Our European guru educates and enlightens
The fat lady has sung in Belarus, Finland, Latvia, Norway and Russia. These league titles have now been clinched by BATE Borisov (for the fifth time), Inter Turku (for the first time), Ventspils (for the third year in a row), Stabaek and Rubin Kazan (who both won their respective leagues for the first time ever)
It’s at this point, traditionally, that triumphant fans sing “It’s been no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise…” and so on.
But for Stabaek, the Queen anthem certainly doesn’t apply. Their season had been a bed of roses, climaxing with a deeply pleasureable title-clinching 6-2 trouncing of Valerenga. I’ve bored people rigid about Stabaek here so it’s time to move on, as Tony Blair used to say.
Rubin Kazan won the Russian title courtesy of a last minute winner from the evergreen Serbian striker Savo Milosevic who, at 35, must be the most durable largely one-footed striker of the last 15 years.
The players have already been given gold-embroidered skull caps, a Tartar tradition, by their grateful board. The club’s only previous silverware was the La Manga Cup but they will make their UEFA Champions League debut in 2009-10, hopefully still under their coach Kurban Berdyev, memorably described here by Jonathan Wilson as a Turkmeni Harry Redknapp.
Rubin’s triumph, as Wilson notes, is only marred by persistent rumours of match-fixing in the Russian game. There is no evidence that the new champions have benefited – just predictions in betting circles last May that the boys from Kazan were bound to win the title.
BATE’s triumph was more predictable than Rubin’s, but coach Viktor Goncharenko’s reaction was untypical. Confessing it would be “virtually impossible” to keep this squad together or to motivate a team that has won everything in Belarus, he admitted: “We have already started looking for replacements. Mentally, I’m prepared to start building a new team.”
Ventspils have now won three Latvian titles in a row, 11 short of Skonto’s run of record-breaking championships, yet, according to UEFA.com’s Mikhail Korolev, their Ukrainian coach Roman Grigorchuk is already pondering how his side can emulate the likes of BATE and Anorthosis and prosper in the Champions League.
That might sound a tad ambitious, but they only lost to Norwegian champions Brann on away goals in the second qualifying round this season.
That same hope has inspired Inter Turku who won their first Finnish title under Job Dragtsma, yet another expat Dutch coach. Dragtsma was less bullish than Grigorchuk, possibly because the club will probably mark its triumph by selling talismanic skipper Jos Hooiveld to AIK Solna, the Swedish club supported by former UEFA president Lennart Johansson.
Inter Turku’s success was built on a miserly defence which conceded just 12 goals in 26 games. According to the anorak’s paradise rsssf.com this is, if you judge it on goals per game, the seventh best performance by a defence in a European league season.
Inter Turku’s 0.46 goals per game conceded is slightly better than Torino’s in 1976-77. But it is still some way short of Cagliari’s 11 goals in 30 games – 0.37 goals a game – when they won Serie A in 1969-70.
And the most famous player in that side? The legendary Luigi Riva... a striker. No time for losers, indeed.
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