Image from Action Images

The Soviet Pioneer and the World Cup Winner

This week’s edition of More Than Arshavin is a special one, with the very first guest blog as Domm Norris turns his expert eye to the issue of Russian managers overseаs and the case of Viktor Bondarenko. Domm is the author of Football Globe, an excellent blog looking at the footballing world across the former Soviet Union. He is also an editor and co-founder of the Slavic Football Union, and can be found in bite-sized chunks on Twitter @footballglobe.

Image from Action Images
Viktor Bondarenko is leading the way for Russian coaches abroad.

The relationship between Russian football and the nation’s coaches is often one that’s particularly tetchy. The perception exists that there is real dearth of talent which could see a Russian coach eventually take control of one of European football’s true powers – while the insistence, over the past decade, for foreign coaches to lead clubs from Moscow and beyond expresses a real disparity between native coaches and their clubs.

For some, however, the idea of remaining within the confines of the Russian game is practically unthinkable, and a certain Viktor Bondarenko is a leading light of former Soviet coaches spreading their wings beyond the former iron curtain.

Bondarenko is currently plying his trade in the unfashionable southern African climes of Angola – a nation whose life expectancy remains perilously low despite an apparent economic boom thanks to prominent levels of petroleum and mineral reserves. Perhaps such an example is not one of the ultimate successes that Russian coaches can enjoy away from their motherland, however it is an expression of the level of diversity that the nation can in fact produce and serves to show that Russian football need not remain as isolationist as it, at times, feels like being.

It may seem odd to bring up a man who hasn’t coached on Russian soil since helping to lead SKA Rostov-na-Donu – not be confused with Premier League FK Rostov – to the First Division in 2006. However with the recent revelation that former Balon D’or and World Cup winner Rivaldo had signed a deal with Bondarenko’s current club Kabuscorp, it seemed imperative to chart the successes of the former Lokomotiv Moscow defender.

Bondarenko has, for a considerable amount of time, had a seemingly unbreakable love affair with African football. His time in charge of Mozambican side Matchedje Nampula, in both the late 1980s and early 1990s, paved the way for his appointment as the national team coach of Mozambique in a move that proved to be one of the nation’s most successful periods in recent times. In spite of such apparent success a pay dispute ended Bondarenko’s dream of leading out Mozambique at the 1996 African Cup of Nations, despite the fact that he had guided the team to only their second ever qualification for the tournament.

It was during the years leading up to the turn of the century, however, that Bondarenko truly began to exert his influence upon the domestic game within Mozambique – with the capital club Costa do Sol. A string of Moçambola and Taça de Moçambique titles cemented the club’s reputation as the nation’s most prominent outfit and their coach’s as one of the most prized assets in south African football. Such success ultimately led to lucrative coaching offers in South Africa and spells with the likes of Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns soon followed.

Bondarenko’s career has been littered with moments of success – albeit away from the eye of European football. However the arrival of Rivaldo in Angola is likely to provide yet another test for the experienced coach who must have thought that he had seen it all during his lengthy career, although a signing of this magnitude may well have made him think twice in regards to that notion. The Russian will need to manage one of modern football’s greatest talents – despite the fact he is rapidly closing in on his 40th birthday – and embed him within a team that has been developing particularly well under his stewardship. Kabuscorp currently sit in second place in the league table, and after a similar result last season the hope and expectation is that the team – who have been at the top of Angolan football for a matter of months as opposed to years – could topple their more established rivals and lift the league title.

For Viktor Bondarenko, recent developments will no doubt serve to either make or break the project he has been attempting to oversee over the past couple of years. There may well be scepticism towards the signing of Rivaldo from various camps, and such a move can quite easily be construed as a strategic piece of marketing by the club themselves. However in a league of questionable quality the ability to draw on the experience of such a respected figure will no doubt be of some benefit to Bondarenko and Kabuscorp, and perhaps such success could see more Russian coaches attempting to move away from their comfort zones.


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