It seemed tough, but we did it.”
It was more or less reciting this a popular Italian advertising. For Spartak Moscow, after a 16-year wait for a title, the adjective hard now looks like an euphemism. Following years of humiliations, defeats, second places, millions of euros wasted and many coaches changed.
However, there’s a turnaround date, that was July 13rd 2016. In that chaotic day of July, Massimo Carrera was officially presented as a new assistant to the legendary Dmitriy Alenichev. At the beginning, he just had to deal with the defensive phase, but in a short time things turned out to be different.
Ready, steady, go, and within a month Myaso were eliminated in the Europa League qualifiers by modest Cypriot side AEL Larnaca. A tragedy that forced to change not only the season’s planning, but also worsened relations with fans, who expected much more different results from their team. However, the chairman Leonid Fedun did not think twice and fired Alenichev. At that point, the dream was to bring to Moscow Kurban Berdyev, but in the end the two sides could not find an agreement, with the Turkmen returning to Rostov.
And this was when Carrera took over.
After receiving an interim job for a couple of weeks, then he was almost forced by players to stay and to become the new head coach. The team spirit was immediately great and it’s not a case that it was often compared to Antonio Conte’s Juventus round after round. His attitude, his garra and his character were just what has been missing to red-whites in recent years.
Despite having a high quality squad, even big managers such as Yakin and Emery failed to be successful. And there’s only one reason: the mentality. The above-mentioned two bosses arrived in Russia not only with great expectations, but also with a respectful CV. In the end, they finished just with underestimating the level of the league. With Carrera, it was all but similar. Without any experience, he worked hard on players’ heads, even before the technical and tactical aspects. And it paid off.
At home, Spartak was like a tank. All the big sides were deservedly defeated. From CSKA to Lokomotiv, including Krasnodar and Zenit. Not even the September crisis with the defeats against Ufa (the only one at Otkritiye Arena) and Zenit (in St. Petersburg), and the elimination in the Cup against SKA prevented Myaso from completing their overwhelming journey.
The secret? Carrera is sure about it:
At Spartak, before being a team we became a family.”
Actually, there were so many factors involved, but the most important thing is that red-and-whites really deserved this victory. Carrera was good at exploiting poor periods of teams such as CSKA and Zenit, that were either at the end of a cycle (Slutsky–Goncharenko‘s change) or have struggled to find the right tactics (many of Lucescu’s choices are still questionable).
However, Spartak also had their fair share of good luck as since the beginning of the season they have clinched several late victories, maybe even not really deserved, but that has now turned out to be crucial. Fans’ support was essential as well.
When we play away, it’s like playing home for us”
players stated in every post-game interview.
And that is true. It’s not a coincidence that the Otkritye Arena is also the most visited stadium in Russia.
Moreover, it’s needless to say that everything would not have happened if many of the players had not had the best season of their career. From veteran Rebrov, after so many disappointing years, to the young Kutepov, who was even approached by Lazio, and captain Glushakov, who was a true leader compared to Juve’s to Claudio Marchisio due to his universality in both being central and box-to-box midfielder. Another leader was Fernando, who led the midfield, alternating quantity and quality in an impressive way. Zobnin‘s growth was also impressive, with Chelsea that could be interested. Promes was the classic top player, which gave class, liveliness and genius to the action. Keeping him this summer will be very tough. Zé Luis was great as no one expected such performance from him, and Popov too as he was always present in crucial games.
As if it was not enough to understand the atmosphere in Spartak, Carrera calls his players “gladiators”. Thousands of scarves with his face and the writing “Thanks, f**k” were sold, while in the title party over 40,000 fans invaded the field, giving life to crazy scenes, which you can hardly found in other leagues. This is Spartak and this is their spirit. Carrera was simply the wizard who awoke it.
Now it comes the hardest part: to confirm these results.
Myaso return playing in the Champions League after years of wait, and it will be at least interesting to follow their job. Fedun has already promised reinforces and it is entirely possible that some important players will come to Moscow now. Spartak have become again the club with the biggest budget of the league, and with this kind of fans, everything seems possible.
The most important thing for Russian football, however, is that the people’s team is back in the elite. Carrera has everything to rebuild what Conte had built in Juventus, bringing a noble European side to dominate firstly home and then to the top of Europe. It’s important to keep being humble, which has always characterized the Italian boss since he came to Moscow.
A gentleman who steered his gladiators to the top of Russia. Who would have thought so?
Cover photo ©Sputnik
Spartak supporters ©Kate_Lokteva/Flickr
Carrera-Kombarov and Promes-Glushakov ©Getty Images