You probably know more about Kuban’ Krasnodar than you think. You’ve heard of at least one of their players – former Liverpool forward Djibril Cisse. And you’ll know of one their most successful managers – former Romania international and Chelsea player Dan Petrescu, who left the club last summer to join Dinamo Moscow. You’ll probably know the league they play in – the Russian Premier League – and the European competition they’re currently in – The Europa League. You’ll have heard of the team they beat in a play-off to get into the group stage – Dutch side Feyenoord. But despite a highest ever league finish last season and their European success, the club have just parted company with their manager, prompting a fellow football writer to Tweet that Kuban’ are ‘competing hard for the title of Russia’s worst-run club’.
Kuban’ apparently parted company with manager Dorinel Munteanu by mutual consent – though initially it was suggested Munteanu’s agent was seeking €1.5 million in compensation. The club lost their first two Europa League group matches, and league form of late has been patchy – having come fifth last season, the club is currently tenth. But the club is only six points off the top six, and enjoying consecutive seasons in the Russian top flight: all Kuban’s previous promotions to the division have ended in relegation. I am probably not alone in believing the club should have shown a little patience, rather than resort to what appears to be a knee-jerk reaction to an early-season wobble. Over the weekend Governor of Krasnodar Region Alexandr Tkachev Tweeted ‘recently I haven’t been able to watch Kuban’ matches without pain’ – harsh given their last three league games have included a win and a draw, no matter how the side played.
Then again, stability is not something associated with Kuban’. In the post-Soviet era alone, the club has been promoted six times and relegated six times – and in the same period has had twenty-four permanent managers. Dan Petrescu’s two and a half years in charge were a period of relative stability – and since he left in the summer of 2012, there have been three managers. Many writers and commentators are supportive of Munteanu’s successor – Viktor Goncharenko, who had been at previous club BATE Borisov as player and coach since 1998. His recent success with BATE in the Champions’ League – including group stage victories over Lille and Bayern Munich – will buy him some time, but probably not more than the end of the season if Kuban’ fail to get out of their Europa League group and finish in the same league position as they are at the moment.
Kuban’s leadership wants more of last season’s success – and isn’t prepared to wait. Is this reasonable? It’s certainly expected – Premier League owners are often ambitious and ruthless, and in this case they are bobbing along on the high water mark that was last season. However, it feels like Kuban’s decision-makers have got stars in their eyes, failing to see the wider picture. Last season two Moscow sides – Lokomotiv and Dinamo – underachieved; increased transfer budgets – and a change of manager at Lokomotiv – will likely mean both sides challenging for top five positions. A couple of other teams finishing below Kuban’ in 2012 – Rubin Kazan’ and city neighbours Kransnodar – also have a good chance of getting into the European places. Kuban’ have lost two of last season’s better players, Aras Ozbiliz and Alexey Ionov, the only notable replacement being the so far disappointing Cisse.
There are clubs in the Russian Premier League that it’s easy to like: Amkar Perm’, and the hard-to-beat sides they consistently turn out; the well-structured FC Krasnodar; stable and successful Rubin Kazan’. Kuban’ were part of the list – provincial outsiders with a relatively small budget, but able to play good football and get results. It’s a stretch to call them Russia’s worst-run club – Anzhi Makhachkala, Terek Groznyy and Alania Vladikavkaz are three that roll off the tongue at present, but Kuban’s current approach to the Russian Premier League not only makes them less likeable, but also puts in jeopardy their recent progress.
Saul Pope is a Russian and Ukrainian football blogger and contributor to ‘When Saturday Comes’ magazine. He can be followed on Twitter: @saulpope