Before Stanislav Cherchesov disappeared westward to Dinamo, Amkar Perm were doing battle with Rostov for the title of last year’s RPL overachievers. While Miodrag Bozovic’s charges ultimately came out on top last season – helped by the goals of loan star Artem Dzyuba and an unlikely victory in the domestic cup, there were times when it looked like Amkar could upset the nation’s apple cart. Victories over the Moscow giants and a brief push for Europe – something Rostov achieved – gave them high hopes ahead of the new campaign.
But just as Amkar fell away at the back end of the previous campaign, so they began the current season in poor fashion. Cherchesov’s reign married discipline to a reasonable attack, providing the goals that teams in the bottom half of the table so often lack. While they relied far too heavily on the ageing Bulgarian pair of Blagoy Georgiev and Georgi Peev – the former now plying his trade down the road with Rubin – they were able to find a goal when they needed it most, with the opposing pair of Martin Jakubko and another man now playing in Kazan, Maxim Kanunnikov, leading the line to good effect.
The current campaign, however, has been miserable. With just a handful of games remaining, Amkar sit not only in the relegation zone, but rock bottom of the Premier League. They are without a win in some time, having failed to beat even the teams around them – the notoriously porous Arsenal Tula and Torpedo Moscow – and struggling to pick up even a point against sides more favoured.
In contrast, while Bozovic left Rostov under an unfortunate cloud, the appointment of long-time Rubin stalwart Kurban Berdyev has proved an inspired one. Once expected to take on a more high-profile role after more than a decade with the Tatar side, he has transformed Rostov from a side on the end of numerous thrashings in the first half of the campaign to one of the league’s form sides, within touching distance of Terek and Kuban in midtable safety.
One of the keys to Rostov’s revival has undoubtedly been Berdyev’s reputation and his ability to bring in quality loan signings as a short-term fix. After announcing his end-of-seasons witch from Spartak to Zenit, Artem Dzyuba spurned the advances of several other teams to rejoin the southern club until the end of the campaign, while Sardar Azmoun has injected a youthful creativity in a side which had become somewhat predictable before the winter break. Vladimir Granat, a man who will become unwelcome in many areas of Moscow after agreeing to switch Dinamo for Spartak in the summer, has also sought temporary refuge under Berdyev’s tutelage, and while he is yet to feature will surely provide a solid option in the event of a defensive crisis.
By contrast, Gadzhi Gadzhiev – another one of Russian football’s managerial veterans – has failed to spark the much-needed revival in Perm. While he alone cannot shoulder the blame for the side’s slide to the foot of the table, journeyman forward Alexander Prudnikov has provided just a single goal in his six appearances since signing from Dinamo in the winter transfer window – a figure which summarises the problems of the club. While the defending has occasionally left much to be desired, Amkar have not been hammered in the way as Rostov, Arsenal and Torpedo were earlier in the season. Instead, their problems lie at the other end of the field, the Perm side netting a league-low 14 goals with just half a dozen games to go. Scoring a goal every other game may be a reasonable return for an individual striker, but for an entire team to boast a similar record is relegation form.
Another concern for Gadzhiev will be the form of the teams around them. Rostov are midtable and probablty safe – although could be dragged into a play-off – while Arsenal have also picked up three consecutive wins since controversially resting the entire first team in a home defeat to CSKA which drew much ire from the champions’ title challengers. Igor Kolyvanov’s Ufa looked to be sliding towards trouble, but a hard-fought 1-0 win over Lokomotiv at home picked up three much-needed points which will give the Bashkir side some hope of climbing back out of the drop zone. Even Torpedo, for a long time certainties to go down, have found a bit of a fight in recent weeks, and even their defeats have not been as abject as Amkar’s.
As things stand, Amkar’s bid for survival looks unlikely to succeed. Struggling for goals and with two of last season’s stars elsewhere, the fuxture list has also been unkind. In their final seven matches, the lowest-placed team they face is 9th-place Terek, with every other match against sides in the top half. While they do at least play a number of key games at homes, the likes of Dinamo, Spartak and Zenit will also fancy themselves to claim maximum points against the league’s strugglers. If they are to beat the drop, they will have to produce at least two or three upset victories. On current form, even one is difficult to imagine.
Should they indeed fall through the trapdoor, could Amkar bounce back? Looking down into the First Division, Gadzhiev – should he remain in charge – will take solace from the sight of former clubs Anzhi and Krylya Sovetov, as well as Tom Tomsk, occupying three of the top four slots in the second tier just a year after being relegated. Amkar, although by no means one of Russian football’s giants, have an established Premier League pedigree, and in theory should be able to attract the players capable of bringing them back up even if their current star talents decide to seek pastures new.
On the other hand, Amkar would do well to heed the warning of Volga Nizhny Novgorod, Sibir Novosibirsk and Luch-Energiya Vladivostok, all of whom have come down in the past decade and struggled to fight their way back. On the face of things all three clubs are smaller than Amkar, and Perm does not have a KHL hockey club to compete with for support, but Amkar are struggling financially and could take a substantial hit from the longer season in the second tier and heightened costs of travelling as far as Kaliningrad and Khabarovsk. While fans of the club will not welcome the vision, it is not difficult to imagine Amkar mired in the upper reaches of the First Division midtable for some time. Bigger clubs have fallen further in the past, and unless Amkar are able to either stabilise or shoot straight back up, they could fell be the next in the long line of clubs to vanish from the top tier of the Russian game.