Manuel Veth –
Yesterday Saul Pope published an article on Futbolgrad in which he outlined five reasons why Spartak have not won the league yet. As I mentioned on Episode 4 of the Futbolgrad Podcast I believe that the title is Spartak’s to lose at this point.
As an avid follower of the Russian Football Premier League (although, unlike Saul, I am relatively neutral) for quite some time now I, of course, realize that Spartak have a self destructive streak and that there is, therefore, a chance that the club could, once again, lose its head and give away a significant lead on top of the table.
But Spartak fans take a deep breath, because here are five good reasons why Spartak have enough to secure the title at the end of the season.
Massimo Carrera has already overcome adversity
Saul is absolutely right that managing a club in Russia can be extremely difficult, but he has already, on two occasions this season, shown that he can overcome adversity. First, there was the period immediately after he took the job from Dmitriy Alenichev when the club negotiated with FC Rostov’s head coach, Kurban Berdyev, but could not come to terms with the coach from Turkmenistan.
Berdyev was adamant that he wanted to bring in his own coaching team, and Carrera must have been aware, during the negotiations, that he would be without a job if Berdyev signed. So, instead, he convinced management that he was the right man for the job.
Then on matchday 16, Spartak was heavily defeated 4-0 by relegation candidate Krylia Sovetov Samara, and those who know Spartak well must have felt that this could truly unhinge the club. But instead, Carrera rallied his troops, and Spartak won on matchday 17 2-1 against a strong Rubin Kazan side, which means that Spartak will go into the winter break with a rather comfortable five point lead.
Finally, Carrera has worked for many years in Italy where many clubs are run similarly to clubs in Russia, and he will, therefore, have the experience to handle the sometimes erratic behaviour of Russian ownership groups.
The Winter Break could actually help Spartak Moscow
Saul, of course, is right, Massimo Carrera does not have experience with the winter break yet. But, in fact, Spartak will likely add to depth in the squad over the winter. Furthermore, rumours about Quincy Promes leaving the club seem premature, as oligarch, Leonid Fedun, is adamant that Promes will remain with the club until the summer—as mentioned on our latest Futbolgrad Podcast the €50 million price tag will make a move in the winter extremely unlikely.
Saul is again right that transfer rumours could be a problem but, thus far, it has been very quiet, and transfer rumours coming from Turkey—where Serdar Tasci and Salvatore Boccetti have been linked with moves to the Süper Lig—cannot be taken seriously.
Furthermore, Carrera is understood to be the main force behind signing Fernando in the summer break, and it would not be a surprise if the Italian used his extensive network to bring in additional players who could stabilize the squad.
Carrera’s record thus far has been outstanding
Once more, Saul has a point that Carrera has very little experience, as head coach. At the same time, Carrera has, for a long time, worked together with Antonio Conte. In fact, Carrera was deemed the tactical brain behind Italy’s run to the quarterfinals at Euro 2016. He has, therefore, demonstrated that he can get the most out of a squad no matter what the circumstances.
Furthermore, Carrera has an outstanding record as a head coach. At Juventus he took over briefly in 2012 as Conte’s replacement. His record? In ten games he won seven, and drew three with a goal differential 24-9, and a win record of 70%. Now, at Spartak, Carrera has been in charge for 17 games, winning 12 games, drawing 1, and losing four with a goal differential 22-14, and a win record of 70.59%.
Of course there has been talk that Alenichev was somewhat responsible for Spartak’s season. But, having seen Spartak a few times last season, I am not convinced that there is truth to this. Carrera was considered Spartak’s most important signing in the summer and, in fact, it was probably Carrera’s work during the summer that stabilized Spartak going forward.
The opposition is too inconsistent
Spartak are currently five points ahead of Zenit Saint Petersburg, and eight points ahead of CSKA Moscow. The other favourite to the title, Krasnodar, are now twelve points behind Spartak, and might also lose Fedor Smolov to Borussia Dortmund in the winter break.
Realistically, only Zenit and CSKA can, therefore, push Spartak of the top of the table, but CSKA have recently lost head coach, Leonid Slutsky, and the Red Army club will likely look to rebuild the squad in the winter break by focusing on several younger players from the youth academy. Hence, CSKA will likely finish in the top five, but will have little to do with the title race in the second half of the season.
This leaves just Zenit as a potential party spoiler for Spartak. Saul is certainly right that Zenit could make major investments in the winter break, but Spartak will likely do the same. In fact, Zenit still have to comply with Financial Fair Play regulations, which severely limits the investments the club can make in the winter break.
Furthermore, like Carrera, Zenit have a coach who is not yet used to the Russian Football Premier League. It is true that Mircea Lucescu has coached in Ukraine, and that the two competitions are similar in that they both have a long winter break. But, in Ukraine, he coached a club that had by far the biggest budget and the best players, which allowed his club to dominate the competition without having any real opposition.
In fact, in his last two seasons, Shakhtar struggled with inconsistency and, of course, some of that was due to the club playing in exile. Lucescu, however, also has to take some of the blame, as current Shakhtar coach, Paulo Fonseca, is getting the maximum out of the same squad and is dominating the league without any problems, despite having to deal with the same problems that Lucescu had to deal with.
Lucescu has, in many ways, brought the problem of inconsistency with him to Zenit. In the last ten matches before the winter break, Zenit won just five out of their last ten matches.
Lucescu’s conspiracy theories seem to be hurting his club
This last point has apparently has already caused discontent at Zenit, as Lucescu tends to blame the referees for defeats. This was a strategy he also applied to a great extent at Shakhtar Donetsk during his last two seasons there.
Lucescu often saw conspiracy theories where there were none, and this has now continued at Zenit. I have learned this has led to voices within the club wondering whether the Romanian is the right man for the job.
It seems that the heads of Gazprom, in particular, are not amused by Lucescu’s statements, and there have even been rumours that Slutsky could take over from the Romanian in the winter—although I personally believe those rumours are nonsense.
I was, therefore, curious about Saul’s statement that there was discontent at Spartak Moscow. I am not saying that I do not believe it, it is just that this is the first I have heard of it. That said, Spartak always have the potential to self-destruct, so this would not be a big surprise. But from my own observations, Zenit seem to be the more likely of the two to experience a front office meltdown at this point.
Do I believe that Spartak have won the title already? Of course not, as Carrera will have to prove that he is for real. But with all the other top clubs struggling, and with Carrera already having shown that he can get positive responses from his players after hefty defeats, the Italian coach could indeed be the man who could end Spartak’s title draught.
The key component for this, of course, will be to hold on to the likes of Promes in the winter, which seems very likely, and a perfect winter training camp. But with owner, Fedun, and sponsor, Lukoil willing to spend big, Spartak could make a decisive push in the second half of the season.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, writer for 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 @homosovieticus.