Saul Pope –
Kuban Stadium (capacity 31,654) / Krasnodar Stadium (33,000, close to completion)
Krasnodar Europa League Preview Club Details
When Zenit Saint Petersburg won the UEFA Cup in 2008 FC Krasnodar had only just played their first official match; they were in Russia’s third tier, having only just been granted professional status. The rise from this to Russian title challengers and Europa League regulars in the space of just a few years is quite remarkable, but Krasnodar are no ordinary club. Astute owner Sergey Galitsky has established a firm network of youth academies across their region, has stayed within the boundaries of Financial Fair Play restrictions with sensible—and at times allegedly less than entirely honest—business practices, and has engaged with fans by offering visiting fans free tickets in exchange for good behaviour.
— FCKrasnodar (@FCKrasnodar) September 6, 2016
Their rise owes more than a bit to good fortune. Both promotions to the top tier were by default, after higher clubs couldn’t meet the necessary financial requirements to gain a license to continue, but their rapid progress since suggests it would only have been a matter of time before they earned it themselves. While they currently share a home with city rivals Kuban, their impressive own stadium is due for completion imminently.
At Krasnodar there is a long-term aim of producing a first eleven made up entirely of academy graduates. The club is not quite there yet, however, as the club is doing by fixing fixing broken toys—it regularly gets the best out of those that have been written off elsewhere. Of the current squad Fedor Smolov, Dmitry Torbinsky, Marat Izmailov and Vladimir Bystrov all slot into that category.
Krasnodar also has an astuteness for good signings not seen at many other clubs. Brazilians Joãozinho, Ari and Wanderson have all become solid, valuable performers rather than fly-by-night foreign imports; the former has recently taken Russian citizenship, which means he no longer counts as a foreign player. The signing of young goalkeeper Stanislav Kritsyuk from Braga is also seen as a masterstroke—many tip him to one day replace Igor Akinfeev as Russia’s number one.
Having said all that, Krasnodar have started the season slowly. In their two main challenges so far (against Spartak Moscow and Lokomotiv Moscow) they have fallen short, and have looked tired towards the end of games. This isn’t the first time that has happened, though—Krasnodar do tend to start slowly and pick up later, and will still expect to be occupying one of the top few places come the end of the season.
Know your Oligarch:
Sergey Galitsky is the owner and founder of Russia’s largest retailer Magnit, the Armenian-born entrepreneur has a unique style of operating. He is individual enough to not follow conventional paths, but clever enough to know when to tow the line. Worth an estimated $8.3 billion according to Forbes, he has so far resisted the urge to simply throw money at big name signings.
To his credit, Galitskiy is building a club structure rather than a first eleven—an approach that has won him many fans in a country where there is an unfortunate tendency for the rich to invest in a club, get disappointed after a season or two when things don’t work out and then walk away.
Having got to the group stage fairly comfortably, Krasnodar now find themselves in a tricky group with three ‘names’. Gazprom-sponsored FC Schalke 04 are rated by Forbes as being the twelfth richest club in the world and have previously won this tournament. More used to the Champions League in recent seasons, they were nevertheless comfortably beaten in the 2015-16 Europa League Round of 32 by Shakhtar Donetsk.
— FC Red Bull Salzburg (@RedBullSalzburg) September 2, 2016
FC Red Bull Salzburg were narrowly knocked out of Champions League qualifying in the play-offs, and have plenty of recent European experience—they usually get out of their Europa League group. OGC Nice have less recent pedigree in this competition, but performed well last season in France and have recently seen investment from an ambitious Chinese-American consortium. It will be interesting to see whether Nice’s experienced coach Lucien Favre can finally stabilize Mario Balotelli’s career.
What to expect:
None of the opponents will be relishing the trip to Russia, though winter conditions in southern Krasnodar compare favourably to either Moscow or Saint Petersburg. There will also be very good crowds in Krasnodar, who will be especially enthusiastic about the new stadium.
The two fixtures against Salzburg will probably be the key ones that determine whether Krasnodar get through the group in second or not. If Krasnodar don’t qualify, there will be no dramatic changes. It will be seen as a lesson learned and the club will focus on finishing as high as possible in Russia, which is in keeping with the stable, rational way in which the club is run.
Futbolgrad Prediction: 2nd
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Saul Pope has been following Russian football since the mid nineties, and first saw a live game in 1998 (Zenit St. Petersburg vs Shinnik Yaroslavl’). He has been contributing to When Saturday Comes magazine for over a decade, with a particular focus on social, economic and political issues surrounding the game in Russia and, to a lesser extent, Ukraine. He has a particular passion for teams in and around St. Petersburg. A fluent Russian speaker, he graduated from the University of Surrey with a Master’s degree in the language. He lives in the UK, but travels back to Russia on a regular basis. You can follow Saul on Twitter @SaulPope.