Valery Gazzaev – The Ossetian Polymath

A polymath isn’t usually a word you use to describe a person associated with football, but in Valery Gazzaev’s case, an exception can definitely be made. Gazzaev scored more than a 100 goals as a player, made history as a manager, is often seen talking about reforms in Russian football and is a member of the Duma. Wherever the man goes, he makes an impact, which makes him one of the most revered figures in Russian football.

Gazzaev was born in the Ossetian city of Ordzhonikidze (now Vladikavkaz), a place barely known for its footballing culture. All Ordzhonikidze had back then was Spartak Ordzhonikidze, a club playing in the Soviet First League (the second division of Soviet football). Nevertheless, Gazzaev immortalised the city after his various triumphs with the club.

Valery’s professional playing career started in 1970 when he was promoted from the Spartak youth academy to the main squad. After three years in Ordzhonikidze, Gazzaev was signed by SKA Rostov-On-Don, another club in the Northern Caucasus. He didn’t have the best time in Rostov and moved back to Spartak the next year. Gazzaev’s performances in that season earned him a move to Lokomotiv Moscow in 1976.

Even though the Ossetian wasn’t the most clinical of finishers and didn’t score the most goals for a striker, his playstyle was what made him a fan-favourite. Described as peers by a bright, exciting and unique footballer with amazing work-ethic and attitude, Gazzaev was once considered the best player in Muscovite football. His ability to create chances out of nothing and the way he swiftly dribbled past through a bunch of players brought something new to the game.

Gazzaev’s most fruitful period as a player came at his time with Dinamo Moscow, where he won the Soviet Top League once and the Soviet Cup twice. He also scored an impressive 70 goals in six years, placing him fourth in Dinamo’s all-time scoring records. After his legendary spell at the club, Gazzaev finished off his playing career in 1986 with Dinamo Tbilisi.

As a player, he was always regarded by managers and fellow players as highly emotional, hardworking individual possessing a great, winning attitude. As a manager, the story was no different. A key component in the people’s love for Gazzaev is his personality. Whether his teams won or lost, the man was never sore or boastful; but his open expression of emotions remained constant.

Gazzaev’s entire managerial career, from start to finish was quite eventful. He guided his boyhood club to promotion to the Top League within his first two years as a manager, which was a phenomenon unheard of at the time. After this, Gazzaev moved to Dinamo Moscow, this time to manage them, and did surprisingly well with them. The entire Russian game was going through a tough time, with financial insecurity and corruption prevailing. Albeit there was no club as powerful as Spartak Moscow at the time, Gazzaev’s Dinamo was doing alright too.

Gazzaev’s first major triumph as a manager came in 1995 when he won the Russian championship with Alania Vladikavkaz (previously Spartak Ordzhonikidze). A side which was promoted no more than five years before the season had broken Spartak Moscow’s monopoly in a league full of predicaments and had emerged as the winners, catapulting the region into a hot-bed of football for over 20 years.

READ MORE: Timeline of the Renaming of Russian Top Flight Clubs

The Caucasian’s communication skills have consistently been praised, and are considered to have played a big part in Alania’s victory in 1995. Another trait Gazzaev possesses is aggression. Many of his former players have commented on this, claiming that it was terrifying and hard to talk to him when he was angry or unsatisfied.

This aggression is not bad temper though; it is the product of Gazzaev’s desire to win and to do better. He was regarded to be a great speaker in the dressing room too; when he spoke, every eye was affixed to him. It was this quality combined with Gazzaev’s tactical expertise that resulted in the many victories he achieved.

He was not afraid to express these thoughts either, he once said;

Players and coaches should have high standards, which you have to get through your attitude and work ethic…Players have to show their own potential in every game, up to their level. They need to fight for the ball.

Although Alania’s European campaigns were quite lacklustre, it was more Alania’s lack of resources than Gazzaev’s incompetence that led to them. Valery then moved to Dinamo Moscow (again), but his efforts to guide the club to some glory went in vain.

Gazzaev’s next, and possibly most famous victories came with CSKA Moscow. Even though the Alania win in ’95 was harder to achieve, it was nowhere near as famous as Gazzaev’s wins with CSKA.

In his second year with the Red-Blues, Gazzaev won the Russian Cup. The very next year, CSKA won the league for the first time in 12 years. What came next was perhaps the most special season in CSKA, Gazzaev and Russian football’s history.

With the backing of owner Evgeny Giner and by a large cash injection from Roman Abramovich, Gazzaev brought in a host of new talents including Vagner Love, Daniel Carvalho, Sergei Ignashevich.

READ MORE: Evgeny Giner – Raised Above Criticism

In 2005, CSKA won the treble under Gazzaev with a rocky cup run, a strong league campaign and a stellar UEFA Cup victory. Though the league and cup victories were expected of CSKA, the UEFA Cup win proved Gazzaev’s capabilities, again. His frantic sprint down the touchline when Yuri Zhirkov handed CSKA the lead in the UEFA Cup Final was a great example of the man’s open expression of emotions and his love of the game. This magnificent campaign earned him the UEFA Coach of the Year award.

Gazzaev’s handling of Carvalho and cult hero Vagner Love was extremely impressive. Both players spoke very little Russian, and Love was notorious for literally not learning anything while at CSKA; and yet, they both played crucial roles in the club’s treble in 2005.

Gazzaev managed CSKA until 2008, winning a fair few trophies with the Horses. The man then managed Dynamo Kyiv for a bit, and won the Ukrainian Super Cup.

At the turn of the decade, Gazzaev started a new chapter in his life. He was appointed as the president of Alania Vladikavkaz in hopes of reviving the glory days. This did not go exactly as planned, Gazzaev was accused of nepotism and Alania kept hopping in between the first and second divisions of Russian football.

To add to the accusations, Valery was heavily criticised for his management of the RusHydro-Alania deal, that was meant to save the club from financial peril. Although the company itself was also facing money problems, Gazzaev’s poor handling of the deal confirmed that it would never go through.

His transfer policy at Alania was considered to be the final nail in the club’s coffin. Gazzaev’s outlandish transfer policy made Alania spend big money on foreign players, and eventually, the Ossetian government ran out of money for the club, meaning these players could not be paid. With the RusHydro deal out the window, Alania had no option but to liquidate.

This didn’t end Gazzaev’s participation in football though. He has since proposed many reforms to Russian Football and continues to do so. With football in Russia growing and changing at such a rapid pace, seeing him make his mark as a revolutionary isn’t out of the question.

One of the man’s suggestions was to create a single league involving clubs from both Russia and Ukraine, something similar to the old Soviet days. Gazzaev has been extremely vocal in pushing the idea of a unified league and was more invested in it even at his time in Alania as president. Many consider Gazzaev’s personal priorities at the time to be responsible for his hometown club’s downfall.

Valery Gazzaev is arguably one of the most influential people in Russian football. The Ossetian has impacted it in every way possible. To say that Gazzaev the footballer is better than Gazzaev the manager, or to say that he is worse as a reformer than a manager is unjust. He has done equally well in every field and is equally capable in all of them. What one cannot disagree with is though, that the man is quite an intriguing character.

Whether you think of him as a master tactician and a highly influential man, or as an overhyped man out of his comfort zone, it is impossible to simply ignore him. And to say that he is done with the game is criminal, Gazzaev is only 61 and given his track record, he will win definitely win more.

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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