Manuel Veth –
Spartak Moscow Champion! The caption could be found on several internet platforms on Sunday evening after Zenit Saint Petersburg were defeated 1-0 by Terek Grozny on matchday 27. Zenit’s defeat leaves them eleven points behind Spartak, and one point behind CSKA Moscow, who were able to jump ahead of them on the table.
The result means that with three games left in the season Spartak have finally overcome the Leonid Fedun curse, not only winning the first title since the owner has taken over the club in 2004, but also their first championship since 2001.
With Spartak returning to the top of Russian football it is time to look back at the Myaso’s season and identify five reasons that brought back the title to Russia’s most beloved club.
Spartak Moscow Champion! Here are the five Reasons why they won the title:
The Italian coach took over from Dmitry Alenichev after Spartak Moscow were eliminated in the third round of Europa League qualification by AEK Larnaca. Initially hired to as Alenichev’s assistant Carrera used his experience of having worked under Antonio Conte at Juventus Turin, and Italian national team, to install a winning mentality at the club.
Often viewed as inexperienced by critical Spartak observers Carrera was able to silence his doubters throughout the season. Spartak performed especially well after setbacks. A defeat against two weeks ago, for example, was followed up with a solid performance against Ural, and then a great game against CSKA Moscow in the city derby.
Under Carrera’s Italian pragmatism Spartak became a solid team in the back and a well-organized team on the attack. In retrospect it is somewhat ironic that the early European exit was the cornerstone for Spartak’s success because it would be hard to imagine the club firing Alenichev should he have qualified for the Europa League group stage.
Leonid Fedun is the second reason for Spartak Moscow’s success. The owner bought the club all the way back in 2004. But while he put the club on solid financial footing, and also built the most modern club stadium in the Russian Federation—giving the club a permanent home for the first time in its history—Spartak struggled on the field.
Fedun in fact fired eleven coaches before he finally settled for Massimo Carrera. But even this year there was fear throughout the season that Fedun could mettle in the club’s affair threatening on field success. But it appeared that Fedun has finally realized that he needs to leave the club’s sporting business to specialists.
Instead of offering advice, or complaining about Carrera’s pragmatic style of football, Fedun was quiet for the most part. The only time he spoke up was to ensure fans that superstar Quincy Promes would remain with the club, and that further investments would be made to see the title challenge through.
Both promises were kept. Promes remained with the club, despite several offers from England, and the club invested into key areas over the winter giving Spartak the depth to see the title challenge through.
Quincy Promes is Spartak Moscow’s key player. The 25-year-old winger is the club’s most prolific player having scored 11 goals, and ten assists. Promes also delivered when it mattered the most.
Against Zenit, for example, Promes supplied the opening goal, and then assisted teammate Aleksandr Samedov on the game-winning goal. Promes also scored the game winner against Orenburg two weeks prior. It was perhaps the most important goal of the season. Spartak were winning the game 3-2, but Orenburg had drawn level, and Spartak were on course of dropping two huge points when Promes won the game in the dying moments of the match.
A quick and versatile winger Promes has shown that he can be a leader both on and off the field, and it will be interesting to see whether Spartak can retain him past the summer. But with Champions League football guaranteed there could be a chance that Promes will stay for one more season.
Spartak Moscow and Zenit Saint Petersburg were the only two clubs to make significant investments in the winter transfer window. The Futbolgrad Network even described the transfers conducted by the two organizations as an arms race. Now in retrospect, it can be said that Spartak made the more astute signings.
Zenit lost Axel Witsel to China and brought in Hernani to replace him on the field, and Branislav Ivanović in the dressing room. Hernani, however, has not yet been able to fill the shoes of the Belgium midfielder, and Ivanović has been too busy adapting to live in Russia.
Spartak in the meantime made some necessary adjustments to the squad. Aleksandr Samedov was signed from Lokomotiv, and the 32-year-old added leadership, and depth up front to the side. Signing Luiz Adriano on a virtually free transfer was also a smart piece of business. The Brazilian, who was previously voted the worst player in the Serie A, easily integrated into the squad thanks to his experience with Shakhtar Donetsk in neighbouring Ukraine. Samedov’s and Adriano’s signings would provide valuable depth when Zé Luís and Lorenzo Melgarejo struggled with fitness.
No Spartak did not bottle it this time. And yes they can rightfully claim the championship. But Zenit and CSKA Moscow will look back at the season and wonder what could have been. CSKA Moscow struggled the first half of the season with on, and off the field, matters, which ultimately resulted in long-serving head coach Leonid Slutsky resigning before the winter break. Viktor Goncharenko then stabilized the squad and was unbeaten in eight matches until he lost to Spartak, which ultimately ended the title challenge.
Zenit in the meantime remains the most expensive team in Russian football. Furthermore, Mircea Lucescu is the most experienced coach in post-Soviet football. But the Romanian may have underestimated the complexities of the Russian Football Premier League. In Ukraine, the title race is a two-horse race, but in Russia, several smaller clubs provide stumbling blocks. It Lucescu also believed that he could ultimately copy Shakhtar’s style in Saint Petersburg, but he not only lacked the players to play Shakhtar’s high-speed football but also failed to adapt his style of the game to the players available to him in the squad.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, social media junior editor at Bundesliga.com, and podcaster for WorldFootballIndex.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.