A 3-1 defeat in Naples meant that Dynamo Moscow’s chances of making it to the quarter finals of the 2015 Europa League looked slim; but after some solid performances in the competition already, turning the tie around was not out of the question.
In the end a fairytale comeback wasn’t meant to be – Rafael Benitez’s side held on despite Dynamo’s best efforts with the second leg ending 0-0, though this was a performance and a team that the fans could be proud of after years of mismanagement and under-achievement.
Though the Italian side eventually fell short themselves in the semi finals, competing with clubs such as Napoli in European knockout stages is where the club would like to be.
Just over a year after the game against Napoli and Dynamo need to win again, but in significantly differing circumstances – hovering just above the automatic relegation places with just one round of fixtures to play, Dynamo must beat Zenit in order to avoid relegation.
Of the team that lined up to face third placed Zenit in St Petersburg only Goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov remained of the team that took on Napoli, signifying the downfall that has beset one of Russia’s most notable clubs,
A deep rooted ultras rivalry exists between Dynamo and Zenit, exemplified by the abandonment of the same fixture last season after Zenit fans charged onto the pitch at 4-2 down with just five minutes to play.
Furthermore, it was Andre Villas Boas’s final game in charge of Zenit and so the home side were not going to roll over despite having already missed out on the title.
To add further fuel to Dynamo’s fire, there were rumours that Moscow rivals Spartak were willing to lose to Ufa, the team one place beneath Dynamo.
Spartak supporters in the stands reportedly willing their team to lose during the game, and lose they did.
Dynamo has been ever present in top division football since its Soviet inception in 1932. However, despite their continuous presence, success has long been forgotten with the club’s most recent triumph being the Russian Cup way back in 1995.
In the 20 years since, Dynamo’s closest title challenge was a fourth place in 2012 which is possibly the closest the club has come to a season of stability in recent years.
In 2013, hopes were renewed when a close ally of Vladimir Putin, Boris Rotenberg, took control of the club and attempted to reinvigorate a mediocre squad.
Taking advantage of Anzhi’s change in policy, Chris Samba, Yuri Zhirkov, Aleksandr Kokorin, Vladimir Gabulov, Balazs Dzsudzsak and Igor Denisov all joined the club. This new side of highly capable players should have excelled in the league.
Yet, as is so often the case with Dynamo, expectations failed to meet reality, eventually finishing 12 points off champions CSKA.
Respected manager Stanislav Cherchesov guided Dynamo into fourth place last season and their relative success in the Europa League seemed to point towards a step in the right direction.
Rather predictably, this performance came at an almighty cost to the club. UEFA banned Dynamo from the Europa League as a result of their financial fair play performance.
High spending was required to bring the Anzhi players to the club, but Russian sides have notably small revenue compared to clubs in Western Europe leaving Dynamo well short of the new regulations.
Herein lies the main problem with the overall competitiveness of Russian clubs in Europe.
Although there are discrepancies between Premier League revenues compared to those in Spain and Germany, Russian clubs fall further behind still with very little television money and low gate revenues.
Under UEFA FFP rules, it is now even harder for Russian clubs to close the gap to elite, with outright spending no longer the viable option it once was.
Dynamo is also currently in the process of building a new stadium, with the intention of naming it after the legendary Lev Yashin.
However, the ground could end up being a colossal burden on the club with the prospect of second tier football being the first matches played within it when it’s due to open next year and plans for it to be used in the World Cup in 2018 were rejected.
The club’s average attendance barely got above six thousand for the season and you can expect that to be even lower after relegation.
Boris Rotenberg left as a result of the UEFA ruling and the club descended into complete chaos.
Diminished investment meant that players’ contracts were not renewed and other players were sold, all of which culminated in the sacking of manager Cherchesov just a few days before the start of the season.
Director of football, Andrey Kobelev took charge and despite the incoherent nature of the day to day operations of the club, Dynamo managed to start the season positively, winning four and losing only one of their first eight league games.
Though optimism was soon relinquished as Dynamo’s fortunes quickly faded, a good start turned into one win from the next eleven games; which then turned into one win from the final twelve games after the winter break, losing eight of their last nine league games.
Andrey Kobelev did little to ease concerned supporters, seemingly never attempting to introduce a more qualified man to take charge.
Kobelev then jumped a ship practically on the ocean floor with two games to play but nearly a season’s worth of damage had been done.
Dynamo fans will have sensed the inevitability of what they were seeing, a defining moment of historic failure that has plagued the club for years.
Dynamo’s first relegation in both their Soviet and Russian history, signed and sealed by Aleksandr Kokorin, a player who is one of Dynamo’s most prestigious academy products and holder of more than 200 appearances for the club scoring Zenit’s second goal after moving during the winter break.
To the untrained eye the demise of one of Russia’s most famous clubs may come as a surprise.
But a cursory reading of the club’s recent history reveals that this historic failure may have been a long time coming.
And with the limited scope for real progress in Russia’s domestic game, it may be a long time before Zhemchuzhina Futbola grace European competition again.