Eastern promises for League of Ireland sides in Europe

In a time when the bulk of news or comment is processed beyond the initial offering, the art (no matter how badly offered) of painting a scene or building an atmosphere is as rare as humility in a Meath person.

Not the Dub blow-ins, but the ones who claim to have been at the Centenary Final in ’84, the ones who don’t believe in fair play. Basically anyone whose family tree resembles a plank. Of course I jest, though we must never forget 2010.


Last evening I returned south to Voronezh having hoped for our remaining Irish sides in Europe to get good opposition who would be interestingly beatable. I nabbed Videoton for Dundalk and Krasnodar for UCD/Rovers. Well it turned out that Dundalk could meet Videoton and UCD face Krasnodar.

Why Videoton? Simple, they are a good side, though after Dundalk’s impressive midweek showing next door in Borisov, they are capable of beating the talented Hungarians. Plus I fancy a trip back to Hungary and it would be third time lucky for me to catch Dundalk once again in Europe. I’ll explain later.

Why Krasnodar? Because it would be an excuse for me to go see the match and re-visit a nice city. Plus the host club are a decent, if slightly mad, bunch and while they are strong, they are not impossible to overcome. We all know the story of Krasnodar – set up in a fit of pique by a retail magnate and now portrayed as the future of football in Russia. However we need to look beyond the headlines.

Indeed they are an impressive club, with a strong infrastructure and relative stability. Yet they continue as they began, the plaything of a multi-millionaire. The owner, Sergei Galitsky, has done a lot of adapting to fit in with the Russian business model, not least taking his wife’s family name (he was born Arutyunyan) and actually being the only Russian club that even approaches the FFP rules. And this shows how clever he does his business.

Using shelf space in his “Magnit” stores, the largest supermarket chain in Russia, as well as his logistics and distribution network, he has cleverly forced suppliers to sponsor his club so that a chunk of expenses are covered legally. It’s nothing new, outside of Russia, and it is at least giving FC Krasnodar an outside chance of survival should the head man lose patience and disappear.

I’ve dealt with the man in question and while it was interesting, it wasn’t pleasant. He will not play by the rules of others and fights for every last rouble. The same he does with his club, inspecting everything and making sure that even the smaller details related to the team are exactly carried out. He can be hysterical though I always wondered if it was a bargaining ploy done to intimidate or unsettle those across the table.

It is inspiring what he has achieved with Magnit, and how he has brought his business attitude to his football club, yet Krasnodar continue to lose by such minuscule nit-picking in commercial and marketing/promotion areas. Worse, there is a level of tension within the club that can be debilitating for many. Such tension has initiated stress fractures that if untreated will cause the bones of one of Russia’s more progressive clubs to shatter.

When Krasnodar step onto the field in Perm on Monday, they will be expected to easily pick up three points. This summer they had to invest in players and not just in a small increment as before. Last year they choked badly when in a position to make the Champions League, this year the owner will do what he can to eliminate a repeat. Stefan Stranberg has arrived from Rosenberg and the Norwegian international will add some strength to a dodgy backline.

Former Spartak and Lokomotiv Moscow stalwart Dmitri Torbinski continues his retirement tour, moving along the coast from rouble-less Rostov to bring something to the Krasnodar midfield. Apart from linking back up with another of the beaten semi-finallist from Euro ’08 and Zenit outcast Vladimir Bystrov, it was an unusual signing. Though collecting baubles and expensive things is not overly unusual in Russian football.

Non-scoring forward Fyodor Smolov has joined from Dinamo Moscow (having been shunted around clubs in hope of a sale) though he might explode into life this season. At 25 he is due a good break-out year. Roman Shirokov and Marat Ismailov returning to their clubs (Spartak Moscow and Porto respectively) after loan deals will be a hit to the side in terms of experience and ability.

So this could be the perfect time for someone to meet Krasnodar in European competition, especially a nice ball-playing young side with nothing to lose. A loss to UCD or (if they’re lucky to get past the Students) Slovan could see a slash in Krasnodar’s budget, or worse. Mr. Galitski has little patience when projects are supposed to perform yet fail time and again.


Getting back to the third time lucky thing with Dundalk. Last week I planned to go to Belarus to take in the game but have holidays at the end of July (already arranged from before the Euro draws). At least I was able to enjoy it on TV and listen to compliments about the Dundalk style of play, our fans and about how BATE were right to take the challenge seriously. It was a proud moment for an exiled League of Ireland supporter.

The previous time I’d a chance to see them in Europe was in 2002 and Dundalk were up against Varteks Varazdin. As it happened I was making a return road journey to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and made the mistake of turning west to the coast when I arrived in Croatia to attend an interview with a company and club that I would eventually work with.

I interviewed in Split with a, then, Director and was offered a job on the spot. Sadly I’d to return to Saudi but returned less than a year later to take up my post. However the match was on Croatian TV and I watched in a small back street bar near Diocletian’s Palace as soon as the interview ended.

Apparently the commentators marveled at how red our fans were, how much noise they made and how much they were able to drink. It was hot, more than 35 degrees that afternoon in inner Croatia, at least in Belarus it was in the 20s, so consumption of alcohol would have less of an effect – or so science would have us believe.

The less said about the result with Varteks the better and it must have been the disappointment that led me to venture into a minefield in Bosnia to answer the call of nature. Luckily there were UN folks nearby to help me continue my journey fully limbed. Both I and Dundalk have come a long way since.

Dundalk are a well-run small club with the potential to do something Sergey Galitsky can only dream of – survive and thrive on a small budget and not fall apart should one person walk away. Dundalk have an entire town behind them, in Krasnodar the city still leans towards the established Kuban. But the step into group stages is something Krasnodar have already achieved, Dundalk need to make that step to be able to compete at a level that will drive other Irish clubs forward. It now remains to be seen if Dundalk and UCD can finish what they started and continue delivering on their eastern promises.

The Author

Alan Moore

Russian-based sports journalist, commentator, radio host & consultant. Worked with major clubs including Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt, Lokomotiv and Spartak Moscow. Current host of Capital Sports 3.0, former international boxer and semi-professional footballer and FIFA World Cup commentator.

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