Leonid Slutsky and a new beginning for CSKA Moscow

Leonid Slutsky and a new beginning for CSKA Moscow

Manuel Veth –

For Leonid Slutsky, the writing has been on the wall for a while now. With CSKA Moscow struggling in the Russian Football Premier League and also failing to reach a top two spot in the UEFA Champions League group stage, CSKA have had a disappointing fall at the very least.

On Thursday, the Russian sport page, championat.com, reported that Slutsky was tired of the job, and that he was going to resign following the match against Tottenham Hotspur on matchday 6 of the Champions League—which is CSKA Moscow’s last match before the three month long winter break. According to championat.com, Slutsky has already reserved a table at a restaurant in London to say goodbye to his players.

Slutsky himself has not confirmed these rumours and, following Wednesday’s 2-0 victory against FC Orenburg, Slutsky refused to comment on any rumours regarding his resignation. The same was true for CSKA’s sporting director, Roman Babaev, who told Sport-Express, “I do not want to comment on those rumours. Perhaps ask those who reported such information.”

 Leonid Slutsky’s resignation has neither been denied nor confirmed…

Now at this point, it needs to be pointed out that the Russian media likes to jump to early conclusions, and that Slutsky’s departure is not set in stone at the moment. But there certainly are indicators that the coach could indeed leave the club during the winter in order to open the door for a rebuild. Furthermore, Futbolgrad has learned Leonid Slutsky has already asked the club to be relieved of his coaching duties after the European Championships, and then again during the fall. Both times CSKA’s management was able to convince the coach to stay on, but it appears that Slutsky once again has asked the club to allow him to resign.

In seven years with CSKA Leonid Slutsky has won three Russian titles, and two Russian cups - Image by Dmitrii Golubovich CC-BY-SA-3.0

In seven years with CSKA Leonid Slutsky has won three Russian titles, and two Russian cups – Image by Dmitrii Golubovich CC-BY-SA-3.0

Slutsky has now been with the club for seven years and, in that period, has won three Russian Football Premier League titles, two Russian Cups, and two Russian Super Cups. Slutsky has coached the club in 300 games, and has a win percentage of around 55%.

There is, therefore, no doubt that Slutsky deserves both respect and the time to rebuild the squad if he choses to go down that road. In some regard, neither were granted to him during the fall by the so-called hard-core fans of CSKA Moscow, who have criticized his style of football and also have hit him hard for his connection with the Jewish cultural centre in Moscow.

The disgusting attack on Slutsky’s participation in the advertisement for the Jewish cultural centre in Moscow, especially, must have had a deep impact on the coach. Slutsky was born in Volgograd to a Russian Jewish family, and the attack, in particular, must have caused a deep sense of despair after he had brought so much success to the club.

Leonid Slutsky is tired of coaching at CSKA Moscow

It would explain the supposed statement to championat.com that Slutsky feels tired. In some ways, CSKA’s football has reflected this exhaustion this season, with the club delivering lacklustre results, and even with the 2-0 victory over Orenburg CSKA have won just three out of their last ten matches, and are five points behind second placed Zenit, and eight points behind Spartak Moscow, who have one game in hand.

Slutsky, in fact, already seemed tired after the European Championships in France where he coached the Russian national team. The Sbornaya put in a miserable performance, and the coach seemed drained after the tournament. The short summer break then meant that Slutsky had little time to regain much needed mental energy for what is a rigorous job.


In the spring, Slutsky won his third Russian championship with CSKA Moscow but, in truth, his side needed new blood, as the club’s success was more down to the fact that serious opposition never materialized in the league last season, especially as Zenit Saint Petersburg had a lack lustre campaign themselves.

Things are different this season, as Spartak Moscow are putting in a serious title challenge, and Zenit have greatly improved in the league since signing Mircea Lucescu. CSKA Moscow, in the meantime, struggle with an aging defence, and with the fact that they never found a proper replacement for Ahmed Musa and Seydou Doumbia up front during the summer transfer window.

The only significant signing has been Lacina Traoré, but the tall forward does not fit Slutsky’s playing style at all, and might indeed on his way back to AS Monaco during the winter transfer window. Instead, Slutsky has played the talented Fedor Chalov, and Aleksandr Golovin up front, in what have been Slutsky’s first forays into bringing up young talented players from the youth side.

Slutsky has been reluctant to bring in players from the academy since taking over seven years ago. He got away with it because, when he started to coach seven years ago, CSKA’s core was in their prime and, together with smart new signings, was poised to be a force in Russian football for quite some time.

The core, however, is far beyond their zenith, or has left the club. In the meantime, CSKA’s U-19 side is dominating the UEFA Youth League where they are first in their group, having won four out of five of their group stage matches in a group that includes the prolific academies of Bayer Leverkusen, AS Monaco, and Tottenham Hotspur.

With or without Leonid Slutsky – CSKA Moscow need to rebuild from within

In addition to Chalov, who has scored five goals in four matches in the Youth League, the U-19 squad also includes the likes of Timur Zhamaletdinov, who has scored five times in five matches, and was included in the Guardian 40 of the Best Young Talents in the World Football list in 2014. Other talented players include the defenders Mutalip Alibekov, Aleksandr Volkov, Ivan Maklahov, and midfielders Astemir Gordyushenko, and Konstantin Kuchaev.

As we explained on Episode 3 of the Futbolgrad Podcast the talent is available to restock CSKA from within, and Chalov seemed to be the first player to have made the transition from that side to the senior squad. The main question, however, is whether Slutsky has the energy to rebuild the squad from within?

Leonid Slutsky - CSKA Moscow's U-19 side has done very well in the UEFA Youth League

CSKA Moscow’s U-19 side has done very well in the UEFA Youth League

Sport-Express has speculated that the U-19 coach Aleksandr Grishin is amongst the candidates being considered to take over from Slutsky, if the head coach choses to retire. Grishin has worked at CSKA Moscow since 2009, and could indeed be a logical successor for Slutsky, as he is not only familiar with the club, but also has a good handle on the talent available at CSKA’s youth side and, more importantly, the coach has expressed a willingness to take over the position: “If Evgenii Giner [the owner of the club] calls I will be ready.”

Once again, Leonid Slutsky’s departure has not been confirmed either by the club or the coach, yet it is telling that they did not deny it either and, regardless, CSKA Moscow will be looking to make drastic changes to the squad, and the structure of the club during the long three month winter break…

Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and a writer for Bundesliga.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 @homosovieticus.