Unravelling the enigma of football in the post-Soviet republics
It may have been back in January that Ruud Gullit was appointed Terek Grozny manager, but even before the kick off of their 1-0 defeat to Zenit St Petersburg yesterday, Never Mind the Bolsheviks was still pinching itself to make sure this hadn’t all been some kind of very weird dream and that it really was Mr Sexy Football in the home dugout at the Sultan Bilimkhanov Stadium.
The Dutchman’s appointment came completely out of the blue.
Said the 1987 Ballon d’Or winner upon his arrival in Chechnya: “Does it seem awful to me? No, I've been in more awful, dangerous and impoverished regions.”
Well, he has been in charge of both Chelsea and Newcastle, so the chances are he’s been to Hull at least once during his time in England.
But after all the hype, the talk of a European spot, and that bonkers exhibition match against a team of veteran Brazilians (which Gullit himself played in), yesterday was when it all began to get serious. And like so many things that enjoy such a monumental build-up, it was a bit of a damp squib, really.
Terek improved as the match went on against the champions, it must be said, but they played a high line in the first half, looking susceptible to the visitors’ counterattacks, and were caught out in the 14th minute when Danny popped up unmarked on the left to cross for Danko Lazović to tap into the empty net. Zenit deservedly led at half-time.
The Chechens finished 11 places and 35 points behind Zenit last season, but Gullit can take some positives from yesterday, especially the second half, albeit in a game which was by no means a cracker; the early rounds rarely are in Russia though.
Terek had more of the ball after the break and certainly things were being played more in Zenit’s half. They were lacking something in the final third it seemed though, even after Rodrigo Tiuí and Musawengosi Mguni’s introduction.
How they could have done with Diego Forlan, or that mystery, English-based forward “among the top 10 strikers in the world" that Terek’s vice-president Khaydar Alkhanov spoke of not long after Gullit’s appointment.
Maybe he should plump for sticking club and Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov as a big, burly target man up top (with everything that’s happened, it wouldn’t be that much of a surprise if Gullit did), even if his performance against Brazil 2002 for Team Grozny wasn't the best. Only an idiot would even think about scything down the former rebel fighter.
For Christ’s sake don’t let him take the penalties though...
It’s going to be interesting to see how Gullit fares in the Premier League, as generally foreign managers find it tough taking charge of any team, even the big ones, and he’ll experience a huge culture shock in Russia, not least Grozny, where it’s hard to attract top players.
That is perhaps the logic behind the Dutchman’s appointment, and the spondoolies provided by Bulat Chagaev, a Swiss-based Chechen, might help snare a few more big names.
You just have to look at Roberto Carlos’ transfer to Anzhi Makhachkala to see the calibre of Brazilians who’ve followed him.
Gullit missed out on his marquee signing, however. Anderlect’s Mbark Boussoufa seemed a done deal, Terek had even posted details on their website, but Gullit later said after the midfielder joined Bobby Carlos and co. in Dagestan: “he wanted 25 business class plane tickets, and four bodyguards.”
With billionaire Suleyman Kerimov's arrival at Anzhi and their subsequent transfers, including the talented Uzbek international Odil Akhmetov, you’d perhaps fancy them to sneak a spot in the top eight when the 16-team league splits in half after 30 games if everything clicks into place, rather than the Chechens.
But Terek have some good players and Gullit was given the proverbial “thumbs-up” by Zenit boss Luciano Spalletti after yesterday’s game.Grozny is a tough place to go for visiting teams, and were it not for a dismal end to the season, they’d have finished higher than the 12th place they did in 2010.
Whatever happens, Gullit’s already gone one better than his predecessor, Victor Muñoz, who didn’t even set foot in Russia.
Terek announced the Spaniard would be taking charge in December (again on their website), but when it came to signing on the dotted line a few weeks later, the former Getafe manager claimed the Chechens had moved the goalposts and hopped it.
It was a tough start for Ruud, and it doesn’t get much easier next weekend either. It’s a trip to Kazan to face defensively-minded Rubin this coming Sunday.
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