Andy Potts

The pasty-faced, chubby-looking chap in the CSKA Moscow dug-out at Old Trafford might look more like the bus driver than the coach, but Leonid Slutsky’s footballing wits are far from flabby.
Having shuffled into the hottest seat in Russian football – coaching a side where Zico and Juande Ramos have already been deemed surplus to requirements since their season started in March – Slutsky hasn’t exactly overwhelmed the local fans of the Red-and-Blues.
While crowds for Friday’s game against Terek Grozny were undoubtedly hit by the unusual Friday 6pm kick-off time (most businesses in Moscow work until at least six, and often seven in the evenings), a turn-out of just 4,000 in the cavernous Luzhniki Stadium suggested a lack of enthusiasm for the new gaffer.
And a lacklustre 1-0 win over Terek Grozny might keep hopes of third place – and Champions League football – alive, but had little else to recommend it.
But the golden days of Valery Gazzayev’s all-conquering era are long gone now, and the once-wealthy side is facing a change of direction with big-name foreigners set to be replaced by emerging local talent.
It’s already true on the playing side – the itinerant army of Brazilians is dwindling, and after the home Champions League game with Manchester United, Ramos was left lamenting the state of a squad propped up by teenagers.
The likes of Georgi Shchennikov, Pavel Mamayev, Nika Piliev and, of course, the highly-rated Alan Dazagoyev represent the future for CSKA.
And that’s where Slutsky comes in. Despite being just 38-years-old he’s already taken two unfashionable sides into Europe on tight budgets in recent seasons. Clearly he’s adept at nudging and cajoling the best out of limited resources.
His FK Moskva team which came fourth in 2007 was never studded with stars, but proved obdurate, tough to beat and delivered the club’s best league finish since its complicated divorce from the Torpedo organisation of old.
Then at Krylya Sovietov Samara Slutsky took a journeyman squad, added the ageing Jan Koller and Andrei Tikhonov to give some star quality, and snuck into the Europa League in sixth place.
Not surprisingly, with CSKA looking local for their long-term future, and club president Yevgeny Giner announcing that only a Russian could nurture their local talent, Slutsky was high on the list of possible candidates.
Indeed, given the lack of other emerging prospects he might have been the only name on that short-list.
Despite little playing pedigree, he began managing at Olympia in his home city of Volgograd in 2000 and moved on to the fallen giants of Uralan Elista before getting a crack at the top flight with Moskva in 2005.
But he comes with some baggage: his second season at Krylya unravelled fast amid allegations of “throwing” their 3-2 defeat to Terek Grozny – with Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko saying he was “ashamed” for the Samara team.
The European adventure also ended in disgrace – leading 3-0 at home to St. Patricks Athletic, and 3-1 on aggregate, Krylya conceded two goals in the last 17 minutes to crash out on away goals. Mindful of the Terek controversy, conspiracy theorists have been quick to note that a 73rd-minute own goal turned the tide on the shores of the Volga.
For Slutsky, CSKA offers a big chance to prove himself at a top club – but the opportunity also brings expectations of success.
For CSKA, Slutsky is a calculated gamble. In a post-crisis environment which has seen sporting budgets cut throughout the Army club’s empire (the women’s basketball team has folded, the men’s is operating on a lower budget and there are rumours of similar constraints at the ice hockey side), paying premium sums for overseas help is no longer an option.
Yet, across town at Lokomotiv, memories of the last big thing among Russian coaches, Rashid Rakhimov, remain bitter.
Plucked from provincial outsiders Amkar Perm, where he was steadily building a solid mid-table outfit, Rakhimov arrived at big-money Lokomotiv expected to use the budget to bring instant success. A season of mid-table consolidation had the knives being sharpened, and a slow start this term saw him railroaded out of office and back to Perm, where he masterminded a successful escape from relegation.
Slutsky will be anxious to avoid a similar fate for himself.

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