Unravelling the enigma of football in the post-Soviet republics
Somehow, it was fitting that Ruud Gullit's Russian adventure should end with a calamitous own goal. Sergei Omelyanchuk’s header past Terek Grozny goalkeeper Soslan Dzhanaev in the last minute condemned the Chechens to defeat at Amkar Perm, sealing the dismissal of the two-time World Player of the Year just 13 matches into an 18-month contract.
"I don't think it would have mattered if I had won or lost” said Gullit, who was given a one-game ultimatum in a pretty damning statement made available to all and sundry on the club’s official website earlier in the week.
He was right.
His team have been hugely disappointing this season and their performances have fallen far short of the mark set by both the club and Ramzan Kadyrov, who happily combines being president of Terek Grozny with being president of Chechnya, an autonomous republic within Russia.
Kadyrov has lofty ambitions of turning Terek into a genuine force in Russian football, and Gullit hardly did himself any favours with a contentious interview that appeared in the Daily Mail last week: talk of “money and adventure” will have riled the Terek hierarchy.
Much pomp and fanfare greeted the 48-year-old’s arrival in January, with a new 30,000-seater stadium in the offing and wealthy Swiss-based Chechen businessman Bulat Chagaev on board, Kadyrov had hoped Gullit would be the final piece in his grand plan and the preseason talk was of Terek, who finished 12th in 2010, qualifying for Europe.
Kadyrov unveils Gullit
And what Kadyrov wants, he usually gets; he doesn’t take kindly to failure. But after a slow start Terek haven't made it out of the bottom half of the 16-team division, which splits in two after 30 games for another round as Russia’s football calendar comes into line with the major European leagues. Gullit leaves the club in a lowly 14th, a solitary point and place above the relegation zone.
What makes Terek’s plight worse is the rise of Anzhi Makhachkala from Dagestan. The signing of Roberto Carlos kick-started the revolution for Gadzhi Gadzhiev’s side, who have made some impressive purchases and most recently announced they had agreed a deal to buy PSV Eindhoven’s Balázs Dzsudzsák. Anzhi are currently fourth, three points off the league leaders CSKA Moscow.
It’s debatable even if he had been given time to rectify matters that Gullit would be capable of doing so. It's far from unfair to say that as a manager he hasn’t lived up to the reputation he earned as a player, yet what made Gullit appealing to Kadyrov and Terek was the association of a big name with the Chechens.
Football is used as something of a normalisation tool in the troubled north Caucasus region and the president was looking to enhance the image of the republic in this post-war era, not to mention his own standing. There's the new Akhmat-Arena stadium and those two farcical high-profile inaugural friendlies, one against a Brazilian XI and another against a side comprised of some of the game’s golden oldies like Diego Maradona and Luís Figol; Kadyrov himself took centre stage in both.
Kadyrov v Costacurta. No, really
The appointment of a star like Gullit, as opposed to a Russian, was also with an eye on attracting a better calibre of player. It isn't easy for a foreigner to succeed in the Russian Premier League, not even at one of the big clubs, let alone attempting to oversee the revolution of a team like Terek and there was only one way Gullit’s arrival in Russia was ever really going to end.
The Daily Mail interview doubtless speeded up his exit, though. “We don't have a training ground,” he revealed. “We train in someone else's stadium or practise on two really bad pitches. There's a guy who lives in a cabin there and he sort of looks after them. We have some facilities. We are knocking down walls to build a gym. The lack of everything was a shock but you get on with it and they appreciated the fact I didn't moan about it.”
This is hardly the image Kadyrov is striving to project to the outside world.
“I've brought in two players but I was promised three others: Diego Forlan, Madjid Bougherra and Mbark Boussoufa but they never arrived. It was a huge disappointment.”
Terek hit back on Monday, days after the club were hammered 4-2 at home to CSKA, accusing Gullit of making “untruthful statements” in a strongly-worded piece that tore shreds off their manager. Kadyrov was reported as being “extremely dissatisfied with Ruud Gullit's approach to his duties.”
“Instead of rolling up his sleeves to work, given the standings, he is thinking about bars and discos," the club said, while defending life in Chechnya. "Yes, we do not have drug abuse or indecent nightlife institutions, which are aplenty in Holland and Europe... but in Grozny there are all the conditions for people with a healthy lifestyle." They criticised Gullit, saying he had “no basic understanding of his players or his line-up” and that “Terek has never looked so hopeless before."
Even had they recorded a convincing win against Amkar, such was the climate at the club that their differences were irreconcilable and he would sooner rather than later be shown the door.
So what next for Terek and Gullit? A native coach would certainly make more sense for Terek, someone familiar with Russian football and its inner workings, even he isn't the “big name” the club covet.
Gullit wanted an adventure and he certainly got that, but he hasn’t come out of his brief time in Russia well. It’s another blot on his CV and you do wonder where he’ll end up next.
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