Why it is Time for Krasnodar to Sack Igor Shalimov

Krasnodar Stadium. Photo: Dimka Pukalik

This weekend saw FC Krasnodar lose 1-0 away against Lokomotiv Moscow. Losing away to Loko isn’t a catastrophe, but it was the fifth defeat in a row for the Bulls. This is the worst ever losing streak in the club’s young history, and serious questions can be asked to head coach, Igor Shalimov.

Shalimov’s reign as head coach has been an inconsistent one. The highs of Shalimov’s tenure have certainly been high; this 94th-minute winning goal last season against Zenit St. Petersburg is a great example of one of those highs. Krasnodar also managed to make it to the round of 16 in the Europa League last year, an impressive showing given that the club had never advanced past the group stage in its young history. However, the lows of Shalimov’s tenure have been far more frequent. Marks against his tenure include a lacklustre playing style, qualifying for Europa League last year by sheer luck, poor performance in the Cup, and crashing out of this year’s Europa League in the second round of qualifying for the tournament. On the whole, Shalimov’s tenure as manager of Krasnodar has brought far more bad than good, and for that reason, it is time for Shalimov to leave the club.


Middling Start and Warning Signs

Shalimov’s reign began midway through last year when former head coach Oleg Kononov was fired. Kononov was sacked largely due to his inability to lead Krasnodar to a top two league finish, which would give them Champions League qualification. Shalimov, who was the Krasnodar-2 manager at the time, was promoted to the role of head coach on an interim basis. Prior to his job at Krasnodar, his highest coaching position was coaching the Russian women’s national team. Because of this lack of experience, many people doubted his ability to handle the job at a club with such high ambitions, and in hindsight, they weren’t wrong.

Initially, Shalimov did well enough to convince club owner Sergey Galitsky to hand him the full-time coaching job. The Bulls entered the winter break of that season in fourth place and were doing well in Europa League. However, Krasnodar’s league form slipped some as the second half of the season progressed, though the club did manage to post its best-ever finish in Europa League. By year’s end, Krasnodar had managed to qualify for Europa League in the last week of the season only because of league rival FC Rostov’s fluke loss to the worst team in the league. Krasnodar also crashed out of the Cup by blowing a 3-0 lead at home to FC Ural, which was an especially poor defeat for the club. This poor all-around performance resulted in the first real sentiment that Shalimov wasn’t up to the task as Krasnodar’s manager.

Current Disappointments

This current season is Shalimov’s first full season in charge at Krasnodar and has allowed for a full evaluation of his managerial capabilities. He was able to have a full preseason to prepare the squad how he wanted, and also received several transfers to strengthen the squad. Wanderson, in particular, stands out as a top level player brought in by the club, as the Brazilian winger cost a club record €8 million. In addition, the club brought in Serbian midfielder Mihailo Ristic, as well as experienced Russian players Rinat Yanbaev, and Roman Shishkin. Tellingly; however, Krasnodar’s play has not improved.

Simply put, Krasnodar’s performance this season has not been good enough. Most painfully, the club is not taking part in the Europa League group stage, after dropping out in qualifying against Serbian side Crvena Zvezda. While Zvezda certainly wasn’t an easy draw in qualifying, a club of Krasnodar’s ambitions expects to win that matchup nearly every time. This disappointing defeat has meant that Krasnodar has been without football on Thursdays for the first time in several years, which has been a disappointment to fans and the club alike.

One would think that without the burden of European football, Krasnodar would be able to focus solely on the league and thus improve their league position. After all, this is how Spartak Moscow captured the championship last year. However, the result has not been the same for Krasnodar. Currently, the Bulls sit in fifth place, with a four-point gap separating them from Champions League qualification places. This league position is made all the more unacceptable by the fact that this year’s field of teams in the RFPL is weaker than usual. Other than the juggernaut that is Zenit this year, no title contending team has really improved over last year. Previous champions Spartak, as well as Lokomotiv, haven’t significantly strengthened, and CSKA has possibly the thinnest squad in the league and has dealt with major injury issues. Worst still, Shalimov’s team has been in bad form as of late, losing their last five games in all competitions for the first time in the club’s history. This form has meant that it now looks far more likely that Krasnodar continues their fall down the table, as opposed to climbing up the table to land a Champions League place.

Krasnodar fans can’t even take comfort by watching their team in the Cup, as Shalimov has managed to drop out of that competition too. Adding insult to injury, the loss came against lowly Tom Tomsk- who were relegated from Russia’s top flight last year with a gap of 14 points. This kind of lacklustre performance against poor opponents has been a hallmark of Shalimov’s reign. This season alone the Bulls have lost to Arsenal Tula and drawn against Amkar Perm and Ural, clubs that Krasnodar should be getting three points from every time.

Reasons for Failure

The reasons for Krasnodar’s poor performance under Shalimov are many. The team’s play has been characterized by having a lot of ball possession, but rarely creating scoring chances with it. Additionally, they have looked especially vulnerable on the counter. Both of these flaws are partial because of Shalimov’s refusal to find his first choice starting XI, and his tendency to play players out of position. Throughout this season, Mihailo Ristic has been played at left-back, central midfield, and right wing. Vyacheslav Podberyozkin has been similarly shuffled around, playing on the wing and in midfield like Ristic, and these are only two cases of many. All of this chopping and changing has meant that no first choice XI has had the opportunity to get comfortable, and it has shown in the team’s play.

Ultimately, Shalimov’s time in charge of Krasnodar has to be regarded as a failure. The team’s lacklustre league form, paired with crash exits from both the Europa League and Russian cup, have meant that the Bulls are in a significantly worse position than they were when Shalimov took over. To many observers, it has been a mystery as to why Shalimov hasn’t been sacked already. Given his poor performance during his time in charge of Krasnodar, it only seems a matter of time until that day comes.

Author: Will Baumgardner

College student in the United States and avid Krasnodar fan. Sergey Galitskiy is the man.

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