Unravelling the enigma of football in the post-Soviet republics
One day NMTB will settle down. Not yet, the blog has only recently turned 27. At the moment it’s getting all of this “seeing the world” lark out of its system.
NMTB harbours dreams of visiting far-flung destinations like Mongolia; you can hardly go there with a wife and kids in tow. Although if you are married with a wife and kids, Mongolia’s exactly the kind of place you might feel like escaping to sometimes.
This fervent wanderlust hasn’t yet brought the blog to Krasnodar in southern Russia.
It does have a reason to visit now though, as Dan Petrescu has turned up to take charge of First Division Kuban Krasnodar and got his tenure underway this week with four points from his opening two games.
The Romanian, of course, resembles David Duchovny, although NMTB will spare you littering this missive with weak X Files puns. There is something of Kuban’s league positions over the last decade which smacks of the paranormal that warrants investigation from Mulder and Scully, mind...
(OK, NMTB omitted 2005 when they finished fifth in the First Division, but it’s spooky nevertheless, and you probably never noticed anyway.)
If you're an optimist (well done, how do you manage that?), Russia’s yo-yo club are guaranteed promotion and a return to the top flight; good times are just around the corner. Hurrah!
For a pessimist, you know you're a First Division side whose advancement to the Premier-Liga is followed by that inevitable season of disappointment and impending relegation back to whence you came.
Petrescu had dropped off our radars since departing England eight years ago, and it’s easy to forget what a superb right-back the Romanian was.
He clocked up 215 appearances in the Premier League (and 24 goals), and was the first foreigner to wear a Chelsea shirt 100 times.
In an official capacity anyway. There have probably been loads of foreign Blues supporters who’ve worn a Chelsea shirt 100 times before him.
It’s testament to the 42-year-old’s managerial ability that he introduced Unirea Urziceni to the world last year.
Most people had probably never heard of the 2009 Romanian Liga 1 champions, let alone pronounce their name any better than Paul Merson until Petrescu led them to an emphatic 4-1 Champions League victory over Rangers at Ibrox in October.
However behind-the-scenes problems led to his resignation before he could go tête-à-tête with Rafa Benitez in the Europa League after Unirea finished third in their group.
The 95-times capped international, who appeared in two World Cups, was linked with the then-vacant Scotland job, among others, so his arrival in Russia’s second tier may come as a surprise to some.
Petrescu named Erland Johnsen as his number two at Kuban...
Kuban possess all of the trappings of a Premier-Liga club though, bar the Premier-Liga status, obviously, which is kind of important.
His appointment continues a steady progression in Petrescu’s career. He had earned his spurs in his native Romania before heading to Poland and Wisła Kraków, where the Romanian’s British-style training regime yielded a second-placed finish in the Ekstraklasa, but won him no friends among the players; not that he was looking for any.
After receiving the sack he proclaimed: “you will never win anything. I gained this mentality from England. Over there players don’t want to be the friend of the coach. I don’t have any friends at my club.”
Petrescu’s transformation of Unirea from an unfashionable and average lot to league winners owes much to his hands-on approach, so Kuban players beware.
The new season got underway at the weekend, and pick of fixture list was indubitably the Far East derby between SKA-Energiya Khabarovsk and Luch-Energiya Vladivostok, which was held at, naturally, the 80,000-capacity Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, several thousand miles away at the other end of the Trans-Siberian Railway.
“Frigging cold” would be an apposite description of the weather in that remote corner of Asian Russia at present, dictating that the pitch at SKA-Energiya’s Lenin Stadium is unplayable. It means the club must play their opening fixtures elsewhere. Moscow was the obvious choice.
If the RFU (not that rugby lot) were expecting a big crowd on Saturday then they were sorely disappointed, as just 700 made the 8000-odd mile, potentially marriage-wrecking onerous journey to the Russian capital to follow their teams participate in a match that has failed to produce a winner in the pair’s previous two encounters.
Make that three. The game in Moscow ended in a draw, and a 0-0 one at that.
In Kuban there was a slightly better turnout of 10,000 for the visit of the brilliantly named Avangard Kursk on Sunday for Petrescu’s first game, although there was certainly nothing avant-garde about their performance, and his team ran out comfortable 2-0 victors.
The score line doesn’t reflect Kuban’s dominance. Their opponents didn’t manage a shot on target all game and didn’t even win so much as a corner on their trip to Krasnodar. They did manage a red card late on, mind.
From his press conferences it is evident Petrescu is a self-effacing chap, and just as he was after the trouncing of Rangers, humble in victory.
Petrescu attempted to assuage the heady expectations placed upon himself and the team by focusing on Wednesday’s match, a 0-0 draw with Salyut-Energiya Belgorod (are they all called Energiya in the First Division?), whom in Soviet times were known as the Cement Workers. Brilliant!
Their crap website also resembles something from the communist era.
Second place is obviously the aim – or minimum expectation, if past seasons are to go by – and to help him achieve this he’s not recruited anyone from his former employers. That’s perhaps not a surprise though.
However, he will be able to speak Romanian with someone if he does get lonely.
Petrescu has added (among others) his fellow countryman Gheorghe Bucur and three Moldovans to a much-changed squad that is expected to be in the mix for promotion at the ***-end of the season.
He’s purported to be earning €1.5 million a year and his appointment is certainly with one eye on the Premier-Liga.
The difficult part will be consolidating their top flight status, should all go well this year.
NMTB will keep you updated. Or you could always follow his media savvy charges on Twitter!
Right, the blog’s off to enquire about that flight to Krasnodar. It’s twinned with Tallahassee, so there must be something worth seeing...
Hi Mark! Привет! Very interesting article about Kuban Krasnodar and their new coach Dan Petrescu.
I am sport journalist from Russia, live in Anapa (little town near Black Sea) I visit every home game in Krasnodar.
I would like to invite you in Krasnodar to the next home game v Volga (Nyzhny Novgorod) on 29.04. I can help with press-accreditation to this match.
Please, contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
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