"You should never change everything all at once." Those were the words spoken in an interview for Sport-Express by current FC Rostov manager Miodrag Bozovic, a coach that has saved multiple teams from relegation. He also happens to be the former manager of Dynamo Moscow, a club that, if anything, was desperate for change at the start of the 2012/13 Russian Premier League season.
If you were to ask me at the end of the 2012/13 Russian Premier League season what I thought of former Chelsea star-turned-manager Dan Petrescu's coaching abilities, I would have been among the many voices of approval. In less than a season, Petrescu took a team with no points in the first five games and nearly led them to a 3rd place finish. Everything was exceeding expectations - for the first time in 64 years, Dynamo Moscow scored 5 goals in the oldest Russian football rivalry against Spartak. In fact, Petrescu won all the Moscow derbies with Dynamo. Veteran striker Kevin Kuranyi ended his goalless streak, while the younger Aleksandr Kokorin played his best season. The team was winning one game after another in what would become a 14-match unbeaten run. Yet all of those accomplishments weren't enough to secure a spot at the top of the table. The Blue-and-Whites finished 7th, and, much to the dismay of many, failed to qualify for the Europa League. Since the season was rather unstable from the get-go (the Moscovites went through three different managers), many were also content with breathing a sigh of relief while seeing the team far away from uncharted territory - the relegation zone.
As a wobbly pre-season came and went, I couldn't help but have increased confidence that the combination of veteran players and the up-and-coming youth would do wonders in the championship. I, along with other supporters, had formed very high hopes about the team's forthcoming success. Pretty soon I was engulfed in Champions League dreams. There was nothing naive about this speculation on the team's venture - it was in every sense realistic and doable with the existing roster.
But things were not as simple as they appeared to be. The first warning sign came with Petrescu's evident preference for goalkeeper Anton Shunin. With a better keeper in Frolov and the older, experienced Berezovsky, it was an odd choice to have the unreliable Shunin in goal time and again. The team had already lost plenty of points last season due to his lack of confidence, and nobody wanted to see a sequel. At first, fan forums debated strengthening the defense without so much as a mention of the keeper, but even the most faithful of supporters couldn't keep silent about Shunin's mishaps.
Sign number two: the evident preference for striker Fyodor Smolov. Smolov failed to bring his past success to the starting lineup in every game he played, making many question why a much more productive Voronin and Panyukov were warming the bench.
Then came the summer transfer window. After signing Douglas, a capable defender who last played at FC Twente, as a free agent, Dynamo's management looked to Anzhi to fulfill the rest of their needs. A total of six players were signed, one third of the players that Anzhi had put up for grabs. My mind was shrouded in ambivalence when Dan Petrescu acquired Yuri Zhirkov, Igor Denisov and Aleksandr Kokorin from Anzhi while already having a skilled and capable roster, not to mention a handful of talented players from the reserves, such as Pavel Solomatin and Andrei Panyukov, who both saw playing time in the senior team and showed enormous potential. Aleksandr Kokorin, whose best performance (10 goals in 22 games) was marred by misbehavior on the pitch that was uncannily overlooked by the press (see: punching own teammate Dzsudzsak, being sent off in a crucial match, etc.), returned to Dynamo after his short transfer to a crumbling Anzhi. The competition for the starting eleven makes it highly unlikely he will see that many goals again.
In the meantime, Pavel Solomatin was loaned out to Anzhi. Andriy Voronin, who returned during the pre-season after an unsuccessful loan at Fortuna Dusseldorf, silenced his critics by giving a splendid performance both in friendlies and at the start of the championship despite having missed nearly all of last season. He became the team's top goalscorer, yet he soon found himself back on the bench. So did the talented young striker Panyukov, who had just found a place for himself in the senior team.
Something else had happened much earlier in the transfer window that I still fail to wrap my head around: Jakob Jantscher, who proved to be a rather solid midfielder last season and would have been a great addition to the club, returned to Red Bull Salzburg after his loan, having been unable to attract the management's attention to his contributions. The management talks constantly of adding players who have a history of winning awards at other clubs. Jantscher was one of those players, a great winger who won both the championship and Cup in the Austrian Bundesliga with Salzburg in 2012.
|"The D cannot be bought." (source: russian-ultras.com)|
In a recent interview for the club's official site, Mr. Petrescu had the audacity to imply that attacking midfielder and former Ukraine international Andriy Voronin's success is all in the past, also noting that he is indeed replaceable. "He is currently [the fan's] favorite player," Petrescu said. "When he was not at the team, nobody asked where he was, and now that he is, they all want to see him on the pitch. That's how football works. Maybe tomorrow - or the day after tomorrow - it will be Smolov, or somebody else." The Dynamo manager believes in holding out for a time in the faraway future when Smolov's past success will translate into his current game, yet turns a blind eye to a player who, even as a late substitution, makes a considerable difference in the team's attack.
In no time at all, the charade at Dynamo Moscow became a game of carefully selecting the manager's favorites. These choices are not dictated, as they should be, by the quality of a player's performance, but rather by personal preference. So too are the endless transfers of big name players, many of which will take the place of lesser-paid, lesser-known talent only because the manager needs to justify the millions that were carelessly wasted to buy out what was left of Anzhi Makhachkala. (Some of Anzhi's players joined Dynamo as free agents. In exchange, several Dynamo players were loaned out to Anzhi. - Editor) These "stars" are being tossed into the starting lineup regardless of their level of fitness - that alone can easily backfire, resulting in plenty of injuries. With the rest of the squad spending months on the bench or being loaned out to other teams, there will be no one ready to replace the likes of Zhirkov, Samba or even Douglas.
|CSKA celebrating their Super Cup victory.|
|Manchester United celebrate one of many trophy wins.|
On the other side of tradition is the rather modern habit of change, a habit ruled by ambition and money, and habits, as the saying goes, are hard to quit.
While I applaud Petrescu's efforts and the handful of positive results he brought to the club, I cannot help but wonder whether it was a one-time show that will leave a very disgruntled audience forever awaiting the encore. I begin to wonder whether the brilliant results were unintentional and simply a way to impress the club's administration so as to convince them to retain the managerial seat for the desired duration.
Three coaches, over ten new players, some of which came and went, a new club President and many adjustments to the ongoing plan for the reconstruction of the team's historic arena is an insurmountable amount of changes in a little over a season. Just how much more does the club have to alter before the word "football" can easily be erased from its name?
Title-winning teams know that the best change is a slow change. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day.
Neither is a football club.
Dynamo Moscow have not won the domestic Cup in 18 years.
They have not won the championship in half a century.
In the last 4 years...
Dynamo Moscow have had 5 different managers.
They have finished below the top 3 and have failed to win any silverware.
CSKA Moscow have had the same manager.
They not only finished in the top 3 each year, but also won the Russian Cup.
In the EPL, Manchester United have had the same manager for nearly 27 years.
In the last 4 years they have won 3 Premier League titles and 5 Cups.
Manchester United hold the record for most PL championship wins (13).