The new year is a time of resolutions, of self-centred internal promises to get into shape, to change lives, to acquire new skills or simply to enjoy life. January is on record as one of the most depressing months of the year as individuals struggle to adapt to their new self-imposed regulations, often breaking their resolutions within days of making them and them occupying a sphere of self-loathing as they struggle to justify it to themselves.
In the world of football, individuals undoubtedly set themselves similar targets. Strikers may aim to net a certain number of goals over the course of a season (or calendar year, thanks to Lionel Messi’s achievements), whilst at the other end the more determined goalkeeper will set his sights on an arbitrary number of clean sheets. For the player struggling to break into the first team, a certain number of appearances or a transfer may feature more highly on the agenda.
However, in a team sport, it is almost impossible to achieve these often lofty goals without the collective endeavour of the team itself – whilst individual performance can certainly spur a team forward, every squad member needs to pull their weight if that is to suitably backed up. In these cases, more general targets such as European qualification, cup runs and avoiding relegation seem far more appropriate than any single player’s goals.
One team certainly in need of a combined effort is Krylya Sovetov, the beautifully-named Wings of the Soviets from Samara. Since their inception in 1942 they have spent the overwhelming majority of their lifespan in the top division of the USSr and later Russian Federation, and indeed since the Soviet Union disbanded, the club is yet to leave the top flight, a relegation play-off tournament in 1993 the closest they have come to an undignified exit into the provincially-dominated First Division.
Today, the club find themselves in a perilous position, with the very real prospect of having to face a similar play-off at the end of the season. having defeated basement dwellers Mordovia on 17th September, the Wings proceeded to embark on winless run stretching for ten games, their only victory a laborious extra time victory at Second Division side Gazovik Orenburg in the cup. With their league form taking a turn for the disastrous – the last seven of the ten games ended in defeat – manager Andrei Kobelev resigned for the good of the team, and under the caretaker stewardship of Alexander Tsygankov the team finally snapped out of its run, a 2-0 win at Amkar earning three points in the final game before the winter break.
That win bought Krylya Sovetov some much-needed breathing space between them and the bottom two of Alania and Mordovia, the two promoted clubs now five and seven points adrift respectively. However, a lone victory was not enough to earn Tsygankov the job on a permanent basis, and the man brought in to save the Wings from the relegation dogfight is a man familiar to fans of the Samara side – Gadzhi Gadzhiev.
The move completes something of an eventful couple of years for the 67-year old. In 2011, whilst in charge of Anzhi – that job his first in two years since leaving financially doomed Saturn Ramenskoye – Suleyman Kerimov arrived with his billions, thrusting world superstars such as Roberto Carlos and Samuel Eto’o onto a manager with little experience of such pressure. With instant results just a step away, Gadzhiev was dismissed before the winter break at the end of 2011, his predecessor Yuri Krasnozhan also given the sack before Guus Hiddink’s final arrival.
With the Anzhi circus behind him, he took up the post at Volga in time for the 2012-13 season, the team having survived a play-off against city rivals FC Nizhny Novgorod to stay in the top flight, only to see their opponents fold and merge with Volga after the games. Always destined to struggle, Gadzhiev’s side collected 17 points in the first 19 games, including away wins over Lokomotiv, Alania and Krylya Sovetov along with hard-earned draws against Spartak and Rubin. What they lack in creativity, Gadzhiev’s Volga made up for by being hard to beat, each point another step on the road to survival.
He joins a Krylya side lying a point below his old club, struggling and desperately in need of some of the steel that Volga developed under his management. Repeats of the 5-0 thrashing against Spartak cannot be afforded if they are to climb out of the play-off berth, and with only Mordovia having conceded more goals than the Wings, it is obvious which area of the side will be looked at in the forthcoming transfer window.
What Krylya Sovetov are perhaps most in search of, however, is stability. A look through the history books shows that the Samara club are of the few in Russian history, particularly recent, to have exercised restraint when it comes to their managers. In their early days, Alexander Abramov enjoyed a six year spell up to 1952, and sustained mediocrity – no finishes above 10th – was enough to give Victor Karpov the reins for an entire decade in the 60s. In more recent memory, Victor Antikhovich, Alexander Averyanov and Alexander Tarkhanov have all enjoyed five year spells at the club since 1989.
It was the end of Tarkhanov’s reign that paved the way for Gadzhiev’s first spell at the club, taking over the side midway through the 2003 and presiding over one of the team’s most successful recent periods. His first full season in charge saw Krylya Sovetov claim 3rd place in the 2004 Premier League, as well as suffering (controversial) defeat to Terek in the cup final. Two years later, after less spectacular 14th and 10th placed seasons, Gadzhiev left Samara.
Since that day in 2006, the club have worked their way through four more managers, with Tarkhanov twice called back to try and drag his old side back up the table. A brief peak was achieved under the management of Leonid Slutsky, but his 6th place finish attracted the attention of CSKA Moscow, and the Samara club found themselves back to square one.
No doubt part of Gadzhiev’s appeal to the men in power is the memories of 2004, European qualification and the cup run, but there is certainly more than nostalgia at work with his appointment. He has already proved himself capable of creating sides hard to break down, ideal for a side fighting relegation. Furthermore, whilst at 67 years of age he does not represent a long-term solution, he has the potential to play a key role in creating the sense of stability that Krylya Sovetov need at this stage. With a new year dawning, it could be that the old methods are exactly what they need to employ.