All posts by Futbolgrad

André Villas-Boas – Six Match Suspension May Provoke Zenit Exit

André Villas-Boas – Six Match Suspension May Provoke Zenit Exit

Zenit Saint Petersburg’s coach André Villas-Boas remains in the spotlight. On August 29 Sport-Express reported that Villas-Boas had asked Zenit’s management to release him from his contract at the end of last season. Then a few days later on August 31 a report from the Italian journalist Gianluca Di Marzio suggested that Zenit had contacted former Borussia Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp about the possibility of coaching the Russian champion.

This report was swiftly denied by Dmitry Zimmermann, the press attaché of the club. Futbolgrad, however, reported on August 31 that the story regarding the possibility of Zenit signing a new coach, spotlights the rift that has developed between the coaching staff, the players, and the upper management.

Zenit’s results this season have been somewhat of a disappointment in that the club currently ranks third in the table, having experienced two spectacular defeats—a 2-0 defeat against FC Krasnodar and a 3-1 home defeat to recently promoted Krylia Sovetov Samara this weekend after which fans booed Villas-Boas and asked for his resignation.

Events that took place in the match between Zenit and Krylia Sovetov are especially indicative of Villas-Boas’ state of mind. With the score 0-1 Villas-Boas clearly had enough of what he believed to be poor refereeing, and in the 33rd minute of the match Villas-Boas got into a shouting match with the third official. Clearly unhappy with the referee’s decisions throughout the match, the referee finally sent Villas-Boas to the stands for violating his coaching zone and for pushing the third official. After being sent off, Villas-Boas repeatedly told the third official in English “it is your job yes, it is your job yes,” and “ wake up”.

A replay shows that the third official tried to calm down Villas-Boas by placing his hand on the coach’s shoulder—to which Villas-Boas reacted by pushing the third official away (take a look at the video and you be the judge). Officials of the Russian Premier League reacted to the incident quickly, and handed Villas-Boas a harsh six-match suspension as they considered his actions an attack on a match official. Furthermore, the head of the disciplinary board of the Russian Football Union (RFU) Arthur Grigor’yants said, “the head coach of the Zenit, André Villas-Boas, according to the regulations, cannot count on lenience, and therefore a reduction of his suspension is not possible. He was punished under direct action, which carries a minimum sentence of six-matches.”

Zenit’s press service has since released an official statement: “For a club, the suspension of its head coach for six matches is definitely a problem. After discussion with the head coach of the club, we will decide on further action.” The ominous nature of this statement is especially apparent when one recalls the recent details that have emerged regarding the current relationship between the club, and the coach.

The well-informed Russian sports commentator Igor Rabiner has even suggested that Villas-Boas could have committed the offense on purpose in order to provoke his exit from the club. Villas-Boas could just resign, but he would only receive his severance package if the club fired him. Since the end of last season there has been a major disagreement over the future of the club between Zenit’s upper management, and André Villas-Boas; the former believe that the club should reach the quarterfinal of the Champions League each year within the current budget, whereas Villas-Boas believes that the club needs additional funds in order to reach that goal.

Rumours have already emerged that Zenit has begun to negotiate the termination of Villas-Boas’ contract. This brings us full circle to the earlier reports that Klopp could soon turn up to enjoy vodka, caviar, and blinis in the city of the white nights—yet that scenario is extremely unlikely. Zenit will most likely try to hire a Russian speaking coach next, with Viktor Goncharenko (who is linked to Rubin Kazan) the most likely candidate to take over from Villas-Boas.

By Manuel Veth –

Jürgen Klopp – Di Marzio Story Unveils Villas-Boas Drama at Zenit

Jürgen Klopp – Di Marzio Story Unveils Villas-Boas Drama at Zenit

The story exploded like a bombshell. According to the Italian football journalist Gianluca Di Marzio, former Borussia Dortmund head coach Jürgen Klopp had been contacted by Zenit Saint Petersburg’s management in order to take over from their current the Portuguese coach André Villas-Boas.

Jürgen Klopp, who stepped down as the head coach of Borussia Dortmund this spring after seven successful years with Dortmund, is widely regarded as the most sought after free agent coach at the moment. Since stepping down at Dortmund, Klopp has been linked with Real Madrid, FC Bayern, and FC Liverpool. Earlier this summer Olympique Marseille, who wanted to hire him as a replacement for Marcelo Bielsa, offered him a contract. This was later confirmed by Klopp’s agent Marc Kosicke “Marseille was very interested, but for Jürgen the time is not yet ripe to start a new chapter in his career.”

Now Di Marzio writes that Zenit has approached Jürgen Klopp, “but that the demands [by Klopp] are high. There is talk of €15 million for him and all the staff.” Not only would that be too much for a club that is currently severely restricted due to Financial Fair Play regulations, but the club still has a coach under contract, and if Zenit were to fire Villas-Boas, terminating his contract would come with a stiff financial penalty.

In fact Zenit has since publically released a statement indicating their continued support to Villas-Boas, and his entire coaching staff. When Sport-Express spoke to Dmitry Zimmermann, press attaché of the club, on the matter, he replied: “what is the source of this information?” After he was told that the source was Gianluca Di Marzio, he responded: “If I am not mistaken, this is the “source”, which in recent months has sparked rumours that our midfielder Axel Witsel could join a leading Italian club? So if that is the case the commentary is fantasy, and not based on facts.”

Meanwhile, the Russian-based sports page ran a story that Villas-Boas could be replaced with the Belarusian coach Viktor Goncharenko, who recently fled Ural Yekaterinburg under mysterious circumstances.

But what will happen to Villas-Boas? The fact is that the Portuguese coach seems to be unhappy at Zenit at the moment, and as Sport-Express reported on August 29 that the coach had asked Zenit’s management to release him from his contract at the end of last season. Zenit had just won their first championship since 2012, but Villas-Boas and club management were in disagreement over the club’s transfer policy. Asked whether he was tired of working for the club Villas-Boas stated: “Talk with the club, we are on the preparation of the team. There are still three days before the completion of the transfer window. If we talk about the resignation, the end of last season was when I asked the club’s permission to leave the post, but they didn’t let me go. And so I continue to fulfill my contract professionally and with absolute dedication.”

Zenit’s results this season have been somewhat of a disappointment as the club currently ranks third in the table, having experienced two spectacular defeats—a 2-0 defeat against FC Krasnodar, and a 3-1 home defeat to recently promoted Krylia Sovetov Samara this weekend after which fans booed Villas-Boas, and asked for his resignation. Also Villas-Boas statement about wanting to leave the club at the end of last season may have already shattered the trust between the coaching staff, the players, and the club management. But Zenit may be forced to wait for Villas-Boas to officially hand in his resignation as the club may not be able to afford to pay the financial penalty that would come along with firing the coach. Therefore, while Jürgen Klopp remains a dream for many Zenit fans, the Financial Fair Play reality of the club means that they may be forced to either carry on with Villas-Boas or hire a cheaper alternative such as Goncharenko to replace him.

By Manuel Veth –

Borussia Dortmund Faces Mkhitaryan Visa Nightmare Before Europa League Match

Borussia Dortmund Faces Mkhitaryan Visa Nightmare Before Europa League Match

Borussia Dortmund’s Europa League draw, which will see Borussia travel to face off FK Krasnodar, FC Qäbälä, and PAOK from Thessaloniki, will provide Borussia with some logistical headaches. As Dortmund defender Mats Hummels commented with a hint of irony “all these clubs are right next door.”

The challenge of planning the logistics of traveling several thousand kilometres from Dortmund, to Krasnodar, Baku (where Qäbälä will play its home games), and Thessaloniki will not be the only problem for Borussia Dortmund. Soon after the draw in fact, Dortmund’s visit to Azerbaijan became the hottest topic of conversation amongst Borussia fans, as the club’s Armenian offensive midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan may be barred from visiting Azerbaijan.

While during this summer’s European Games, Armenian athletes were allowed to attend the games, Mkhitaryan has, in the past, visited Nagorno-Karabakh, and as the Azeri sports page reported on August 28, Mkhitaryan’s visit to Nagorno-Karabakh in 2011, could actually mean that the midfielder may be arrested upon entering Azerbaijan.

Currently both Armenia, and Azerbaijan contest the Nagorno-Karabakh region, where ethnic Azerbaijanis and Armenians had lived side by side for decades before a war sparked off in 1988 as the Soviet Union approached its collapse. Although a ceasefire was negotiated in 1994, the tension has rarely waned as the breakaway republic of Nagorno-Karabakh operates as an Armenian de facto independent enclave in de jure Azerbaijani territory.

Now the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has reached Borussia Dortmund, as there is currently a real possibility that Mkhitaryan may be excluded from Borussia’s squad when the club travels to Azerbaijan on October 22. Dortmund’s spokesperson person Sascha Fligge commented, “[we] hope that this does not happen [Mkhitaryan not gaining a visa]. Henrikh is a super important player for us with his brilliant performances in recent weeks.”

At the same time, Azerbaijan has spent massively in what is often perceived as sport propaganda. Between 2013 and 2015 Atlético Madrid’s shirts carried the “Land of Fire” slogan. The €12 million a season deal included not only the shirt sponsorship, but also saw the Atlético squad travel to Azerbaijan’s capital Baku where they trained young Azerbaijani footballers.

Then in 2013 the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) signed an exclusive sponsorship agreement with UEFA as the Official Sponsor for UEFA’s national team competitions, including the UEFA European Football Championship. SOCAR pays €80 million in the deal that runs over four years. The country also tried to sign sponsorship agreements with two South American teams in 2014—the Argentinian club San Lorenzo, and the Uruguayan club Peñarol from Montevideo were offered deals by the cultural bureau of Azerbaijan. Both clubs, however, turned down the offer due to their close ties to the Armenian communities in Argentina, and Uruguay respectively.

Football is a principal instrument for the country’s marketing effort. If oil and gas are the stick, then football is the carrot that Azerbaijan is using as a powerful marketing tool to paint over difficult issues such as human rights abuses at home. Also significant is the fact that Azerbaijan is an important trading partner for Germany; the country is both a transit country for gas from Turkmenistan and also an oil exporter to the European Union—especially to Germany. In light of these facts, the German government has been especially inhibited in addressing human rights abuses in the country.

It will consequently be interesting to see how Azerbaijan will handle this situation. The Azerbaijani football expert Arif Asadov has pointed out somewhat cynically that that in the recent European Games that took place in Baku, Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev “showed with a gesture that sport and politics should not mix” (during an awards ceremony Aliyev motioned to the audience not to boo the Ukrainian-Armenian athlete Gevorg Manukyan, who had won a gold medal in boxing). If Mkhitaryan is indeed denied access to the country, it could result in much unwanted negative attention for a country extremely interested in using sport to exhibit a positive image of Azerbaijan to the world.

By Manuel Veth –