Money’s Not Everything (Zenit Management Is Actually Doing The Job)

When people are talking about Zenit, often times the first thing they mention is big money. The reason is obvious: the club is currnetly sponsored by Gazprom, a natural gas monopoly which provides it with seemingly unlimited amounts of cash. Zenit supporters sometimes critisize the club management for being grossly inefficient. But why would they need to be efficient when they have such huge resources? Rather than being efficient they can just throw money at the problem instead. A good example is the club’s transfer policy: the Zenit management doesn’t bother with finding talented players in the third division or some obscure South American leagues. They just buy Hulk for $40M and that’s it. Also, big money is needed to lure good players to play in Russia, otherwise they prefer European clubs. And no matter how much money you have, you still can’t get the very best to play here. The best you can get is a funny Brazilian fatty who doesn’t care much about team play and doesn’t seem to be able to win anything (Zenit has won zero titles/cups in the 2.5 years since Hulk joined the club).

However, if you think about it for a few minutes you’re going to have to realize that the Zenit management is actually doing a reasonably good job. In recent years, the team has won the domestic title a few times, also the UEFA Cup and Supercup. Zenit plays regularly in the Champions League, and even though the results are not particularly good and one can argue the club is underachieving in Europe, but at least there have been no big failures. In the last 12 years Zenit only had 4 coaches heading the team (plus one temporary interim coach), and all of them can be considered successful. This is a very good sign: the club chooses specialists very carefully so they don’t have to fire them after 6 months of work. Also, the pitch of Petrovsky is in excellent condition even in February, also thanks to good work by the club (and maybe a little help from the global warming, indeed).

Zenit is also doing well if you compare it to other Russian clubs who have good financing. For example, Dynamo Moscow had wads of money at one point a few years back. They signed half of the Portuguese national team but didn’t manage to win anything. Spartak Moscow is sponsored by a big oil company and are not exactly poor but they haven’t won any titles in over a decade, suffering some humiliating defeats in the Champions League at the same time. Zenit is doing quite well compared to those. There’s also one other example of good management in Russian football: CSKA Moscow. The club doesn’t have huge resources but their work on the transfer market is exemplary: on many occasions they were bringing in unknown or little known players like Dzagoev, Zhirkov, Olic, Honda, Doumbia, to name a few, and those players would turn out to be really good. So, money’s not everything in Russian football, the management is important too.

Sometimes I hear people say: “Zenit is a Gazprom project”. To me, this statement sounds ridiculous. I’ve been supporting this team since late 70s, long before Gazprom even existed! (Back then Zenit was sponsored by LOMO, a local optics manufacturer.) Like many supporters of my generation, I was in the stands in May 1984 among the crowd of 70.000 at the memorable Dynamo Kiev game in the Zenit’s first gold season. I also was in the stands in 1995 among the crowd of only about 3.000 people watching Zenit playing in the first division, working hard to earn promotion back to the top flight. I saw the team in 1980 when it consisted mostly of local youths and played wonderful attacking football, and witnessed the same in 2001 when the new generation of young local players again was given the chance at the club (such folks as Arshavin and Kerzhakov among them). I see the current team which consists mostly of foreigners and often has no Petersburgers in the starting lineup. Do I care? No! It’s still my team. I don’t care if it’s Champions League or second division, I just want to see Zenit play football. Many thanks to Gazprom for what they are doing for the club, but for me it doesn’t matter who’s sponsoring Zenit. It doesn’t matter what the market value of the players is. Gazproms come and go, but Zenit is always here. Zenit is not a “project”, it’s pretty much part of my life.

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