Unravelling the enigma of football in the post-Soviet republics
Well, the only way is up for whoever succeeds Valery Karpin as manager of Spartak Moscow.
Shortly after the 42-year-old tendered his resignation to the club’s board on Monday afternoon, Tom Tomsk recorded their first win of the new season away at Spartak Nalchik, allowing Valeri Nepomniachi’s side to leapfrog the Muscovites and send Russia’s most successful, most popular team to the bottom of the Premier League table after five rounds of matches.
Karpin joined “the people’s club” as director general in 2008, a role which he combined with that of manager after Michael Laudrup’s dismal reign was brought to an end the following year, in spite of having no previous coaching experience. He will now return to his director general position.
"It was decided to look for a new coach. That is a job for the general director, and I will do that now,” Karpin said yesterday. “I was ready to leave the post anyway, but the board would not consider it."
Initially the signs were good for Karpin and Spartak, who finished the 2009 season in second place and followed that up with a quarterfinal appearance in the Champions League the following year.
Finally, it seemed for Spartak’s fans, that decade-long wait for a league title was over.
There’s been a grim inevitability to all this for some time now though, even before that 4-0 defeat to Rostov on the opening day of the season.
The deficiencies of Spartak’s game, especially in defence, were on display for all to see last season as the club finished outside of the Champions League places, while four points from five games this campaign suggested they wouldn't be making a return to the top three any time soon unless there was a change.
Karpin pointed out recently they were the only Russian club to reach the quarterfinals of the Europa League, but they were humbled 10-3 on aggregate by Porto.
After the first leg, Aiden McGeady admitted “nobody was playing as a team”; Karpin gave himself three games to turn things round.
There were just 8,000 fans inside the Luzhniki Stadium to see a dour 0-0 draw with Ruud Gullit’s Terek Grozny – a side hardly pulling up trees in the Premier League themselves – then the 5-2 defeat to Porto in Moscow followed.
At the weekend Anzhi Makhachkala, Roberto Carlos’ new club, recorded their first ever win over Spartak, prompting his resignation, but Karpin will be on the bench for tonight’s cup match against Krasnodar while the search for a new manager continues.
For some time now Spartak have been as predictable as a fruit machine, while having weaknesses at the back and in midfield which he has failed to adequately address.
Certainly in attack he has the personnel to harm teams. McGeady had a superb first season in Russia and the creative Brazilian midfielder Alex is key for them, likewise his fellow countryman Welliton (below) – a striker who’s been free-scoring for the past two seasons - but a heel injury has seen the goals dry up, piling the pressure on Karpin.
He also has at his disposal talented youngsters like Jano Aninidze and Emin Makhmudov.
The Brazilian Ibson shields the backline, but they lack presence in the midfield, someone alongside him who can roll up their sleeves and do the dirty work, which in turn then leaves a porous back four exposed.
Soslan Dzhanaev lost his place in goal to the Ukrainian Andriy Dykan last season and that seemed to steady the ship at first, though Spartak have become infuriatingly inconsistent.
Claudio Ranieri’s name was mentioned a while back as a possible successor to Karpin. But Spartak have had their fingers burnt in the past employing foreign managers, and the difficulty those from outside of the region face in attempting to succeed in the Premier League could lead Leonid Fedun, the club’s chairman, to opt for a Russian.
Indeed, Sovetsky Sport yesterday claimed Andrey Kobelev, who managed Dinamo Moskva from 2006 until last year, will succeed Karpin.
Things are viewed through the prism of history at Spartak, who won 12 league titles in the Soviet era and nine more after the dissolution of the USSR, but the last of them came in 2001 and the club haven't won a major honour since 2003.
The fans covet success, but there’s a need for stability and to bring in someone for the long term to arrest this slide; the two aren’t always easy to balance out though.
For Spartak, it’s imperative Fedun gets this next appointment right.
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