Foreign coaches are struggling to make an impact in the Russian league.

By Victor Gusev in Moscow
Three thousand Zenit fans were at Saint Petersburg airport to wave goodbye to Dick Advocaat. Hundreds of orange balloons, fireworks and a banner reading “thank you our General” brought the 61-year-old Dutch coach to tears – and not for the first time in his three-year spell with one of the country’s most popular football clubs.

Previously, though, it had been tears of joy in Advocaat’s eyes as Zenit found unprecedented success. They won the 2007 Russian Premier League – repeating the club’s only previous victory of 1984 – and that was followed in 2008 by a UEFA Cup triumph and a European Super Cup win over Manchester United. These feats made the Dutchman the most successful coach in the club’s history.

Advocaat’s contract with Zenit was supposed to last until the end of the year, when he was due to take charge of the Belgium national team, but he was dismissed in mid-August after a humiliating home defeat by lowly Tomsk – a fourth successive game without victory that saw Zenit drop to seventh in the league.

However, blaming the club’s woes on Advocaat makes little sense as Zenit failed to find proper replacements for Andrei Arshavin, who was sold to Arsenal, captain Anatoliy Timoshchuk, now at Bayern Munich, and Portuguese playmaker Danny, who is out injured until the end of the season.

The only noteworthy arrival was Torino’s Alessandro Rosina, but Advocaat criticised that signing and even blamed Zenit’s new sports director Igor Korneev (who is Guus Hiddink’s assistant on the national team) for going behind his back.

The warm farewell accorded to Advocaat was a sign of the fans’ deep gratitude to him as well as an understanding that the club have long-term problems that need to be addressed. What makes the situation slightly peculiar is that Advocaat has accepted an offer from another side, Khimki, to act as a consultant until the end of the year. Khimki are coached by Konstantin Sarsania, formerly a scout for Zenit under Advocaat.

Advocaat’s departure was the third dismissal of a western European coach this year. Former Denmark star Michael Laudrup did not even last a year with Spartak Moscow, while Jurgen Rober returned to Germany after nine months with Saturn.

Mentality and language
Difficulty in understanding the Russian mentality and language are cited among the main reasons why foreign coaches do not last long in this country. Having to deal with unnamed team owners and a criminal aura around some of the clubs, coaches often get frustrated, despite the generous contracts on offer.

However, Miodrag Bozovic is an example of how things can work. The 41-year-old, 6ft 5in Montenegrin who calls himself “the world’s tallest soccer coach”, enjoys great popularity with the media, fans and players for his good Russian, friendly attitude and, of course, good results. Having lifted Amkar Perm to fourth place and a Europa League berth last year, he moved to FC Moscow and has turned them into league favourites.

CSKA Moscow’s Brazilian coach Zico had been welcomed with open arms, but initially he struggled to get results. Ironically, things improved for Zico when he reverted to the tactics used by his predecessor, Valeri Gazzaev, who had left CSKA for a well-paid position at Dynamo Kyiv where he replaced Yuri Semin, who returned to Lokomotiv Moscow.

Other appointments have seen a new generation take up coaching positions. Spartak Moscow’s Valery Karpin rejoined the club as a general director in 2008 and was supposed to look for Laudrup’s replacement. Instead he decided to take the job himself, even though he does not have a coaching licence. One of Karpin’s first moves was to invite his old boss, Oleg Romantsev, back as a consultant.

Another newcomer is Andrei Gordeyev. The 34–year-old former Dynamo Moscow defender moved up from Saturn’s reserves as a temporary replacement for the unfortunate Rober, but excellent results in his first few games in charge may see him get the job on a permanent basis.

Meanwhile, back at Zenit, reserve-team coach Anatoli Davydov took temporary charge of team affairs following Advocaat’s departure. However, the club were reported to be negotiating terms with a well-known Italian manager.