Spartak Moscow – Europa League Failure and Alenichev Chaos

Spartak Moscow – Europa League Failure and Alenichev Chaos

Manuel Veth –

Spartak Moscow under the leadership of Dmitry Alenichev was poised to make the next step in the club’s development, which was to return to the very top of the Russian Football Premier League. Last season Spartak managed to clinch a Europa League spot on the last day of the season, and some believed that it was the final day of the season that saved Alenichev’s job.

Despite many promising signs Spartak’s 2015-16 season was marred by inconsistency. Yet there was also plenty of promise and hope that Spartak’s return to European football could spark a renaissance at the club. Furthermore, Spartak’s owner, the billionaire, Leonid Fedun, seemed to have resisted the urge to once again change managers in the summer.

Carrera was hired to support Alenichev

Instead the club hired the experienced Italian assistant manager Massimo Carrera, who has worked closely with now Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, to help Alenichev improve Spartak’s tactical game. Carrera for example was understood to be the mastermind behind Italy’s victory over Spain at the European Championships in France, and the Russian media termed the arrival of Carrera as Spartak’s most important transfer.

Indeed Spartak’s early results this season indicated that Alenichev and Carrera were on the right path. Spartak had to travel to Cyprus to open the season against the Cypriot club AEK Larnaca. It was understood that Spartak’s management would approach the game against the Cypriots with caution, as this was the first official match of the season, and Spartak also opened the Russian Football Premier League (RFPL) season just three days later.

AEK Larnaca vs Spartak Moscow

Spartak Moscow drew AEK Larnaca in Cyprus on July 28 1-1

Spartak’s game on Cyprus on July 28 was indeed cautious, and the Russians managed a 1:1 draw, which at the time was considered an excellent result. Then on July 31 Spartak opened the RFPL season against Arsenal Tula with an impressive 4-0 victory.

At that moment Alenichev and Carrera seemed to have found the right balance between the Europa League match on Thursday and the RFPL match on Sunday. Furthermore, Spartak was in the driver’s seat for the return match against Larnaca, as the Russians held the away goal.

Alenichev – Football can be cruel sport

But football can be a cruel sport, as Spartak Moscow seemed to be in control against the Cypriots, but the Russians failed to score. At the same time a 0-0 tie would have been enough to see the Muscovites go through on the away goal rule. Then in the 89th minute, however, Larnaca’s striker Ivan Trickovski broke through Spartak’s defence and slotted the ball underneath Spartak keeper Artem Rebrov’s body.

Alenichev has now departed Spartak Moscow - Picture by FBilula CC-BY-SA-3.0

Alenichev has now departed Spartak Moscow – Picture by FBilula CC-BY-SA-3.0

Larnaca had eliminated Spartak Moscow from the UEFA Europa League, and within just a couple days the Spartak would once again go into self-destruction mode. On August 6, just two days after, what has been perceived as an utter debacle, Spartak fired manager Alenichev, and promoted Carrera as the interim manager of the club.

Within hours of Alenichev’s departure, however, news broke that Rostov’s manager Kurban Berdyev had resigned. Sport-Express wrote that Berdyev told his players that he made his decision because of Rostov’s mounting debts. The newspaper, however, also wrote that Berdyev was spotted in Moscow, where he was believed to have met Spartak’s management.

Berdyev – Spartak or Russia

The timing of Berdyev’s decision to leave Rostov raised some eyebrows in Russia, however. Throughout the summer the Turkmen manager had put pressure on Rostov’s management to sort out the club’s financial problems, therefore guaranteeing signings that would allow him to compete in the RFPL, and in Europe.

While it is understood that Rostov’s finances are still precarious the club seemed to be at least able to control their financial problems enough to be allowed to start in the UEFA Champions League. Indeed the club managed to eliminate the Belgium club RSC Anderlecht in the third qualification round, and now has the chance to reach the group stage through the playoffs when the club faces the Dutch Eredivisie club Ajax Amsterdam in the end of August.

Reaching the group stage of the Champions League would have given the club further financial freedom, and Berdyev the chance to further strengthen the club. Furthermore, Rostov also started the season with a victory against newly promoted FC Orenburg.

Now within hours of Alenichev’s departure at Spartak, Berdyev resigned at Rostov, which led to the obvious suggestion by the Russian media that Berdyev will sign for Spartak as soon as tomorrow—his presence in Moscow was further evidence.

Berdyev, however, has already stated that he has not yet signed a contract with Spartak Moscow. On the other hand Rostov’s shadow owner Ivan Savvidis—the oligarch owns the Greek club PAOK, but has also financed Rostov in recent years without being listed as the owner of the club—has told that Berdyev is indeed headed to Spartak.

Can Berdyev, if he decides to take the job, steady the Spartak ship - Image by RIA Novosti archive, image #519269 / Maksim Bogodvid / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Can Berdyev, if he decides to take the job, steady the Spartak ship – Image by RIA Novosti archive, image #519269 / Maksim Bogodvid / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Russia’s Minister of Sport, and president of the Russian Football Union (RFU), Vitaly Mutko, however, has told that Berdyev also has an offer to coach the Russian national team. “Berdyev has an offer from Spartak Moscow, and from the RFU to coach the Sbornaya, and he will make a decision on Monday to coach one or the other.”

Can Berdyev steady the Spartak ship?

Hence, Spartak’s dismissal of Alenichev could have a wider impact on Russian football, as Rostov are now without a coach, and the RFU would have to once again begin their search for a new national team manager from scratch.

Of course it is also possible, but highly unlikely, that Berdyev could chose the RFU over coaching Spartak Moscow. After all the red and white from the capital have not exactly been a symbol for coaching stability since the oil magnate Leonid Fedun took over the club in 2004. Furthermore, Spartak, who are still reining record champion in Russia with nine Russian championships, haven’t won a trophy since Fedun took over the club 12 years ago. Apparently the owner believed that after the early Europa League departure Alenichev was no longer the right man to end the club’s title drought.

Now Berdyev—or another manager, possibly Carrera—will attempt to steady the Spartak ship. Yet the constant management changes at Spartak have been the only constant since Fedun took over the club, which begs the question whether anyone could return the club to its glory days, as long as the trigger-happy Fedun remains in control.

Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London. His thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, and will be available 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.