FC Spartak Moscow football

Should Spartak Have Sacked Karpin?

11:09 PMAleks Vee

by Aleks V

"Here one day, gone the next" is a common trend for football managers these days. As we've seen, the Abramovich game of managerial musical chairs is not limited to Chelsea, or the EPL for that matter. The board of directors of Spartak Moscow decided to sack Valeri Karpin nearly four years after he first took to the helm. For some, the decision isn't much of a shocker, considering the back-and-forth he's had with the administration. Many will recall his break from managerial duties at the start of the 2012/13 season. Karpin took to administrative duties as the club's General Director, while current Sevilla coach Unai Emery took charge. Things got rocky pretty quickly, and the club turned the beat around by bringing Karpin back. The decision to sack him now wouldn't have been as shocking had the facts been different. While it's not exactly mid-season, the PL has barely returned from its winter break. Spartak are currently in third place and just four points short of the top of the table.

Much like in politics, there is a time and a place for everything in football. Sacking a manager at this point in the season is like impeaching a politician several months before election time - a last-resort you turn to when the going gets tough, and I mean really tough. There are exceptions, such as when the "new" manager wouldn't be so new after all. A returning coach or one that has previously worked with the majority of the players on other occasions can effectively take charge at just about any point in time. While not a club, the Mexican national team comes to mind. Miguel Herrera was appointed with the mission of getting through the last World Cup qualifiers with ease, and potentially going far in the tournament itself this summer. Most of the roster hails from Club America, Herrera's former team. A completely new face, on the other hand, has to gain the trust of the team, figure out the right approach and spend considerable time experimenting with combinations and tactics. A new leader means rebuilding from the ground up. 

Firing a manager whose team has a realistic chance of winning the championship is an irrational decision. Although Spartak had not won a title under Karpin's management, they were runners-up in the league table on two occasions and never finished lower than fourth. They also reached the Quarter Final stage of the UEFA Europa League in 2010/11, a feat they hadn't accomplished since 1997/98 when they reached the Semi-finals. Yet each achievement was never enough for the club board. The head honchos' meaning of excellence is visible excellence - "show me the medals or go home" is the rationale. Spartak were knocked out of the Europa League play-off round by St Gallen in August of last year. Most recently, the Red-Whites were ousted from the domestic Cup tournament by a second-division FC Tosno. Their last effort for silverware would be the championship, but with the race as tight as it is and Karpin's many chances exhausted, the club owners seem to have lost what faith they had left. The draw against last-place Anzhi cemented their decision. But the relegation-bound Anzhi isn't the same as it was before the winter transfer window. A group of experienced players are in the mix, and the team is currently in the Europa League Round of 16.

Perhaps Karpin didn't win a title the first, second, or even the fourth time. But neither did some of the most successful managers in Premier League history, and those who were given some time did the remarkable. It took Sir Alex Ferguson four years to win a tournament with Manchester United, Giovanni Trappatoni three years with Inter. Not all managers are quick to grab important victories, and sometimes the ones that are aren't the ones that last. Stability requires time, effort and patience, from both the manager and the club's owners.

Spartak's board has been vocal about re-appointing Stanislav Cherchesov, who was in charge for part of the 2007 and '08 seasons. Despite good results (17:9:5), Cherchesov was sacked after the team failed to progress from the 3rd round of Champions League qualifying. He has refuted claims that Spartak's management have made any attempts to contact him. Spartak may be his home club, but the current Amkar manager has made clear he's not considering leaving anytime soon.

Whether or not Spartak's new manager will lead the team to Premier League greatness is up to chance. The bigger question, however, is whether Karpin would have done it had he stayed on. At this stage, we may never know. 

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