Midway through the season, the second tier of Russian football is proving to be a highly entertaining one. Amidst the usual suspicions of match-fixing and pre-determined results, the two teams currently sitting atop the table are of little surprise to anyone – Tom Tomsk, the Siberian side relegated from the Premier League after numerous financial boosts from the Russian government, and Ural Ekaterinburg, the club from one of the biggest cities not currently represented in the top flight.
In the chasing pack behind them are a mixture of the usual suspects and the surprise challengers. Spartak Nalchik are well positioned to strike for an immediate return to the Premier League should Tom or Ural slip up, and the presence of Sibir Novosibirsk two points further back is equally unsurprising. Conversely, to see the likes of SKA-Energia Khabarovsk – just two points behind Ural and currently in the play-off place – and isolated Baltika Kaliningrad in the top five is a little more unusual. Even the newly promoted trio of Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, Rotor Volgograd and FC Ufa are not out of the promotion running at the halfway mark, just six point separating the latter from SKA-Energia and a play-off berth.
However, one side which will definitely not be competing for promotion at the end of the season will be FC Khimki, who have endured a catastrophic first half of the season and find themselves increasingly cut adrift at the foot of the table. Whilst there are several clubs above them who have problems, whether financially, politically or simply on the field, Khimki’s meagre seven points means they would require something of a miracle to think about survival.
Their most recent aberration, a 4-2 home defeat to a Torpedo Moscow who had won just three games prior to their visit, was the signal for a parting of the ways which has been a long time in coming. Manager Omari Tetradze, despite guiding his team to the last 16 of the Russian Cup courtesy of victory over top flight strugglers Volga, was summarily dismissed following his side’s 11th defeat in 16 matches. Finding themselves five points behind a Metallurg Novokuznetsk side who have just eight goals to their name, few were surprised at Tetradze’s departure.
The fact that the fates of both club and manager have tangled in such a way however, provides a far more telling story than a simple tale of poor results and subsequent dismissal. Tetradze, or Osipov as he was known before changing his name as a teenager, who only took the post at Khimki over the summer, now faces the prospect of a long spell either on the managerial sidelines or in the dugout of provincial clubs around the Russian system. It is a situation which Khimki themselves can relate to all too easily given their current situation.
The decline of two careers does not tell the entire story however. In Russian terms, Tetradze remains a newcomer to the managerial scene, having taken his first job at Anzhi in 2007. It is worth pointing out that the Anzhi of Tetradze’s reign were far removed from Guus Hiddink’s current charges – this was a Makhachkala side before the arrival of Suleyman Kerimov and some of world football’s biggest names, back when the Dagestanis were battling in midtable of the First Division.
Tetradze’s time at Anzhi was a great success, of that there is no doubt. Inheriting a team which had finished 15th the previous season, finishes of 10th and 6th were notable improvements. The following season, Anzhi lost just five games in the league season, claiming the title and a spot in the Premier League which they currently lead.
Just a single game into their Premier League campaign – a goalless draw against Spartak Nalchik – Tetradze resigned, reasons unexplained but with rumours abound that he had refused to agree to a points exchange with Anzhi’s fellow North Caucasian side. He would later take the hotseat at second tier Volga and guide them to promotion, cementing his reputation as a bright young managerial prospect. His Volga side required a play-off to survive their debut season – a season which brought about his departure from Nizhny Novgorod before season’s end – but survive they did, an impressive achievement for the club despite Tetradze’s poor start.
Only a few years earlier, Khimki found themselves in a similar position to Tetradze. Formed in 1996, by 2001 they had already risen to the First Division, and had craved out a reputation as something of an upstart club, a potential new challenger to the established Moscow sides. Clever use of the loan market and a budget which enabled them to bring in top class veteran talent was more than enough for the second tier, and a decade after their formation Khimki took the title and a place amongst Russia’s elite. They would stay there for three seasons before finally falling through the trapdoor, and after making Tetradze the 8th manager to leave the club in three years, they are further away form a return than ever before.
That Khimki and Tetradze found one another is perhaps unsurprising given the rumours surrounding both of them. Khimki is perhaps the easiest to explain, and it should be made clear that their actions, whilst inexcusable, are far from uncommon in the First Division. At the height of their financial power, and arguably at a time when they possessed their finest squad, the young club are rumoured to have effectively bought the title, paying off opponents on the way to the championship. How far this is true is unknown, but their inability to compete without the backing of old speaks volumes of the side’s true level.
It is strange to hear Tetradze accused of the same thing, given his apparently noble reasons for walking out on Anzhi. However, that is precisely what is alleged to have taken place before he took over at Anzhi, during a spell as assistant with Krylya Sovetov. According to Serge Branco, who played for the Samara side at the time, Tetradze threatened him at gunpoint after he refused to take part in match-fixing against FC Moscow. Rumours of underhand behaviour continued to plague his career, with further suggestions of a thrown match against Anzhi whilst at Volga published in the Russian press.
Perhaps it was inevitable that two parties with apparently tarnished backgrounds would find each other, and even more so that their partnership would result in failure for the pair of them. For Tetradze, Khimki’s abject failure to perform will have made a sizable dent in his managerial reputation. For Khimki, Tetradze’s inability to coax results out of his players could spell relegation and footballing irrelevance further down the league. Whether it is too late to save either club or manager remains to be seen.