One of the better stories to emerge in the Russian sports media after Chelsea’s exit from the League Cup was a pure floater (in every sense of the word). Poor old Jose Mourinho will be replaced by Leonid Slutsky.
Given the vile abuse meted out weekly from English terraces, what they’ll do with a person whose family name is “Slutsky” does not need thinking about on a chilly Moscow morning.
Apart from Papa Roma’s attachment to CSKA (from funding to sponsorship – which is really one and the same here), what other reason would there be for such a rumour to gain ground?
Papa Roma’s not big on employing Russians for the sake of it, in fact he’s ignored calls from Russian agents and media to do more for Russian players. He probably learned from being burned on the Konopylov Academy debacle to keep football away from the vagaries of sports in Russia.
So why would he now bring in the big man, in every sense, of Russian football? He’s soup de jour for the Twitterati who only this weekend were reminded of Leonid’s normal lifestyle.
Is it much ado about nothing or wishful thinking from journos desperate for clicks, or an ambitious manager whose agent has an inside track?
The story of how his playing career by a fall from a tree while rescuing a cat usually gets smiles or giggles if aired. Yet it resulted in the 19-year-old spending a year in hospital, with an open fracture of his patella (knee cap), broken nose and concussion from the three storey plummet.
Leonid now has severely restricted movement of his foot and still suffers over 20 years on. Yet whatever career he could have achieved as a player, he more than surpassed as a coach.
A Phys Ed Teaching Grad, in 1993 he begun with the Under-12s of his local club, Olimpia Volgograd. He created a production line of talent which eventually saw him become 1st team head coach in 1998 and lead the clubs ascent into professional football by winning the Third Division “South” in 1999.
His legacy to the club was a generation of youngsters who all went onto greater things like Denis Kolodin and Roman Adamov who both played for Russia. Olimpia excelled in the shadow of Rotor, yet this was only the start for Leonid.
Having watched his development as a coach and being his mentor, one of Russia’s most overlooked and better thinkers, Sergey Pavlov invited him to Kalmykia to be his Assistant in Uralan Elista and lead their reserve team.
Pavlov had built a highly successful club with Tekstilshik Kamyshin, driving the club from the backwaters of USSR football to the Premier League and Europe.
Uralan, however, were a team in transition and Leonid took a number of his youngsters from Olimpia to bolster his side. It was a success and he took over the top job when Pavlov moved on.
It was 2004 and financial problems were increasing, so when he was getting shafted, he fell happily into the arms of the great FC Moscow financial scam, taking over as head coach of the reserve team.
It was at FC Moscow in September 2007 when I first met him. I was discussing a club link up between FC Moscow and a client club in Malta, FCM were going big time global, yet the excellent work being done by the head coach (Leonid) on the field and hard work by the PR and Marketing people off it, were all to come crashing down when the 2007-08 credit crunch hit.
The owners found better ways to clean money and the kleptocratic Mayor of Moscow got too big for his boots, it was time to move on. In November 2007 he left for the Volga and Krylia Sovetov Samara.
Timing was everything and despite a seemingly formidable line up and base, the club were in financial meltdown. The lowest point came when the club caved over two legs in the Europa League against St. Pats in 2009. By then he’d used his friends in the media to shop around for a new club.
During this turbulent time he was caught up in the match-fixing incident when his side lost 3-2 to Terek in a game which, having seen the video, beggared belief.
Like Robert De Niro throwing his fight with Billy Fox in the yawn-fest Raging Bull, the general belief in the football community remains that Leonid had to lose to win.
At the time the Kremlin needed a passive Chechnya and Ramzan’s control of the region centred on his leadership of the Jewel in Grozny’s battered crown. Leonid landed on his feet.
Fifteen days after resigning from Samara, he was named as head coach of giants CSKA Moscow, where he remains. Ironically the first game in charge was against Terek, which was won (this time).
Since then he’s put the club on a par with Zenit, CSKA finishing finishing in the top three each season from 2010. With two leagues, two cups and two Super Cups in the trophy closet, he even turned domestic success into European progress.
Stability has been key and this is what Leonid brings. He has excellent staff, strong work ethic and is constantly learning. He also has friends on high and in the media.
When Don Fabio put Russia into a position to qualify for France 2016, he had been leaning heavily on the CSKA coach and his staff for support. The man from the south was being groomed for the top job.
It was one of the Italians last recommendations to the RFS that if they wanted to build on what he’d done, Leonid was the man to take over.
He did and with four wins from four and automatic qualification for Euro ’16, there are the usual Eamon Dunphy-ite “We can win it all” doing the rounds, though getting out of the group would be a success.
My first meeting with Leonid in 2007 was memorable for the fact that he asked me about football in Ireland, Gaelic Football in Ireland! It took up most of the conversation and only at the end we discussed the League of Ireland.
I was honest but positive about the pinnacle of Irish Senior soccer and he dismissive. His point of view was that nothing happens in football without huge investment in players, staff and structures.
I reminded him of this when we last met (this summer) at a function in Moscow. He was there in his capacity as the new Russian Coach, he smiled and asked, “When we see you in the Champions League group?”
Should he end up as Chelsea manager, it would be a real boost for the Premier League and the English team. It will be exciting, consistently so, despite the barracking from the stands.
It’s nice to think that the beginning of the end came for him at the hands of a bunch of part-timers from Inchicore, though in reality his talent, ability to spot talent (players or staff) and his thirst for knowledge, have put him at the top of the Russian tree.
He learned the hard way that climbing trees is not a bother, staying in them is the issue, taking the soiled seat of “The Special One” will hold no fear for Leonid Slutsky.