Unravelling the enigma of football in the post-Soviet republics
NMTB isn’t a blog that exudes a natural ebullience. Habitually it is a curious character of miserable disposition.
And there are a few things that will place it in a soporific mood, not least the incoherent ramblings of Michel Platini.
Can you recall him ever doing anything to enhance European football during his UEFA presidency?
So it was interesting to hear him talk of restructuring the continental club competitions to offer a more favourable weighting to those countries who formerly resided on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain. (It probably wasn’t his idea.)
However, the blog reverted to its usual morose mindset this week after it realised that there would be just seven representatives from the former Soviet Union competing in the group stages of the new-look Champions League and Europa League this season.
And those septuplets hail from just five of the 11 FSU countries affiliated to UEFA.
Like a corrupt KGB agent, NMTB attempted to place culpability of the "crime" firmly with Monsieur Platini, but in this instance the Frenchman is innocent.
Some teams, it seems, just aren’t very good at football.
Commiserations to Qarabag Aghdam of Azerbaijan – to whom you will be introduced in the coming weeks – after a valiant effort to reach the Europe League group stages.
Memorably beating Rosenborg of Norway, they fell to Steve McClaren’s Twente Enschede from the Netherlands in the final qualifying round.
Still, let’s face it, if you’re interested in all things Soviet you’re probably a miserable sod who stoically endures all that’s thrown at you.
And there are seven teams to meet from the region. Some you may already know, others are relatively unknown even behind the Iron Curtain.
So here’s NMTB’s guide to the Soviet Septuplets in search of European success this season, starting with the trio chasing glory in the Champions League. CSKA MOSCOW (RUSSIA)Champions League Group B – Manchester United, Besiktas, Wolfsburg
CSKA Moscow graced the group stages of the very first Champions League back in 1992/93, while the new post-dissolution Russian government probably hadn’t finished the gargantuan task of removing all of the hammer and sickle motifs from around the Russian capital.
After that campaign – which yielded four losses and two draws, including a final-day Ibrox stalemate which prevented Rangers going through at the expense of eventual winners Marseille – it was a dozen long seasons before they made the groups again.
This will be their fourth group-stage appearance in six years, but they've hardly made Europe quiver.
The 2004/05 campaign saw them squeezed out by Porto, well behind a rampant Chelsea; 2006/07 saw them finish three points behind Arsenal and pesky Porto again; the following term saw a humiliating one-point return from games against Inter, Fenerbahce and PSV.
So you can imagine the Muscovites' delight to be paired with Manchester United this time.
But new coach Juande Ramos (succeeding Zico but really stepping into the shoes of Valeriy Gazzaev - see below) inherits a well-organised team with a strong core of Russian internationals, and they might just ruffle a few feathers this season, they certainly aren’t there just to make up the numbers.
NMTB just wonders where the goals are going to come from.
Juande, all this will be yours
Their main protagonist, the diligent Vagner Love, is seeking solace from his personal problems in his native Brazil, and the burden will now be on his compatriot Guilherme, whom Zico brought in on loan from Dynamo Kyiv, to supply the goals.
At least with Vagner's absence ITV viewers will be spared the indignity of Clive Tyldesley blurting out "From Russia with Love!".
Although it does now mean there will be 11 players on the pitch instead of 10 whose names his blundering wingman David Pleat will continuously f**k up.
DYNAMO KYIV (UKRAINE)Champions League Group F – Barcelona, Inter, Rubin Kazan
Ah, it seems like only last week that NMTB told you about the Perscha-Liga champions. Because it was.
Blog, September 9: Andriy Shevchenko is back
It perturbs the blog that since reaching the semis in 1999, Dynamo Kyiv have consistently underachieved in the Champions League.
After reaching the second group stage (remember that arrangement with fondness? No?) in 2000, the Bilo-Syni have gone out in the first group stage eight times in nine seasons – the exception being when they didn't even get through qualifying.
It will require a Herculean effort to correct that record this year, after being paired with Barcelona and Inter Milan.
Ever the pessimist, the blog is tipping them for another year of disappointment. However, it also predicted that their Ukrainian chums Shakhtar Donetsk would have a big say in the competition, so feel free to discredit anything you read herein.
Blog, May 12: Will it be lucky 13 for Dynamo Kyiv?
Unless new gaffer Gazzaev really likes a challenge – and he's the only man to guide an FSU team to Euro-glory, with CSKA Moscow's 2005 UEFA Cup win – perhaps the only Ukrainian pleased with the draw was Andriy Shevchenko, the returning hero who was the team's key player the last time Dynamo accomplished anything of any note in the competition.
Gazzaev and Sheva put their shirt on it
He’ll indubitably be relishing the prospect of squaring up against his erstwhile Italian rivals in the San Siro.
Not least because they are managed by his old gaffer Jose Mourinho, who never really gave Sheva a fair crack of the whip at Chelsea, and during his last outing in the Nou Camp for Dynamo he scored a hat trick during a 4-0 victory that announced his arrival to Europe.
More of the same please, Andriy.
RUBIN KAZAN (RUSSIA)Champions League Group F – Barcelona, Inter, Dynamo Kyiv
To those who bother to watch Russian football, it was no shock that Rubin Kazan won the Premier League last season: they're top this year, too.
Upon winning the title last term, the players paraded around the stadium in Kazan in dubious golden crowns that bore an uncanny resemblance to something you’d get with a kid’s meal at Burger King – although hailing from the capital city of the Autonomous Tartar Republic, where most of the population are Muslims, means the likelihood of Whoppers all round is unlikely.
"Gold hats all round!"
Indeed, coach Kurbiyan Burdiyev – a defensive midfielder turned wheeler-dealing manager dubbed by some as a Turkmenistani Harry Redknapp – often restricts his post-match press conferences to simply saying "Glory to Allah, we won."
Makes a change from complaining about referees.
Anyway, it's an arduous journey out to Kazan in central Russia and NMTB will keep a close eye on how Rubin fare in their inaugural Champions League campaign.
One player from the Tatarsfantsi to watch out for is Alejandro Dominguez, who the blog believes will be pivotal to their chances of obtaining any degree of success this season.
Then again, you know NMTB and its predictions...
Come back soon for NMTB's lowdown on the four Europa League hopefuls
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