Unravelling the enigma of football in the post-Soviet republics
Never Mind the Bolsheviks is back (at last!) after its annual sojourn in the Motherland.
No, it wasn't interned in some Far Eastern gulag, but in Moldova – which, some would contest, isn't an altogether different experience. Except Chisinau does now boast a Debenhams.
Small talk over, and NMTB is here again to solve the puzzle inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma of football in the Former Soviet Union.
And for its return the blog is in Uzbekistan for a fleeting visit to discover how a former denizen of the King's Road is getting on in his new job out east in Tashkent.
It was somewhat ironic that Luiz Felipe Scolari quipped that he was a "special one" only to his wife and family upon being appointed Chelsea gaffer last summer.
What was said in jest transpired to become a startlingly accurate prediction for his tenure at the club.
Following reports of player unrest off the pitch and some truly dismal performances on it, Big Phil can't have been too surprised to receive the big heave-ho from Roman Abramovich in February this year.
But his failure to last a season in England has hardly damaged his standing in world football; after all, not even the Special One can waltz down the touchline with a World Cup winner's medal jangling under his trendy trenchcoat.
Rumours were abound earlier in the year that the 60-year-old was in line for a second spell as the coach of the Brazilian national team.
And it came as something of a surprise that Scolari followed the Silk Route from Europe to Uzbekistan to become the boss of the reigning Oliy League champions Bunyodkor.
From South America via west London to east of Europe
After another Brazilian, Zico, left for CSKA Moscow, most assumed that the side from Tashkent would make a move for a proven boss in the former USSR, or at least someone who had a decent command of Russian.
Leonid Kuchuk of Sheriff Tiraspol would have been an excellent choice for the post - he has had offers from the bigger teams before - although before leaving the Moldovans he may fancy having a crack at the Champions League group stages (they were knocked out in the qualifiers last week).
BLOG: May 5: A powerful Sheriff, a haircut and a drunken war
Now, Uzbekistan is not one of Asia's football hotbeds – even Big Phil at his most garrulous would concur with that – but NMTB reckons that it's a cracking appointment for all concerned.
Bunyodkor are on the verge of creating something big, something akin to the dynasty that Abramovich hankered after when he began ploughing large dollops of roubles into Chelsea a few years ago, and are one of the up-and-coming sides in Asia that will begin making headlines soon enough.
"Whites wash cleaner with Gaz"
As is the custom in the region, they have a crap name: Bunyodkor means "creator" in English.
And following a second tradition, they've already undergone a name change, even though they were only founded in 2005. They first went under the equally poor name of Kuruvchi, which translates as "builder" - still, it beats Traktor Tashkent.
BLOG: May 19: Named and shamed – the 10 worst club names in the USSR
"Murky" would perhaps be the best word to describe the ownership of a side that has irrevocably transformed the landscape of Uzbek football, with the gas and oil magnate Zeromax sponsoring the club.
Although the word on the street is that the real power behind the club is Gulnarna Karimova, the daughter of the president. No one is quite sure, and the subject is a moot point in Uzbekistan.
Bunyodkor may actually ring a bell with you (it's hardly a name you're likely to forget) after they announced their arrival on the world stage last year when the hitherto unknown entity declared that a deal for Samuel Eto'o was close to being finalised; although it fell through, it was no publicity stunt.
The deal was a sign of their intent and of their ambition, and of the unbridled spending power Bunyodkor have in Asia.
It's hardly a surprise that they reached the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League at their first attempt.
Eto'o, a couple of his Barça chums and even Cesc Fabregas joined the lads' holiday to have a look around in the summer – and probably enjoyed what they saw.
Tashkent is lovely at that time of year. It certainly beats Benidorm, or wherever the Cameroonian takes his summer holidays.
"Where's the beach?"
Barcelona and the Uzbeks share a close relationship, which is somewhat surprising considering the Spanish side's connections with UNICEF.
Uzbekistan's human rights record is, to put in mildly, chequered: NMTB has spoken firsthand with a survivor of the 2005 Andijan massacre who was forced to flee the country, and his harrowing account is not for the fainthearted.
Maybe Big Phil didn't know what he was letting himself in for when he signed up for this project.
But he won't be lonely in the Uzbek capital, and he has a quartet of talented Brazilians who have been firing them up the Oily League – including Bunyodkor's "Plan B" after the Eto'o deal collapsed, Rivaldo, who signed on a staggeringly lucrative contract, despite being so far into the autumn of his career that he can expect trick-or-treaters any time soon.
Still, it's paid off: he has been banging them in for fun since arriving last year.
It's a surprise that they didn't plump for Maxim Shatskikh, the legendary Uzbek forward who had an unerring propensity to put the ball in the back of the net in Ukraine with Dynamo Kyiv until joining another new Central Asian "super club" whom we met a while ago: Lokomotiv Astana.
BLOG: June 2: Kazakhstan's MK Dons stuck in the sidings
Shatskikh or no, Big Phil has had a near-perfect start to life in Uzbekistan: after 20 games of the new season Bunyodkor have won the lot, sitting pretty at the top of the table with an impressive 60 points.
The only blot on his copybook was a defeat in the recent Uzbek Cup Final.
"Sorry, who's this?"
A $150 million, 35,000-seater stadium is also in the pipeline for the club that have already outgrown Uzbekistan, and now they have the Asian Champions League in their sights.
NMTB would even go so far as to say that before too long Uzbekistan could well decamp from the Asian Football Association to UEFA (as neighbouring Kazakhstan did in 2002) to satisfy the demands of the club and to garner more publicity for them and the country.
So keep an eye out for the "Creators" or "Builders" or whatever the thesaurus throws up for its owners (whoever they are) – they could be on the verge of something big.
You can follow them on their impeccable trilingual official website, or track their progress on their Wikipedia page – which, let's face it, is more English-perfect than those of most English Premier League clubs, what with the twerps who update it...
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Fantastic blog Mr.Gilbey
Glad to have you back
I have a question though.
Would you agree that the Russian first division is one of the up-and-coming leagues in Europe?
Also, where can you see it on the TV from Scotland?
Good golly. We had seven-goal thrillers in Siberia AND Moscow at the weekend, while evidently someone
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