Its been some year for Antonio Conte’s former number two Massimo Carrera.
Brought in to assist Spartak Moscow boss Dimitri Alenichev last summer, made caretaker manager and then manager within a matter of weeks, the Italian has just delivered the club’s first Russian Premier League title in 16 seasons.
When I last looked at Spartak back in December, the Russian league had just shut down for its long winter break with the Red-Whites sitting five points clear of Zenit St. Petersburg and eight ahead of reigning champions CSKA Moscow.
With Spartak fans used to disappointment and afraid of getting their hopes up, many questioned whether Carrera’s men could hold their nerve and their lead in the critical second phase of the season and deliver a first league title since 2001.
The answer was ultimately given last Sunday week, when third-placed Zenit surprisingly lost 1-0 at home to Terek Grozny.
Mircea Lucescu’s side, the pre-season favourites, needed a win to keep their feint hopes of catching Spartak alive.
The shock defeat meant that as Spartak held a ten-point lead over last season’s champions CSKA, with Zenit a further point in arrears, neither side could bridge the gap on Carrera’s men with only three rounds of fixtures remaining.
So how has the 52-year-old, who was originally hired as a defensive coaching assistant to Alenichev, succeeded where 17 of his predecessors failed?
According to Irish journalist and Russian football expert Alan Moore, who hosts the Capital Sports Show on Moscow’s Capital FM, the Italian:
Capitalised on solid foundations laid down by Alenichev and his predecessor Murat Yakin, made good use of owner Leonid Fedun’s money in the winter window, and brought his tactical acumen to bear on a league that lacks sophistication in that regard.
The manager’s coaching abilities, commitment to hard work and a rigorous fitness regime were also key. “Spartak were the most dynamic and balanced side in the league and have been physically fitter and mentally stronger than their opponents over the course of the season,” says Moore.
Toke Theilade, editor in chief of www.russianfootballnews.com, concurs:
Carrera’s Spartak have beaten the club record for the most 1-0 victories in a season. But that doesn’t mean that they’ve been defensive.
Rather, they have built upon the possession-based style introduced by Alenichev last season, have been more direct in their offensive play and are much more aware of not giving the ball away in dangerous positions.
They are more cautious than under Alenichev, but still highly dangerous in an attacking sense.
If you like, Carrera’s work echoes that of Conte at Chelsea, Ancelotti at Bayern Munich and Allegri and Juventus.
For Theilade, Spartak’s success all comes down to mentality. “If you look at the people who have managed the club before him, they were all excellent coaches, especially a guy like Unai Emery.
Nevertheless, the club had grown accustomed to mediocrity and mid-table finishes. But Carrera has managed to encourage a unity and instil a winning spirit in the squad.
Where they used to collapse every time things went against them, they have bounced back this season.
“For example, after losing to Ufa and Zenit last autumn, they went on to win six games in a row, including games against tough opponents like Rostov and CSKA.
And then after losing to Rostov in the spring, they won the following three games and secured the title.”