CSKA Moscow Leonid Slutsky

Opinion: CSKA Owner Must Change Approach

3:56 PMAleks Vee

by Aleks V | @aleksvee

A 3:1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley on December 7 marked CSKA Moscow's UEFA Champions League exit, as well as the exit of head coach Leonid Slutsky. The club's longest-serving manager after Boris Arkadyev (1944-52, '58-59), Slutsky's seven years at the helm painted a solid 160-57-70 WDL record, including three championships, two Russian Cup wins, and two Super Cups. He also led the team to the 2009-10 Champions League quarter-finals, their best result in the tournament.

CSKA with the 2013 Russian Super Cup. Credit: Карбинов Анатолий
As a coach, Slutsky maintains a conservative approach, relying on the same players and lineups. It is a choice partly motivated by necessity - CSKA has one of the shortest benches in the Russian Premier League. They had just five substitutes available against Tottenham (the Spurs had seven) and in their 4-0 win over FC Ural (who had eleven on their bench). Ural's total market value is 18.8 million Euros. At 95.5 million, CSKA's is more than five times bigger.

In late November, Slutsky voiced his concern for the future of the club. "Right now, the situation is the hardest it's been in all my seven years at CSKA," he said on Russia 24. "Many things may change, but CSKA always was, is and will be a great club."

There's one thing that doesn't change, however, and that's club owner Yevgeni Giner's reluctance to spend. So much so, he's become notorious for it. One look at the transfer windows during the last five seasons explains the club's annual rocky mid-season and UEFA competition woes. While CSKA have consistently finished in the top two in the Russian Premier League since Slutsky's first full season (except for 2011/12, when they finished 3rd), they've struggled in all other tournaments, especially in Europe. They haven't gotten past the group stage in European competition since 2011/12:

Last season, CSKA spent just 1 million Euros, a loan fee for Seydou Doumbia. They signed just three players from other clubs. One is now on loan and one has retired.

Alan Dzagoev would be the fifth high-profile
player to leave CSKA in three years.
Credit: Дмитрий Садовников
Giner's lack of spending is coupled with his history of selling the club's top foreign talent. Rumor has it the trend will be broken this season, as Russian international Alan Dzagoev looks to fulfill his dream of playing in England. He's being linked with a move to Everton. The 26-year-old midfielder has an impressive 62 goals and 78 assists in 284 appearances for the Army Men. His transfer would add to a growing list of star players that left the club over the years. Ahmed Musa, top scorer in the 2012-13 season, joined Leicester City this year. Seydou Doumbia, a two-time top scorer, moved to AS Roma last year. Attacking midfielder Keisuke Honda, who boasted a record of 28 goals and 29 assists in 127 games, moved to Milan after five years at the club. Vagner Love, the club's top scorer in 2010, joined Flamengo in 2012, returning a year later before being sold to Shandong Luneng.

There is strength in a consistent lineup. Awhile ago, I compared Slutsky's CSKA to Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United. Interestingly, United and CSKA met in the Group Stage of the 2009-10 Champions League. Both teams had a bench of seven. United finished first in Group B, while CSKA were runners-up. Both were eliminated in the Quarter-finals.

Six players from CSKA's starting line-up against the Red Devils are still with the club. Now that's what I call consistent!

The 2011-12 Champions League saw the club in the Round of 16.

Things seemed to be going well for CSKA. At some point, though, fatigue takes over. Players get injured, get older, retire, leave for bigger salaries. A team can't run on will alone.

CSKA owner Yevgeni Giner.
Credit: Aleksandr Melnikov
Giner, one of the wealthiest club owners in the Russian Premier League, has failed to understand that. The businessman wants to have his cake and eat it too. But that cake won't be shaped like "big ears", the Champions League trophy. Not until someone stops selling some of the main ingredients.

Like other industries in the 21st century, soccer is getting more competitive. It's a money race, one in which the wiser investments pay off. Selling without buying doesn't work - there needs to be a balance if a club is to have a future.

Before resigning, Slutsky spoke with optimism. "Whatever challenges will arise, the Army Men and their supporters will always overcome adversity," he said.

Well, the challenges have risen, and it's time for supporters to do the same. Ovid wrote that "Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence." Who else but the fans can unite their voices and persist until the message is heard?

That message must be loud and clear - Giner must change his approach, or sell the club.

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