Assistant manager, caretaker manager and then manager – all in a matter of weeks!
If Antonio Conte’s erstwhile first lieutenant Massimo Carrera didn’t know much about life at Spartak Moscow before he moved there in the summer, he was certainly does now!
Welcome to the world of the Red-Whites – the most successful Russian club in the post-Soviet era (nine league titles and three cups), but a watchword for chaos in recent times.
As Moscow-based Irish journalist Alan Moore put it, Spartak under billionaire owner Leonid Fedun are akin to “an out of control clown car, driven by madmen headlong into a firework filled jokeshop”.
But despite the club’s chaotic nature, Carrera appears to have taken the churn of this club tormented by its successful past in his stride.
In fact, in his first foray into management, he’s done more than that, guiding Spartak to a five point lead in the title race as the Russian Premier League shuts down for its long winter break.
Carrera played with the successful Juventus side of the early 1990s with Antonio Conte and worked as assistant coach to the current Chelsea boss in Turin and then with the Italian national side. He’s highly regarded as a defensive coach and for his tactical nous.
It was for those reasons the Russian club approached him in the summer about becoming their then manager Dimitri Alenichev’s right-hand man, as the Spartak legend looked to build on the club’s fifth-place finish in 2015/16.
Within weeks, however, Carrera found himself as caretaker manager. Alenichev fell on his sword after an embarrassing Europa League third qualifying round exit to AEK Larnaca of Cyprus.
Carrera set about minding the shop, as Fedun appeared set to appoint Rostov’s Kuban Berdyev, who had just left last year’s surprise runners up, as Alenichev’s successor.
However, according to Moore, columnist with Russian sports website Championat, Fedun and Berdyev failed to agree on how much control the manager would have over transfers, team affairs and finances.
Berdyev, somewhat mysteriously, then performed an about face and returned to Rostov as an “advisor”!
In the meantime, Carrera’s attractive, quick and attacking football, in keeping with the club’s great traditions, and his passionate touchline demeanour were winning over the Spartak fans.
So, whether by accident or design, the Italian was given the managerial position on a permanent basis on August 17th and Carrera, like Conte in England, really hasn’t looked back.
He won his first four league games in charge, before hitting a sticky patch with a run of three defeats in late September and early October.
Amazingly, or perhaps not given that Carrera is the 17th man to sit in the managerial hotseat under Fedun’s 12-year regime, there was speculation as to his future!
But his charges bounced back impressively, winning seven of their next eight league games, giving them that five point cushion over Zenit St Petersburg with champions CSKA Moscow a further three adrift.
Spartak fans have become used to disappointment, however. Despite the club’s storied and successful history, they have not tasted league success since 2001.
Indeed, despite pouring a lot of money into Spartak, they have won precisely nothing under Fedun. And the fact they have finished runners up five times in that period merely serves as a reminder to fans not to get their hopes up.
On the playing side, Carrera has done what he was hired to do. Their title challenge, according to Moore, stems from the Italian coach making the Red-Whites much harder to beat.
Last season, they were too porous at the back, conceding 1.3 goals a game. Carrera has helped reduce the concession rate by almost half (to just .76 goals a game), while managing to maintain similar levels of proficiency in front of goal to the 2015/16 vintage.
Their fluid 4-3-3 built on their newfound defensive solidity, says Moore, has allowed them to take advantage of the inconsistency of the other contenders.
Can they stay there? Despite the excellent work of Carrera thus far and their lighter workload with only the league to focus on, Moore still believes that Mircea Lucescu’s Zenit, with their depth and quality, are still favourites.
But there’s plenty of time for all to stew on it, as football in Russia won’t resume until the start of March. And that’s a very long time in the often crazy world of Spartak Moscow.