Back to square one – Spartak Moscow

Losing 5-1 to hated local rivals at home, in front of a paltry crowd, on a miserably cold (-5) day with a 3-0 defeat to Barcelona a few days earlier and a week after a dreadful 1-1 at a relegation bound provincial side, doesn’t usually bode well for any head coach.  Worse still, it doesn’t bode well for those who put him in place.  Although a sacrifice will buy them time until they come up with something to placate the howling masses, serious fissures were on display in all three matches.

Worse still that the club had made a bold statement just  a few months before to adopt a more attractive brand of winning football with the current en vogue “Spanish” style of play instilled in the team.  However it didn’t happen for Spartak Moscow and disappointing Champions League outings, coupled with a drop to 7th in the league, meant that ex-Valencia boss Unai Emery had to go.  Or did he?

The most common occurrence when a team hits a slump is to shaft the coach, easier to do that than accept the current conditions within the club/league and that a long term plan is being put in place.  When there are enough violent voices shouting down the rational, educated ones, the best laid plans go out the window.  In the countries of the former Soviet Union and countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain, Spartak Moscow is not just a club, it is a brand.  A mark of resistance to those who would rule and a thumb to the nose of clubs who believe that fan voices don’t matter.  Spartak are all for standing together, fighting the power and being just a little different, except to stand together with the overwhelming majority of football fans (Spartak are by far and away the most followed club in Russia) isn’t exactly like shouting for Longford Town or Crewe Alexandra.  Though it is in the strengths of the club that the greatest weaknesses lie.

In buying too much into the vocal opinions of a minority of overall support (though at least a quarter of the numbers now coming through the gates are in this mob) means the administration of the club panders too often to crowd pressure, with the alterations that inevitably follow for plans that don’t work immediately.  Leaving the Luzhniki today it was remarked to me that in any other business changing development plans and firing essential staff with all the upheaval that comes after, would send a company out of business before too long.  Yet it is such practice in football that we find a normal situation when it is in every sense an abnormal series of events.  Football supporters never seem to grasp that getting rid of the current coach means dumping out his assistants, his preferred players, tactics and any imprint he’s made on the club.

The long, storied and trophy laden history of Spartak Moscow is a golden weight which drags it down into the depths of delusion and despair. In the 10 years the club hasn’t won anything, it has consistently qualified for European competition, battled at the top of the Premier League and very soon will have a terrific new stadium in the fertile hunting ground of North-west Moscow.  However looking to the past and having a sense of entitlement far removed from reality, makes any medium-long term club development plan no more important than few hopeful notes on the back of a crisp packet.  Far better to go for broke this season and hope for the best, which is too often the favoured solution by the loudest empty vessels in the stands or writing up tomorrow’s headlines.

How a club can hope to develop by firing a coach only months into his tenure, before he has been able to develop the club from the ground up, just isn’t good business.  If a coach is hired there can be only one reason – you want to begin to develop or continue developing your club.  If your club hasn’t been having the success desired, you assess the reasons, see what needs to be done and decide whether or not you have the resources to remedy the situation.  If you decide that a set way of playing or tactical style is the only way forward, then this must be brought to bear down to the youngest age group in your club.  This way every player will know their position, their role and better, they will know the roles and positions of their team-mates.  This is nothing new, nothing special and certainly not as hyped as the bankrupt Catalonians bring to the table.  BATE Borisov are showing the way forward and reaping the benefits, if they can do it, anyone can, and for a club of the size and wealth of Spartak Moscow, it is a must.

And now Spartak Moscow, a club who can realistically fill a 40,000 stadium weekly had just 14,000 fans in the out of date Luzhniki with 3,500 police watching those fans to prevent expected outbreaks of trouble.  Naturally the idiots duly delivered with 160 arrests and more than 70 flares thrown, this coming a week after the Dynamo keeper, Shunin, was seriously injured by a flare thrown during a match with moneybags club Zenit.  The self-serving, look at me use of flares has gone far beyond the control of sensible fan groups and have no longer a place in a stadium.  Not just do they deflect from the atmosphere, they just cause more problems for police and security to further deflate the view of football in public eyes.  Where to next for the “Meat” is going to be debated until the next lamb is led out to prepare for the slaughter.

GM Valery Karpin showed his class following the FA elections and he’s shown his love for the club and the ability to see the bigger picture.  Getting rid of Emery isn’t a step back, unless he wants it to be.  Now is the time to do the unthinkable, stand up to the fans and give the supporters what they deserve – a new golden era for Spartak Moscow.  He’ll, of course, take over the coaching of the team until it gets too much.  However as the one person with the power to put Spartak back at the top of the pile, he needs to do so, and he needs to do so fast.  Letting the lunatics dictate what goes on in the asylum is going to leave Spartak critically weak when they march into their new home in just over a year.

Author Details

Alan Moore

A Russia-based Sports Journalist and Consultant, worked with major sports clubs including:- Spartak Moscow, Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt. Boxed Internationally, played semi-pro football and worked full-time in sports management/consultancy from 2003-13. First published professionally on football in 1990, first Russian league match in 1991, now hosting Capital Sports on Capital FM, Moscow and the Capital Sports Stadium Shows at the RZD Arena and writing the odd article. Director of the Russian State Social University College in Moscow. And to make things more fun, he produces and hosts #ChampTalks for UNESCO, Moscow's Tolerance Centre and Capital FM.

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