khabarovsk in the RPL would be truly intriguing but I don’t believe they will be able to beat Rostov over two legs. Also I do think the league has very little interest to see a club from the Far East in the RPL.
CONNOR: I think Rostov have a very difficult task due to the thousands of miles and various time zones just to play their away leg but despite this I think they’ll stay up, by which means I’m not sure. Krylia are probably facing a more difficult side in Nalchik but I also think they’ll have enough to stay up. Both are perennial survivors, it’s difficult to back against them.