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EvilDave

[FM17] Trials and Triumphs of a Turkmen

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It wasn't the first time my Balkan side had stepped foot into the presidential palace, but nevertheless I could not help but marvel at the sheer opulence on display. Aside from the carpet, there was nothing I could see that was not shining white marble, glistening gold or a combination of the two - it harked back to an ancient time.

We were ushered into the reception room by a number of guards, who were both armed and impeccably well dressed. The occasional crackle of a communications radio told me things were progressing well, and then at a signal the guards left us alone in the room, no doubt making way for the President's own personal security detail. We were left for somewhere between five and ten minutes, and then the grand doors opened once more.

As is tradition, each one of our contingent took two steps back before kneeling to bow, our eyes remaining fixed on the patterned carpet beneath us as we waited for President Berdimuhhamedow to address us. Only when spoken to would we dare to raise our eyes to meet his.

"Sons of the great Turkmen motherland," he begin, "you have done your nation proud. In vanquishing the enemy on the field of sport, you have brought great joy to your people and to your President. You have defended our honour, raised our flag to its rightful glory, and showed the power of the Turkmen to the watching world."

He continued, his hands animated as his rhetoric built. By this time, of course, we were permitted to look upon our President.

"I am grateful to you all for your prowess - for your determination, for your skill, and for your embodiment of the qualities which define our glorious nation. Whether on the football pitch, the martial arts arena, or the race track, the Turkmen people are born to succeed, and your victories bring honour to your nation.

"For many of you, this is not the first success of your career, nor will it be your last within this nation. To you, I wish good luck, and urge you to continue to participate and uphold the values which make Turkmenistan the envy of the world.

"For one of you in particular however, this is a new beginning."

At this the President strode towards us, his security detail flustered as he did so - this was clearly off-script. As the eyes of my players and staff followed his every step, our nation's leader ended his walk directly in front of my own position.

"Young Saparow," he began, unnerving me by placing his right hand on my shoulder as he did so. "You have already achieved so much for this nation, and you will go on to do much more. My son, as Arkadag of the Turkmen people, I charge you to spread our fame beyond our borders. With the support of this great nation, go forth and bring her the glory the Motherland requires."

As if nothing had happened, the President then returned to his original position, inviting us all to stand and join him for the traditional publicity photograph. As we left the building, with no further mention of the incident made, I'm convinced I saw the President turn to look at me once again, although given the mass of bodies between us I could not be sure.

There was no mention of his charge to me in the media report the following day, simply a gushing rehash of the season summaries already printed, along with various comments about how much the President supported sport in the country. Regardless of whether the moment was calculated, spontaneous or otherwise, my mind was now made up regarding my future. With nothing left to achieve and the direct command of the President, I would be leaving both Balkan and Turkmenistan.    

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In the wake of President Berdimuhhamedow's orders and his own desire to test himself outside of Turkmenistan, the end of the season signalled the moment for Bahtiyar to test the waters outside of the land of his father's birth. With the rest of the Central Asian nations also running their campaigns to a calendar year, there were several openings that took his fancy.

As it happens, Saparow also took the fancy of several of those sides. The first to get back to him with the offer of an interview were Uzbek outfit Lokomotiv Toshkent, which of course he duly attended.

They sparked a flurry of activity from the country across the border, with offers of interview from both Dinamo Samarqand and former giants Paxtakor Toshkent coming in the following days. Saparow was a little surprised to be courted by a club the size of Paxtakor, but was keen to be questioned nevertheless.

The offers did not solely come from Uzbekistan however. Also looking to appoint a new man were Tajik champions Istiqlol Dushanbe, who were closing in on 100 league games unbeaten but whose former boss had moved to take over the national team. They represented almost guaranteed success, and so were an intriguing proposition.

A fifth and final interview came from Alay Osh, recently-deposed champions of Kyrgyzstan, the so-called 'Switzerland of Central Asia' lodged high in the mountains. They would be looking to retain their crown, and were looking to Bahtiyar to get it for them.

And so, with five interviews completed and clubs from several countries seeking his services, all Saparow could now do was wait for the outcomes. His knew his time with Balkan was over, but was still none the wiser as to where his next move would take him.

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Neither Lokomotiv nor Paxtakor were interested in pursuing me any further, but on a single Friday I received no fewer than three offers of employment, and from three different countries. Kyrgyz contenders Alay were first, Tajik champions Istiqlol were hot on their heels, and an hour later Uzbek side Dinamo Samarqand came knocking as well. 

I told them all I'd make a decision by the end of the day, which gave me the pressure of a deadline. It was difficult - the chance to build something at Samarqand, claim back the title in Kyrgyzstan, or build on pre-existing success in Dushanbe. All of them had their own appeals, but in the end I had to make the call. And so the local papers had their headline the next day - although 'virtually unknown' seemed like an unnecessary slight to begin with... 

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Image result for istiqlol dushanbe

Image result for ÑеÑпÑбликанÑкий ÑÑадион дÑÑанбе

Istiqlol are without a doubt the dominant side in Tajikistan, having won every title since 2014. The deciding factor in this particular decision was the club's connections. In Turkmenistan I had enjoyed the backing, although only occasional, of President Berdimuhhamedow, but at no point did this make any material difference. However, Istiqlol boast support in high places in the Tajik government - President Emomali Rahmon's son Rustam used to play for the club, and the same man was, as well as being mayor of Dushanbe and a major general in the nation's army, was now head of the Tajik Football Federation.

So, do I have any desire to stay in Tajikistan for any great length of time? No - although I wasn't about to tell that to the interviewers. However, what this does represent is what should be a relatively straightforward chance to add more silverware to my collection and continue to build a reputation outside of Turkmenistan. This a short-term project, but one which should yield short-term success. The contract is for two years, and won't be extended - we should have won plenty by then.
--

So, Bahtiyar makes his move - and it's to another country led by a post-Soviet dictator. With accusations of match-fixing and biased refereeing in their not-too-distant past, Istiqlol will make for an interesting stop on his managerial journey, but one he had determined to be a short one. Only a lack of success in Tajikistan will tempt young Saparow to hang around for longer, but that sort of failure is unlikely to be tolerated by an expectant fanbase and president in the nation's capital. Either way, don't expect the Dushanbe chapter of this story to last too long.

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I spent over a decade at FK Khujand in a Soviet league setup so it pains me to say this, but good luck at Istiqlol! This has been a really interesting read so far.

Edited by nsd

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16 hours ago, nsd said:

I spent over a decade at FK Khujand in a Soviet league setup so it pains me to say this, but good luck at Istiqlol! This has been a really interesting read so far.

 

13 hours ago, kidthekid said:

Enjoying the save. Great work

Thanks chaps, glad you're enjoying things so far. @nsd - I'd be intrigued to hear about this Soviet league, was it on FM17? Always fancied a go at something like that!

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So, a change of scenery. I've arrived at the biggest side in Tajikistan, with a recent history laden with trophies, and am expected - and indeed expecting - to keep up that tradition. This is money available to spend - although the club's account is by no means overflowing with cash - and the club are happy to invest in their manager as well, sending me on just my second coaching course. So, is this going to be a breeze?

Well, no. The Tajik schedule does not allow a great deal of time for warm-up fixtures anyway, hence our mixed bag of a pre-season containing just three matches. However, of far more pressing concern is the playing squad which, as you can see, is less than ideal:

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We're very strong in attack - although Suhrobi wants out and has no interest in signing a new deal - and have good starting options in goal and the centre of defence. However, the depth in the playing staff is almost non-existent, while our choices in the full-back positions are limited to say the least. My greatest concern though, is the defensive midfield position. With Balkan, we deployed two men as a screen for the defence, while here there is just a single player - the young and inexperienced Dodojonov - capable of playing in the position.

That means that the transfer budget I have been given will need to be spent adding first-team-ready players to the side, as well as adding the depth that we will need as we tackle Tajikistan's relentless schedule. We have potentially three rounds of qualification for the Asian Champions League, the not-to-be-taken-too-seriously FFT Cup and its multiple group stages, before the League and Cup finally get going alongside whichever of the continental competitions we find ourselves in. It's going to be a long season, and as things still we are nowhere near ready.

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11 hours ago, EvilDave said:

 

Thanks chaps, glad you're enjoying things so far. @nsd - I'd be intrigued to hear about this Soviet league, was it on FM17? Always fancied a go at something like that!

 

It was for FM17 and 18 - it was actually originally made by a friend for FM12, I think? Super in-depth, totally accurate, correct competition histories, correct zonal divisions - a lot of work. Me and another friend (hi Dale!) updated it from the original files for FM17 and subsequently 18. It's more of a bare bones version with fewer regional divisions down at the bottom (only 3 instead of 10), but it's functional. It's not perfect, there are still a few issues, but it's playable. It was more just a thing for the two of us to enjoy cos we played the original file so much, so we weren't too bothered when a couple of things were overlooked. I'm into my 14th season with Khujand, and I played about 11 with Zalgiris on 17. It's a lot of fun, some of the regens produced in the smaller countries are insane. Tajikistan got to the 2nd round of the 2030 World Cup!

Edited by nsd

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That sounds really interesting and a lot of fun. I've always fancied trying to create something like that - a friend and I once came up with the top three tiers of a recreated Soviet system (top flight, second tier and then a five-region third level) but I lack the editing skills to pull it off. Plus what works in my head would probably end up horrifically imbalanced in FM!

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As you can see, we've been busy. Busy on the pitch, and busy in the market - there are only a handful of players there that will feature regularly in the first team (Dubkov, Shohzuhurov, Balymbetov, Yerofeev and perhaps a couple more), but the name of the game is depth and rotation, given that the Tajik talent pool is small and limited at best.

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At home on the field, we've done well without setting the world alight in the first group stage of the FFT Cup, going through our group undefeated. There's nothing to get carried away with here - of our seven opponents, only Saroykamar, Hujand and Lokomotiv are fellow top flight sides, and not particularly strong ones at that. There's a second group stage before the knockouts now, and the whole competition really is a glorified pre-season cup. Still, a trophy is a trophy.

In Asian competition, we narrowly missed out on a berth in the Champions League. However, we managed to surpass the president's own expectation by making it to the final round, edging out Omai side Al-Suwaiq and Jordanians Shabab Ordon on our travels to the Middle East. Given that we were away on both occasions, we can be very pleased. However, Iranian giants Foulad were a step too far, dropping us into the AFC Cup.

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Here, I'll have a reunion with my old foes Altyn Asyr, more meetings with Muharraq - who we have already hammered in our opening game - and a new opponents in Iraqi side Naft Al-Wasat. It's difficult to tell what our expectations should be given the variety of our opponents, but I'd like to think we can make an impression on the group and make it to the knockout stages. Beyond that, it really is anybody's guess. Back-to-back wins would be quite the achievement though...

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Another busy month, with a couple of AFC games thrown in among the hectic domestic schedule. Both were home games, and while we were frustratingly unbeaten to find a winner against my old sparring partners Altyn Asyr, we did pick up a fairly comfortable victory against our Iraqi visitors. With seven points from our opening three matches, we're well-placed to make it through to the knockouts - although with two of our three fixtures to be played away, we've still got work to do.

At home, we carried out to wrap up our unbeaten record in the FFT prelims (which I accidentally included in the last update) before going on to the competition proper. Again we got fortunate with the draw, finding ourselves as the only top division team in our quartet - although there were only three making it to the last eight - and duly making fairly serene progress without ever hitting top form.

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That left us with a semi-final against Hosilot Farhor, which a couple of set-piece goals saw us through without too much of a struggle. The final would be played against second-tier Parvoz, who we had beaten in the second group stage, but with a twist - we would be missing no fewer than 14 players to international duty. As if the competition was not already devalued enough by basically being a pre-season tune-up, we were robbed of the overwhelming majority of our starting line-up.

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Even so, we outplayed Parvox without managing to find the all-important goal, and were duly rewarded with victory in the penalty shoot-out. It was perhaps harsh on our opponents, who are unlikely to have a better chance of lifting the trophy, but in the end we prevailed, going the whole competition undefeated and yet never really hitting top gear. We'll have to do better in the league, but winning when far from our best bodes very well for the league campaign to come.

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April signalled the start of the league proper, and we started as we mean to continue. Lokomotiv and Saroykamar, both of whom we brushed aside in the FFT Cup earlier in the year, we smashed 5-0 and 4-0 respectively. After a brief pause for AFC Cup duty, we faced more of a challenge from Regar on home turf, but a late strike from Shohzuhurov earned us all three points and a perfect start.

Before that, we had two AFC Cup games with contrasting fortunes. Muharraq must be sick of the sight of my teams as we followed our 5-0 win in Bahrain with a 4-0 win at home in Dushanbe, only for our trip to Iraq to end in a narrow defeat to the home side. We've got one more left in the group stage - my first return to Turkmenistan as we take on Altyn Asyr - but we've already sealed qualification, so there is nothing at all riding on the game.

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Amongst all that, we managed to pick up our second trophy of the young season as we smashed Ravshan in the Super Cup. They got on the board late on, but Podstrelov's strike was their only shot on target of a very one-sided game. Given that they are expected to be our main rivals for the league title, this bodes rather well for the year ahead. 

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As mentioned, a perfect start to the league campaign and the only club to manage it. Our goal difference is already streaks ahead of anybody else, and given what we have seen from our opponents thus far I'd be thoroughly disappointed if we don't wind up taking the title comfortably. At the bottom, our cross-city rivals Lokomotiv have had an absolutely shocking start - we haven't helped with our 5-0 hammering, and I dare say we could dish out a few more of those if we play to our potential.

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A perfect month in May as we worked our way through a mixture of narrow wins and free-flowing thrashings. Hosilot, Lokomotiv and theoretical rivals Ravshan were all on the end of the latter as we blew past them all by three-goal margins, while Hujand and Hayr both held out against us until midway through the second halves of our fixtures before succumbing in the end. Our 100% record in the league continues, and already we're looking very hard to stop.

In the AFC Cup, my return to Turkmenistan could not have gone any better. Altyn Asyr simply couldn't cope with us as we hit them for five unanswered goals, converted winger Jalilov with the pick of the bunch from his new position behind the strikers. That put us through top of the group, and led to the the most inevitable of ties in the second round.

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We were the first tie drawn, and it simply had to be my former charges. Balkan actually took the lead against us through Boliyan, but despite Yerofeev's sending off we were able to fight back and eventually grab the win in a relatively even game. It was great to see some of my old players again - their new boss has not made too many changes to the side - but it's clear from this that I'm now in charge of a superior team.

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The league table makes for excellent reading as we hit the second of three rounds of fixtures, with a perfect record and an eight-point lead over Ravshan. They look likely to be our runners-up, with any of the bottom four could realistically find themselves going down at year's end. Additionally, the president has backed me personally, sending me on another coaching course to boost my abilities. With only four fixtures over the next two months, it's come at a perfect time for me to knuckle down and learn what I need to learn.

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On 09/09/2018 at 02:38, nsd said:

 

It was for FM17 and 18 - it was actually originally made by a friend for FM12, I think? Super in-depth, totally accurate, correct competition histories, correct zonal divisions - a lot of work. Me and another friend (hi Dale!) updated it from the original files for FM17 and subsequently 18. It's more of a bare bones version with fewer regional divisions down at the bottom (only 3 instead of 10), but it's functional. It's not perfect, there are still a few issues, but it's playable. It was more just a thing for the two of us to enjoy cos we played the original file so much, so we weren't too bothered when a couple of things were overlooked. I'm into my 14th season with Khujand, and I played about 11 with Zalgiris on 17. It's a lot of fun, some of the regens produced in the smaller countries are insane. Tajikistan got to the 2nd round of the 2030 World Cup!

Got a link to either 17 or 18 version mate?

On 07/09/2018 at 19:55, EvilDave said:

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Neither Lokomotiv nor Paxtakor were interested in pursuing me any further, but on a single Friday I received no fewer than three offers of employment, and from three different countries. Kyrgyz contenders Alay were first, Tajik champions Istiqlol were hot on their heels, and an hour later Uzbek side Dinamo Samarqand came knocking as well. 

I told them all I'd make a decision by the end of the day, which gave me the pressure of a deadline. It was difficult - the chance to build something at Samarqand, claim back the title in Kyrgyzstan, or build on pre-existing success in Dushanbe. All of them had their own appeals, but in the end I had to make the call. And so the local papers had their headline the next day - although 'virtually unknown' seemed like an unnecessary slight to begin with... 

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Image result for istiqlol dushanbe

Image result for ÑеÑпÑбликанÑкий ÑÑадион дÑÑанбе

Istiqlol are without a doubt the dominant side in Tajikistan, having won every title since 2014. The deciding factor in this particular decision was the club's connections. In Turkmenistan I had enjoyed the backing, although only occasional, of President Berdimuhhamedow, but at no point did this make any material difference. However, Istiqlol boast support in high places in the Tajik government - President Emomali Rahmon's son Rustam used to play for the club, and the same man was, as well as being mayor of Dushanbe and a major general in the nation's army, was now head of the Tajik Football Federation.

So, do I have any desire to stay in Tajikistan for any great length of time? No - although I wasn't about to tell that to the interviewers. However, what this does represent is what should be a relatively straightforward chance to add more silverware to my collection and continue to build a reputation outside of Turkmenistan. This a short-term project, but one which should yield short-term success. The contract is for two years, and won't be extended - we should have won plenty by then.
--

So, Bahtiyar makes his move - and it's to another country led by a post-Soviet dictator. With accusations of match-fixing and biased refereeing in their not-too-distant past, Istiqlol will make for an interesting stop on his managerial journey, but one he had determined to be a short one. Only a lack of success in Tajikistan will tempt young Saparow to hang around for longer, but that sort of failure is unlikely to be tolerated by an expectant fanbase and president in the nation's capital. Either way, don't expect the Dushanbe chapter of this story to last too long.

I remember on a journeyman save on 17 I ended up at Istiqol, think I won the league first try as the players aren't that good, moved on to Malaysia if I remember rightly. Good luck tho.

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5 minutes ago, bigmattb28 said:

I remember on a journeyman save on 17 I ended up at Istiqol, think I won the league first try as the players aren't that good, moved on to Malaysia if I remember rightly. Good luck tho.

Cheers Matt - the quality lower down the league leaves quite a lot to be desired, but Istiqlol should be dominant here with or without Bahtiyar. A lot of the smaller leagues tend to have one side that runs away with things IIRC.

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Two long, slow months which allowed me focus mainly on my coaching badge, but in the league we maintained our perfect record with comfortable wins - at home to Saroykamar, and away at Regar. July saw the start of the second domestic cup of the year - this one actually being the one people are interested in - and while we inexplicably struggled in the away leg at Hayr, the home tie saw the visitors fail to land a shot on target and so allow us to cruise through.

Off the field, we suffered a real blow as Hussaini Suhrobi, our top scorer and star striker, was finally bought after his ludicrously low release clause was triggered by promotion-chasing Khimki of the Russian second tier. I'd made an effort to renew his contract and remove the clause soon after joining Istiqlol, but he had no interest in sticking around. To replace him, we spent 30 times as much on Uzbek striker Shog'ulomov, and as a result he will lead the line for the rest of the season.

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Played 10, won 10, 11 points to second - at what is effectively the halfway point of the season, we're storming to the title and quite frankly I wonder why anyone would show any interest in what is clearly an annual one-horse race. Winning here is no achievement whatsoever, and already I'm starting to wonder what my next challenge might be.
--

Bahtiyar's side were making serene progress on all fronts, and another consecutive title looked to be nothing short of a formality - so far, so good for Saparow's CV.

However, our young hero was already feeling a little disillusioned with Tajik life, and was looking for a role which might test his skills more meaningfully in the future. He'd see this year out, of course - why allow someone else the credit for his success? - but would almost certainly not be around for the 2022 campaign. Where he would land was anybody's guess.

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The hope of the perfect season is extinguished, but otherwise we march on unhindered. Ravshan pushed us close to a first defeat, to be fair to them, but Vosiev prodded in late on to salvage a point from probably our worst performance of the year to date. Hayr posed no such problems, Hujand were stubborn but unthreatening, while in the cup we dealt with last-place Hosilot with ease in the first leg of our quarter final tie.

In the AFC Cup, we were back in Iraq to take on Al-Zawra'a, and after a cagey first leg the tie is still anybody's to lose. We needed an own goal for the early lead, but conceded again soon after and that led to a tight game with neither side willing to throw everything at it. We're marginal favourites heading back to Dushanbe, but it'll be tough. 

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We may have dropped points, but we've extended our lead over Ravshan and, with just eight games remaining of the campaign, the title is almost ours. We shouldn't have to wait long now before the mathematical confirmation, which will only confirm what everybody already knew - Istiqlol are by far the best team in this country. For the neutrals, assuming there are any, the bottom half is far more interesting - Hosilot, Hujand, Lokomotiv and Saroykamar are all scrapping for survival with very little between them. The same cannot be said of the top four. 

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We'll start this month with the cups, which saw us enjoy mixed form in the two knockout competitions. At home, we breezed past Hosilot Farhor to reach the final four of the domestic tournament, but in the AFC Cup we were outplayed in an entertaining encounter against Al-Zawra'a. Given that we had an away goal from the first leg, the Iraqis had to attack and they did so highly effectively, leaving Shog'ulomov's efforts in reply wanting. It was disappointing to lose, but the visitors deserved it on the night.

In the league, we continued to brush aside our opponents with relative ease - Hosilot the only exception here as we were 3-0 up on Saroykamar before conceding late on - ending the month with an emphatic 2-0 win over city 'rivals' Lokomotiv. At the full-time whistle, what we had known all along was finally confirmed.

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It was somewhat fitting that, in the game which finally sealed the title, we prevented Lokomotiv from having even a single shot at goal, let alone one on target. We struck early on, doubled the lead and then let our visitors struggle, a red card sealing their inevitable fate and our triumph. It is now been 109 matches since Istiqlol tasted league defeat - frankly, there is little point in playing the competition anymore.

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There we have it - four games to play or five for our nearest challengers, and a huge 17 point advantage that is now impossible to overcome. If there is any consolation, it's that the next round of youth graduates look decidedly poor, with only one striker showing any real potential, but with the drawing power of the club and the existing squad, this is likely to be the shape of things in Tajikistan for years to come. I won't be around to see it.
--

Istiqlol finally wrap up the title, and while Bahtiyar will be disappointed to see his side crash out of Asian competition for the year, a domestic quadruple is still on the cards to match last year's four-trophy haul with Balkan. His reputation is no doubt growing by the minute.

Which is just as well, as Saparow seems to have been disillusioned with like in Dushanbe almost since arriving, and will almost definitely be on the move again at the end of the year. His next destination is unknown, but I suspect he'll be looking for something a little more difficult to test his skills against.

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Despite having wrapped up the title, we still aren't done as the relentless Tajik season marches on. Two of our last four league games fell in Ocober, and again Ravshan managed to take points off us, a Balymbetov strike cancelled out in the second half, before a routine home victory over Hayr with a rotated side.

The main event however was the cup semi-final against Lokomotiv, who are still fighting for their lives at the foot of the table and so perhaps had their minds elsewhere. The away was first and rendered the second somewhat obsolete, a 3-0 win with two goals in the first half hour all but sealing our place in the final. Qurbonov headed in after just 90 seconds of the second leg to confirm it, and we take our place in the November showpiece. There we'll play second tier Parvoz - the same side we beat with 14 first team members missing in the FFT Cup final - and quite frankly they might as well give us the trophy already.

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Two games to go and, providing we don't do anything stupid, by the time they're over I'll have my second undefeated league season in a row across two countries - there can't be too many managers with that on the record, surely? At the bottom, it's Hujand's turn to take the spot at the bottom, and they've probably picked the wrong time to drop so low. For us, it's all about the cup now - who stays and goes at the bottom of the league is no concern of ours.

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Unsurprisingly, the cup final was a blow-out. We'd beaten Parvoz with our first-team missing earlier in the FFT Cup, and with the regulars back we were a class apart from the second tier side. Fair play to Parvoz for getting here, but there was only ever going to be one result as we sealed our domestic quadruple.

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After the cup final, we had to play out two more league games in order to wrap up the unbeaten year. We managed it with ease, relegating Hujand with a comfortable 3-0 away win and then concluding matters with two early goals against Hosilot Farhor. That secured the invincible year, my second in a row, and another year of domestic dominance for Istiqlol.

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The table confirms our superiority, as we wound up a massive 17 points clear of Ravshan and left third-place Hayr closer to relegation than the title. Hujand were the side to drop out of the league after Lokomotiv picked up a vital point in the penultimate round, and the rest of the table will prepare themselves for another round of competing to be best of the rest next season. Whoever leads Istiqlol, the title is almost a given.

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These are the men that got over the line this time round, and you can see from the statistics just how dominant we were. Balymbetov was perhaps the star performer from his spot behind the strikers, of whom Mahmudov, while never hitting the glorious heights of an Orazsahedow at Balkan, was more than prolific enough for Tajikistan. We were solid at the back too, where the towering Ulmasov denied the overwhelming majority of opposing strikers even a sniff of our goal. The squad remains old and depth thin in places, but at this point it is no longer my problem.

So, after a successful year with the only disappointment to be found on the continent, I'm in search of pastures new. The club president know it, the fans know it, the players know it. I'm not sure yet of the destination, but there are intriguing prospects out there. What I do know is that I need something I can build - Istiqlol has boosted my reputation, but done little for my enjoyment of the game.
--

Bahtiyar and Istiqlol are done, and while our young Turkmen hero will stay at the club while hunting for work, he is guaranteed not to be around for the next campaign. Four trophies, a continental quarter-final, and not a single domestic defeat across four competitions has shown he can do the business outside of his homeland, and has attracted the interest of several sides.

Where Saparow winds up is still anyone's guess, although at this point a move outside of Central Asia still looks a little way off. However, the regions biggest sides are just a short journey away in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, both countries where resources are greater and the football of a higher standard. Could this be Bahtiyar's ticket to the big time? Or will he have to bide his time in search of his first real managerial break? 

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The call came quickly - just two weeks after completing the season with Istiqlol, I applied for and received notice back from Shakhter, requesting an interview at the earliest possible opportunity. Bizarrely for a club of their size, the president was happy to conduct the whole business over the phone, informing me after a lengthy discussion that I would hear back within a few days.

More bizarrely, I received a second call just a few moments later from an unknown number, the voice familiar but completely out of context. The choice of language, the grandiose tone, the pauses for effect - there could be no doubt who was calling me, and yet there was no rationale behind it at all.

"Bahtiyar, my son, you have already proven yourself to be a fine ambassador for our glorious nation at home, and now under the watchful eye of President Rahmon. However, it is understandable that you seek to further our cause elsewhere, and I admire your pursuit of excellence.

"Your motherland salutes your abilities, and urges you to continue your representation of Turkmenistan as you gain glory and honour for our name. The sporting hopes of a great nation lie on your shoulders, young Bahtiyar, and you must not fail in your quest.

"Behold, I am convinced of your success, and offer you my patronage to aid your ventures. I have spoken with President Nazarbayev, and I assure you that no diplomatic nor bureaucratic delays will befall your movements. With the protection of the Arkadag, young Bahtiyar, the honour and glory of Turkmenistan will burn ever brighter. Fare thee well, my son."

The call ended as abruptly as it had come, and I was left dumbfounded, staring at my scribbled notes on the Shakhter Karagandy squad I had prepared for my interview. Why was President Berdimuhammedow speaking to me personally, and why did he take such an interest in my managerial career? Was it wise to have him watching my progress with such a keen eye? Would his interest lead to interference? I had no idea, and no way of knowing. I was baffled.
--

The response from Shakhter was promising, the Kazakh outfit keen to sound Saparow out about the prospect of reviving their fortunes after a couple of years flirting with the relegation zone in their top flight. Their resources would outstrip those of both Balkan and Istiqlol, but without the lofty expectations of either.

However, of perhaps more import was the interjection of Turkmen leader Berdimuhammedow once again - first after the unbeaten season with Saparow's first club, and now after a second invincible campaign in Tajikistan. His comments seemed to suggest the deal was all but done, and that he would see to it that our young hero would enjoy a serene passage to Kazakhstan, but why did he care? And what's more, why did he let Bahtiyar know he cared?

It seemed as if the President was being deliberately vague for the time being, but it added an extra layer of confusion to Saparow's thoughts. Whereas he wanted to be thinking only about Shakhter and his career prospects in a third country, he was instead left questioning the actions and motives of one of the world's least predictable dictators. Life was never dull for Bahtiyar Saparow...

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It was a done deal. It didn't take the Shakhter President long to decide I was the man to turn his club's fortunes around, and I wondered just how heavily, if at all, he had been leant on by a certain nation's leader. Istiqlol will take a small fee as compensation despite me having no intention of sticking around, and my own wage packet takes a significant hike on moving to Kazakhstan. Everybody here seems to be a winner.

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Shakhter hit the headlines for two reasons in 2013, the year after the second of two domestic titles under manager Viktor Kumykov. The first was for footballing reasons, the club coming agonisingly close to earning a place in the Champions League, defeating Scottish giants Celtic 2-0 at home in the play-off round only to concede a last-gasp winner in Glasgow to go out 3-2 on aggregate. The second emerged as that story unfolded, as it was discovered by the Western press that the club ritually sacrifice a sheep on the pitch before matchdays - much to the chagrin of PETA and their ilk.

Since then however, times have been grim in Karagandy - a place which, in Soviet days, was synonymous with the middle of nowhere. Shakhter have failed to finish higher than 5th in the 12-team top flight, and flirting with relegation on a number of occasions. The most recent of these was last year, when they slipped as low as 10th, just a point above the relegation play-off spot. Obviously, I have been deemed the man to improve things at Shakhter Stadium.

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The squad is a mixture of well-paid foreigners who are a cut above the rest, domestic talent of varying quality, and promising youngsters not quite ready to break through. The president has handed me a considerable budget - the equivalent of £1m in Tenge - to improve the squad, and that will be my first port of call. By my reckoning, we need most urgent reinforcements in the defensive and attacking lines of midfield, and could do with another centre-back and a top striker. If the offers come in, I'm not beyond selling the foreign stars - nobody is irreplaceable, and I'll need to be busy.

For the first time in my career, I'm taking over a team at a real nadir, far from the top of the table rather than expecting an immediate challenge. Regardless of how I ended up with the role, I'm genuinely excited. Karagandy may not be the place to be from a social, economic or tourist perspective, but I'm hoping to least put it back on the map for footballing reasons. Sheep or no sheep. 

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Pre-season has been busy here. Unlike in Tajikistan, where we had a pre-season tournament and Asian qualifiers to deal with, the Kazakh league does not get underway until March, giving me a full three months with the squad. Some of the conditions we've played in have been harsh - bordering on unsafe, in fact - but the results have been promising, the performances improving, and a 1-0 win over Chinese giants Jiangsu in our final tune-up gives me plenty of hope for the season to come. The players have learned the system well, and we should not be anywhere near the relegation zone come the end of the year.

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A big reason behind that is our activity in the transfer market, where we have bought in no fewer than 10 new faces to the side, while moving on some of the highest earners and dead weight from the existing squad. There was some consternation at the departures of first-choice keeper Svedkauskas and fan favourite Stojanovic, but neither was beyond replacement and earned a significant amount. Ermekov was the only other decision that required any thought, but he had already reached his peak and Atyrau offered us a good price for his services.

Of the 10 arrivals, most will see playing time at some point over the course of the season, but to varying degrees. Belarusian Konevega arrives to take a place on the bench in the attacking midfield rotation, along with Ibraev and part-time strikers Trofimenko and Sariev. Belozerov is a promising backup goalkeeper who cost us nothing, while our biggest outlay, Ruslan Kaimov is a forward for the future who will also see some minutes this year. 

The remaining quartet are likely to be first-teamers from the outset. Sorokin will anchor our back line, Trofimets looks like a potential future captain, and both are young Kazakhs who have already made their international debuts. The other two arrivals are also young and share a nationality - Nazarov, poached from Shakhtar's academy, and the lively Bogdanov, will hopefully give us the edge we need to move up the table rather than down it. The former in particular looks like a real find - I doubt he'll spend too much time in Karagandy if he lives up to his potential.

All in all, it feels like a successful window - our business got done early, the team has gelled, and we've got both pace and youth on our side. We might not be championship contenders just yet - give it a year or two and a few more additions - but there's the makings of a good team here, and now it's up to us to prove it to the nation.

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We kicked off the season with just the three games in March, an international break then halting our momentum. So far, signs have been good - we opened up the campaign with a home game against pre-season favourites and last year's runners-up Astana, and while the richest team in the land got the win eventually, we made them work for their points. We aren't supposed to be beating them just yet, so to run them so close is promising.

On the other hand, Kaspii Aktau are favourites for the drop, and so a last-gasp Bogdanov winner will go a long way in easing our own relegation fears, even if we should be able to pull clear of the pack. Three days later, midtable outfit Ordabasy came to Karagandy and left well beaten, two more of our winter signings on the scoresheet along with Uzbek striker Ismailov as we put in our best performance of the month. So far, so good.

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It's far too early to look at the table, but after three games we sit in the top half and just a point off the lead, which is better than most fans would have hoped for. Last year's surprise champions Kaisar are looking to prove that their success last time round was no fluke, while at the bottom end of the league it's Svoiet powerhouses Kairat who have got off to a slow start, although there's no chance they'll be at risk of relegation. There's a long way to go - 30 games, to be precise - but if we can keep this up it'll be a fine year indeed.
--

Bahtiyar's new side were up and running, and after pushing Astana close in their opener looked like an improving team, picking up two wins and earning an early spot among the runners and riders. Any doubts about the volume of change being a problem looked to have evaporated, and Shakhter were increasingly looking like being better than their predicted 9th place finish.

For Saparow, more success would no doubt bolster his burgeoning reputation further, but at the moment he had no thoughts whatsoever about leaving Kazakhstan. After his last years of management had brought about silverware at a canter, he felt like his new task in Karagandy would be a genuine task of his abilities. To build a team capable of challenging, and then to actually challenge - it would be no mean feat, but one he was relishing.

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The second month of the season has flown by, and remarkably we only have one more loss on the board. Frustratingly it came away at old rivals Kairat, who are not enjoying their best season ever, but even then we only fell to a late goal and more than held our own against what is, on paper at least, one of the strongest sides in the country.

Before then however, we extended our unbeaten run to six matches, building on our two wins in March with a routine 2-0 victory at Atyrau and then edging out Irtysh at home courtesy of a goal from teenage striker Ruslan Pak, who looks to have the potential to go a long way in the game. Zhetysu were next and we left Taldykorgan with a point through Bogdanov, before hitting our stride with a 3-0 romp over Akzhaiyk before tasting defeat in Almaty.

Our final game of the month came in the opening round of the cup, and while fellow Premier League side Okzhetpes looked like a tough draw, we blew them apart in a 4-1 win which was every bit as convincing as it sounds. More of that, and we could spring a surprise or two this season.

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A quarter of the way through the campaign, Shakhter Karagandy are just a single point off the top of the table, which before the season began was unthinkable. Kaisar continue to set the pace, but it's another surprise outfit, Zhetysu, who hold second place for the time being, with perennial challengers Aktobe completing a trio of sides sat on 16 points. The traditional powerhouses of Astana, who won five titles in a row from 2014-18, and Kairat, Kazakhstan's flagship side in the Soviet era, are both stuck in midtable, but have the potential to catch up quickly. Effectively, it's still anybody's title at this stage.

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After the highs of April, May brought new lows and a dose of reality to Karagandy. Whereas we may have convinced ourselves that a six-game unbeaten run was enough to have us fighting at the top end of the table, a follow-up run of six points in seven matches has put us firmly back on terra firma.

It started well enough, the side bouncing back from last month's defeat to Kairat with the cup win and then May's opener, a hard-fought away win at Aktobe which saw us hang on superbly after Ismailov's early goals. A home draw with Okzhetpes would have been better had we not beaten them 4-1 in the cup just a week earlier, but even then the alarm bells were not ringing.

Nor did they sound after a narrow defeat by champions Kaisar, but at Astana they were triggered. A miserable performance resulted in a 3-0 reverse, and we followed that up by failing to score against rock bottom Kaspii Aktau. Trofimets rescued us an undeserved point late on at Ordabasy, before a miserable month was capped off with another defeat to Astana, this one at home and dumping us unceremoniously out of the cup. There is still plenty of work to do.  

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Having been a single point off the lead at the end of April, our poor run drops us a full eight behind Kaisar, who are starting to stretch their advantage as they look to retain the title. Astana have found form to emerge as challengers after a slow start, while Zhetysu are hanging on at the top end against all expectations - last season, they needed the play-off just to survive in the top flight.

Only five points split the sides in 2nd and 9th so we mustn't be too disheartened, but equally have to be wary of how quickly we can slide down. However, even at this early stage it looks like Kaspii Aktau will need something special to stay up, and both Irtysh and Atyrau are being cut adrift when looking to avoid the play-off spot. We should be safe, but safety is the bare minimum. We're still well-positioned, but we need a real turnaround to maintain or improve our fortunes from here. In many ways, the season starts now.

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An oddly-scheduled Kazakh summer saw us play a single game in June - a narrow win over Atyrau - then take a lengthy break to soak up the Moroccan World Cup, an intriguing tournament with a few new  faces ending in a familiar result, allowing us to play a couple of contrasting friendlies before picking things up once again at the start of July.

When we got up and running again, we did so with new two men in the squad. Holding man Bagdat Volokh will play a rotation role in his favoured position, while young Ukrainian full-back Igor Patula went straight into the team after costing us the equivalent of £125k from Chernomorets in his homeland. Both made their debut in a convincing 3-1 win in Pavlodar as we resumed our campaign, and from then on things picked up nicely.

Akzhaiyk were brushed aside on the road before our best performance of the season, old enemies Kairat destroyed at home and sent back to Almaty in disgrace. Okzhetpes posed no threat thereafter, and while Aktobe held us to a draw, Bogdanov's strike edged us to a 1-0 win over champions Kaisar to continue our superb form.

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In the process of continuing the run, our Ukrainian hitman broke a long-standing record which highlights the problems Shakhter have had over the past few years. In a 33-game season, a goalscoring record in single figures is only ever going to lead to struggle, and so with Bogdanov finding the net on a regular basis, we have every chance of improving their historic poor fortune.

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The table demonstrates as much. Six wins from seven sees us hit the top of the pack as other sides take points off each other - pleasingly, it was the Kairat thrashing which put us there - and two-thirds of the way through we find ourselves in a scarcely believable position. There has been something of a reshuffle since the summer break, with Kaisar losing form entirely and Aktobe in particular finding it, but it looks like we are one of five sides with realistic title ambitions. Three of them - Aktobe, Astana and Kaisar - would have been disappointed with anything else. For ourselves and Zhetysu, this is wonderland.

What we need to be careful of is a loss of consistency, which is something we've struggled for all season. In seven-game blocks this year we've gone 5/1/1, 1/3/3 and 6/1/0, swinging wildly between unstoppable and unwatchable. If we can put together one more winning run we stand a real chance of doing something special, but there's every chance we fall back into midtable with a stretch of poor form. However, there is hope, and that's something we can feed on. 

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3 hours ago, kidthekid said:

great run off form. Best of luck in the remaining fixtures 

Thanks, I've been surprised at how well the team has been performing. Never expected a title challenge this early!

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A couple of friendlies to kick off August as we tried to keep our fitness up over the international break, and it paid dividends in a major way as a Bogdanov brace helped us brush aside Astana when the league got underway once again. Bottom club Kaspii Aktau were easily beaten on the road before our Ukrainian star did the damage again against Ordabasy on home soil, and the only disappointment of the month came in the final match, Atyrau holding us goalless in a match we dominated.

So the good form continues, and it does it is no coincidence that the records keep tumbling for Bogdanov. His goals have kept us in contention, and we stand a chance as long as we can keep him fit and away from the clutches of other clubs.

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Behind the scenes, rumours are swirling that the president is looking to not only move aside, but sell the club. From a business point of view, I can see why he'd be keen to pull the trigger now - we're a club on the up and with a great deal of potential - but with us so well-positioned in the table, surely it makes sense to wait until the end of the year? Either way, my job will be to ignore the speculation and ensure the players don't get sidetracked - we've got far more important business to deal with.

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Just two dropped points in August means we maintain our lofty perch, helped by the fact that Aktobe and Astana fell away, picking up just four and five points respectively from their four matches. It is now Zhetsyu, who remember were almost relegated last season, who are out closest challengers, and with eight games to go our advantage is up to five. 

Eight games is plenty of time for any number of things to happen, but for now we find ourselves in the unbelievable position of being favourites to lift the title in my first season. This wasn't something I'd planned for, nor had it been expected - but if it finishes like this, I'll certainly take it.

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Four more games, each of them crucial, and four more remarkable victories. The blow-out wins and the clean sheets are now few and far between as the pressure mounts and the points somehow mean more, but each time we managed to get over the line. Late goals were critical throughout September - Bogdanov's late winner against Zhetysu the pick of the bunch, but his 76th minute striker in Almaty and even the one-two punch at home to Irtysh were all critical moments late in games when things could have gone either way.

We've got four games left now - against struggling Okzhetpes and then three top sides in Aktobe, Kaisar the return game with Zhetysu. We're in pole position, but there's still plenty to do.

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September also saw the first-fruits of the academy during my time in Karagandy, and there is plenty of potential in the youth ranks here. If Zhumakhanov and Turashbaev live up to it, we've have our strike force settled for years to come, but the brightest prospect looks to be playmaker Serikuly. Regardless of how they end up, there's clearly a good set-up here.

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Eight points, four games. I still can't believe we've found ourselves in this position, but we are days away from being able to seal the title. If Zhetysu drop points in their next fixture, a win over Okzhetpes will wrap it up for us. Even if don't take that opportunity, there will be others - although Aktobe, Kaisar and Zhetysu themselves should prove stronger opposition. It's been a truly remarkable season, and if we can get over the line it will be a genuinely historic year for the club. Against all the odds, we are nearly there.

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We started the month with a failure off the field, the proposed takeover falling apart after weeks of negotiations. We followed that up with failure in our first match, probably our worst performance of the season saved for the visit of Okzhetpes, who took full advantage to beat us easily.

However, our trip to Aktobe was a different story, two strikes from Bogdanov late in the second half earning him yet another record and a clean sheet snaffling one for our under-appreciated 'keeper Tkachuk. 3-0 and utter domination was the outcome, and the three points were very valuable. We wound up the season with two games at home, edging out dethroned champions Kaisar before scoring and conceding late on against Zhetysu in the final game. All of which of course meant...

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Shakhter Kragandy are Kazakh champions, crowned in victory at Aktobe with one of best games of the year. I can scarcely believe it, the fans and the president are understandably ecstatic, and both my players and I are being regarded as local heroes. That left the two home games to celebrate in front of our loyal support, and we managed to do so unbeaten.

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In the end, the league table does not lie. Most wins, fewest defeats, strongest goal difference - we are deserved champions, hitting form at the start of June having been eight points off the top after 14 games, and never really looking back, that late defeat to Okzhetpes our only loss in the final 19 matches. It was an odd season all round, with defending champions Kaisar slipping to 6th, Kairat only managing 7th, and last year's relegation battlers Zhetysu pushing us closest. Regardless of what everybody else got up to, it will long in the Shakhter memory.

The squad that made it happen was dominated by new own signing, with the new arrivals forming a strong spine to a team that gelled far quicker than I could have hoped for. The three star men in each department were Sorokin at the back, Nazarov in midfield and the unstoppable Bogdanov up front, the Ukrainian striker breaking record after record and racking up the awards. If we can keep him in Kazakhstan, we'll be doing well.

Next year, who knows what will happen? Our squad is obviously good enough to compete at home, and we'll be eyeing a strong cup run as well as hoping to defend our title. Excitingly, our league success grants us access to the Champions League and its endless riches, not to mention a true test against Europe's best. It's a chance for Shakhter to get back on the footballing map, and for me to build my own reputation in the wider footballing world...
--

To the surprise of everybody, not to mention Bahtiyar himself, Shakhter not only held on to their lead but wound up convincing champions of Kazakhstan, a rebuilding job that was expected to take two or three years at least completed in a single season. Saparow's successes would surely not go unnoticed, especially with a European campaign now on the horizon.

For the time being however, he was in no hurry to get out of Karagandy. He was a local hero, the team had taken to his ways very well indeed, and despite the constant rumours of a new president and the club being sold, working relationships were good. The glove seemed to fit, and Bahtiyar had his eye firmly fixed on further success on the steppe.

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The off-season went as smoothly as we could have hoped, aberration against Ural aside. That said, it began oddly enough, as for three consecutive days I was left the same voicemail message - a poorly sung rendition of the Turkmen national anthem - in the middle of the night. I have no idea what that was about, nor did the number leaving the messages respond. Otherwise, our warm-up games were simple enough.

Whereas in previous years I've gone big in the market (this year I forgot a summary screenshot) , this season was about quality over quantity. Five newcomers arrived, and with the exception of attacking midfielder Nazarchuk - who cost us nothing after Dnipro chose not to renew his contract - they all came from title rivals. Ermekbaev comes in from Kairat after their disappointing season last time out to sit in front of our defence, Startsev joins from Aktobe to become our first choice at full-back, while Kadyrkulov and Baltabekov cost us big money from Astana and will slot right into our starting eleven. The prospect of the latter lining up alongside Bogdanov should send shivers through Kazakh defences.

All of which had us ready for the curtina-raising Super Cup against cup winners Kaisar, and...

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We breezed past them, two of our new signings accounting for three of our four goals and our clean sheet spoiled only in the dying moments from a set play. If we needed to prove to anybody that last season's success was no fluke, this will have gone some way to doing so - we were emphatic victors, and fully deserve the accolade. If we take this into our league fixtures we have the making of a very good season indeed - and on the back of last year, that is saying something.

 

Edited by EvilDave

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March may not have been particularly busy - just the solitary game which saw us collect three easy points at Akzhaiyk - but April certainly was, seven games in the month as the league began in earnest. We're already a quarter of the way through the season, and so far the signs have been excellent.

What's clear is the new strikeforce of Bogdanov and Baltabekov is gelling well, with both among the goals - eight and four respectively - early on. The new man is firing in patches thus far with two braces to his name, but only Ekibastuz, the newly-promoted side, have managed to shut out both of them in the same match. That game was a lowlight, as was a completely undeserved defeat in Pavlodar, but for the most part we have been superb. The 4-0 win over Astana was probably the highlight, the richest team in the land swatted aside like a non-league outfit.

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We aren't quite on top of the early standings, but we aren't far off. Aktobe have started like a train, but they haven't played us yet and are only two points ahead - not only that, but our goal difference is already almost double that of anybody else. Kairat have started much better than they did last season and need to be watched, but last year's shock challengers Zhetysu are back in the pack. At the bottom, Akzhaiyk are already struggling.

By the end of next month we'll already be hitting the halfway point of the season, as well as through the early rounds of the cup. However, the biggest challenge this year - not that we can take the domestic situation for granted - will come in Europe, and our participation there waits until the summer. I cannot wait to see what football's biggest club competition has in store for us. 

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Unstoppable. That's the only word being used to describe us after a superb May which saw us defeat all comers, an away day in the capital the only game of our eight this month that didn't see us score at least three goals. We've been irresistible going forward, our front two ably supported by the midfield as the goals have flowed, and at no point have we even looked like dropping points. We have been incredible, and long may it continue.

It hasn't just been league form which has been good either, second-tier Kaspii Aktau brushed aside in the first round of the cup before we saw off Astana in the last eight. Into the semis we now have a domestic double firmly in our sights, and after last year's failure I'd love to get my hands on the cup this time round.

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As you might expect after 12 wins from 14 and eight in a row, we are flying high atop the table. A multitude of three- and four-goal winning margins has already given us a ridiculous goal difference, and it would take a brave man to bet against us retaining the title at this juncture. Added to our own dominance has been the drop-off from Aktobe - after gathering 21 points from their opening eight games, they have picked up just five from their next six. Kairat, Astana and Kaisar all lurk in the distance, but at this stage we are afraid of no-one. Bring on Europe.
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Shakhter are kings of Kazakhstan and playing like it, with Bahtiyar's men flying high atop the league. The handful of international players stolen from alleged title rivals have put the Karagandy outfit streets ahead of their opponents, and already it looks like yet another league title for our young hero.

However, even at this stage it is Europe and the lure of the Champions League that is playing on Saparow's mind. The draw for the first stage of qualifying is just weeks away, with the campaign getting started in July. That will be the true test of this Shakhter side, and potentially the competition which propels Saparow's star beyond Central Asia.

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1 hour ago, withnail316 said:

Just caught up with this, some outstanding work ED.

Thanks withnail, glad to have you along!

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A quieter month, and yet somehow this one contained our second defeat of the season. Tobol had a solitary shot on target, but it found the back of the net to leave us embarrassed on the way back to Karagandy. To say it was a quiet journey was an understatement. It came at toughly the same time as another suspected investment - this time from my homeland - but that too fell through, with the current president apparently driving a hard bargain.

We won the other three though, with clean sheets each time to boot. A knock to Bogdanov meant the goalscoring responsibilities fell firmly on Baltabekov's shoulders, and he delivered well. Of equal significance this month however was the Champions League draw - we know our opponents for my long-awaited debut in the competition, and they are...

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Dinamo Minsk of Belarus, who are their nation's leading side after years of domination from BATE Borisov. It won't be easy, but if we're still in the tie after the first leg, I fancy us to spring a surprise back on home soil. I'm very excited to finally play in Europe, and I hope my men channel that into something special.

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In the league, we see our lead cut by a point courtesy of that loss in Tobolsk, but Aktobe are still 10 behind us with more than half the season played. Kairat are the only other side looking like keeping remotely in touch, but we're very strong favourites from here. Only eight points cover the entire bottom half of the table, so there may be more excitement there as things draw to a close, but we shan't concern ourselves too much with that.

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look dominant right now. Best of luck in the UCL. How are are you tactics looking, I know you play with 2 up front right?

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1 minute ago, kidthekid said:

look dominant right now. Best of luck in the UCL. How are are you tactics looking, I know you play with 2 up front right?

Thanks! I reckon we can squeeze past Dinamo, after that it's the luck of the draw.

I don't have the game open right now, but the tactic looks like this:

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It's something I developed on FM14, and it seems to have translated to 17 rather nicely (I didn't have 15 or 16). Width comes from the fullbacks flying up and down - they're probably the key players here, we score a lot from crosses - while the central square ensures we're rarely outplayed in the middle. The front two get most of the goals, but the SS chips in plenty too and makes sure we're never short of men in the box. It doesn't dominate possession very often, but the midfield four allow us to play through teams if they sit back, while keeping men up the pitch means we get plenty of goals on the break, long balls from the DLP or fullbacks springing a counter. It isn't beautiful football in the conventional sense, but it's very effective. In terms of TIs I play fluid/attacking, more direct, higher tempo, more closing down, pass into space and play out from the back, and the only PIs I use are turning off long shots wherever possible. Hope that helps!

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Not quite the perfect month in July, but very, very good nonetheless. In fact, our only dropped points in the home came away at our nearest rivals Aktobe, which saw a rotated side take to the field just three days before we began our Champions League campaign. We reached four goals on no fewer than three occasions in the month - most satisfyingly against Astana - and there remains little threat to our domestic position.

In the Champions League, we escaped Minsk with a draw, a lucky strike from Baltabekov giving us the vital away goal after we were outplayed for much of the game. However, at home in Karagandy we took the Belarusians apart, limiting them to long-range efforts and netting either side of the break to book a spot in the next round. There, in the early days of August, we will face...

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Hapoel Be'er-SHeva of Israel, who overcame Lithuanian opposition to earn their place in this round. Hapoel are probably a marginally better side than Dinamo, but according to the results so are we - it promises to be a close one, but if we can make it through then we are guaranteed group stage football of one sort or another for the rest of the year. The stakes are high.

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In the league, the gap is now up to 13 points with 10 games remaining, and the title is all but confirmed as staying at Shakhter. Our superiority is highlighted by our goal difference - and the fact that only two other teams boast a positive one - and the sheer distance we have put between ourselves and midtable pack, with 4th and 10th just six points apart. We'll leave others to the melee - for now, we can afford to turn our eye to Europe.

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There is only one place to begin this month, and it isn't with the regular fixture round-up. First came the Hapoel tie, in which we discovered that either the Israelis were nowhere near as good as we had made them out to be, or we had been underestimating our own capabilities. Without the injured Bogdanov for both legs, we took a decisive three-goal lead in the away leg before romping to victory at home, guaranteeing ourselves group stage football of some description and booking a play-off tie against Dinamo Zagreb for Champions League qualification.

That was a tie that got the heart racing, a last-gasp leveller for the Croatians in the first leg in Karagandy giving them two away goals and a clear advantage heading into our Balkan rematch. After 25 minutes in the Maksimir we were 3-1 down on the night and staring down the barrel of defeat, but a rallying cry at the interval seemed to do the trick. First the returning Bogdanov stabbed us to within a goal, and then with five minutes to go our teenage substitute Pak nodded in Startsev's cross from the left to silence the home fans. 3-3 on the night, 5-5 on aggregate, and for the first time in their history, Shakhter Karaganda are in the Champions League proper. We have arrived.

Not only will the reputations of the club and myself increase dramatically, so has our financial power - the many millions coming at a point when the club was otherwise struggling for money. With the president still looking to leave the club in the not-too-distant future, my requests to invest the windfall in the club's infrastructure and facilities have fallen on deaf ears. That may be a deciding factor in my own future.

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There was a real sense of excitement for the group stage draw, and after its conclusion - FC Basel being the missing team - we were left to reflect on a draw that could have been both better and worse. In Juventus and Chelsea we have two teams who give us absolutely no hope of progressing, but the same is probably true of every group in the competition. Besiktas as a third seed makes it interesting though - if we can somehow get something at home, there's a chance, a slim chance but a chance nonetheless, that we end up in the Europa League next year. That's the aim at any rate.

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Domestic matters took very much a back seat in August thanks to our continued continental adventures, but the two games that we did play yielded the expected results. Ekibastuz are looking like strong favourites to go back down and offered very little - allowing Baltabekov to break a record remarkably early in the process - and away at Okzhetpes our rotated side did the business with ease. Europe is very much the focus now - expect much more rotation in the coming weeks.

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The league is nearly done - it would take a collapse of epic proportions for us not to retain the title at this stage. Our lead is 13 points, there are but eight games to go, and only only side harbours any hope of catching up. The moment Aktobe drop any further points the race is won, and even if they keep on winning, four more victories on our part would seal the deal regardless.

Elsewhere, Kairat look to have made 3rd place their own, leaving Kaisar, Tobol, Irtysh, Astana, Ordabasy and Okzhetpes to squabble over the midtable spots. Beneath them, last year's runners-up Zhetysu could yet be dragged into the relegation picture, but on current standings and form, it looks very much like either Ekibastuz or Akzhaiyk will be playing second-tier football next year. We, on the other hand, are now operating in an entirely different world.  

Edited by EvilDave

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Considering we only really played in the second half of September, it proved a busy month. Two days in we edged past Kairat with the first of several late goals over the course of the month, but on our return after the international break we were frustratingly held in Pavlodar, Irtysh taking points off us for the second time this season. A late Sariev strike saw us beat Tobol, before we closed out the month firing blanks in Kyzylorda. 

In amongst league action were two very different cups - the lesser focus being on the domestic trophy, were another late strike, again from Ruslan Pak, sees us take a draw into the second leg of the semi-final. In Europe however, we got our campaign off to a dream start with Boganov's goal against Besiktas, and although the Turks equalised within 10 minutes, we kept pushing and were rewarded late on when Filimonov's shot deflected in. There is a long way to go, but we can already be hugely proud of our achievements.

Off the field, I was finally able to get onto the UEFA coaching ladder - their qualifications are more prestigious than Asian ones, and will allow me to return to it even if I'm managing on another continent in future - and the latest batch of youth graduates emerged, young defender Evstigneev looking like hvaing a particularly bright future. In other news, as sure as the world keeps turning here was another takeover rumour - I won't hold my breath this time.

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Perhaps the main reason for our less than emphatic league form, aside from the fact that I've been rotating the squad, is that against Tobol we finally confirmed what everybody has known for a long time. Sariev's goal was enough for us to mathematically retain a title we haven't looked like losing at any point, and combined with the riches gained from the Champions League will make us strong favourites for a third success next time - especially if the proposed budgets are anything to go by.

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However, with our superiority on the home front already evident and our European dreams realised by reaching the group stage, I am beginning to wonder what there is left to achieve here in Karagandy. If the president were more keen on improving the facilities, it would be a place I could envisage myself building a legacy, but without that backing it seems highly unlikely - and there is a great deal of uncertainty swirling around the club as a sale approaches.

And so perhaps now, or least the end of the season, is the time to seek pastures new. I have a burgeoning reputation and youth on my side, not to mention a perfect ratio of league titles to full seasons in charge. Without wishing to sound arrogant, I should be able to find work easily from this point onwards, and while that remains the case I would be foolish not to explore my options.
--

Two titles in two years, Champions League success and the chance of cup glory - Saparow's star is shining brightly in Kazakhstan, and yet the future is not as clear as you might expect. Far from plotting the beginnings of a dynasty in Karagandy, our young star is beginning to feel the itch in his feet. Could further success beckon outside of Central Asia?

The question is, where to? His beloved Spartak are unlikely to be interested just yet, and while Kazakhstan is a UEFA nation, it is still regarded as something of a backwater by those further West. Does Bahtiyar need to sacrifice his salary for the sake of managerial kudos? Or does he have something else in mind as he looks to inch closer to Moscow?

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Three games in the league and two in Europe as our season draws to a close, and despite it being a long campaign we were able to keep winning at home. Ordabasy put up a decent fight but lacked the quality to make it a real challenge, Zhetysu are a shadow of the side they were last season and crumbled easily on home soil, and the final game of the month against our nearest rivals Aktobe was a real end-to-end thriller - we conceded early, led 3-1, let them back into it and then struck late to seal all three points and put another three points between us in the table.

In the Champions League, we were far from disgraced in London, and things could have been very different indeed had Baltabekov's first-half header not been ruled out for a marginal offside call. Back in Karagandy, we frustrated Italian giants Juventus for three quarters of the match before one of their many shots made its way past Koshkarov, but while we are now highly unlikely to even make the Europa - Besiktas shocked Juventus on the second matchday and drew with Chelsea on the third - we can hold our heads high.

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There remains just a single league fixture to play, although we have a trio of Champions League ties and the conclusion of the domestic cup to see out before the end of the year. 17 points underlines our dominance at the top of the table, while both Aktobe and Kairat have put enough breathing space between them and their rivals to confirm their positions. Positions 4-6 and 7-9 are up for grabs but largely meaningless, while at the bottom Ekibastuz are down. The only thing left to determine is which one of Zhetysu and a resurgent Akzhaiyk will have to fight again in the relegation play-off.

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A long and impressive 2023 season ends with our domestic superiority confirmed. Irtysh Pavlodar were our final league opponents of the season, and after they had taken four points from our first two encounters, it was satisfying to put them in their place with a resounding victory. In the cup, a solitary goal was all we needed to be our place in the final, where the same result against Aktobe saw us pick up the trophy we missed out on last season.

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The domestic double was secured in a largely uneventful final in Astana, with the top two in the league playing out the showpiece game in a fairly lethargic fashion. Fittingly it was Bogdanov who got the goal that gave us the win, and Aktobe lacked the cutting edge to force their way back from the early setback. A deserved win, a comfortable double, and we are truly kings of Kazakhstan.

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In the Champions League however, there is still plenty of work to be done. Do not be fooled though - we were never expected to get this far, and the money from our journey will find the club for years to come. A win in our opening game against Besiktas raised hopes to an all-time high, but we failed to pick up another point. That said, we were only truly outclassed in one match - away in Turin, where we were beaten 4-1 - and forced both Juventus and Chelsea into needing late goals to beat us at home. No Kazakh side is able to genuinely compete with the continental elite, but we are closer than you might think.

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All in all then, a spectacular season for Shakhter Karaganda. A dominant league title, the domestic double to boot, and a run to the Champions League group stages which nobody expected. The bank balance is secure, there are bright prospects already in the side - everything required to rule Kazakhstan for years to come, assuming the club can fend off interest for star men from abroad.

That is the big question, especially given the end to a long-running takeover saga. The new man, like President Alemaskin before him, has shown no inclination to improve the infrastructure of the club, and as long as that remains the case there must be cause for concern. The existing squad is by far the best in the country - and will be as long as the lethal pairing of Bogdanov and Balatabekov are not separated - but the future must be considered. The starting XI and subs are superb, but depth needs to come through from youth, and that needs better facilities.

Will I be the one to convince President Abdualiev? I don't know. We have little competition on the home front - can I stay for another season with only Europe as a challenge? Is now the time to leave on a high, or would staying put be more prudent? Is five league titles in as many years and across three countries enough to land a job that would be a step in the right direction? Only time will tell...
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Kazakh supremacy assured, Bahtiyar's thoughts now move to the future. His Shakhter side have made waves locally and internationally with their showing in the Champions League, and it may be that our young hero relies on this increased visibility to get the move he desires. However, he seems unsure as to both whether he desires a move at all, and if so where it would be towards.

On the other hand, with a year remaining on his contract and the Karagandy faithful eager for him to remain, the temptation to remain for a third year - representing his longest spell at any one club - is also there, especially if the incoming president can be persuading to invest in the club. Saparow's next move will be a crucial one, wherever it takes him.

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Wanted to like every post but that would probably get annoying. Great work my friend and phenomenal achievements. I tend to stay at one club for my saves but I'm inspired and extremely tempted to try my hand at a challenge like this. Top marks!

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Really great progress. Curious to see what you do and where you will be next season. 

Edited by kidthekid

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On 04/10/2018 at 15:52, Atarin said:

Wanted to like every post but that would probably get annoying. Great work my friend and phenomenal achievements. I tend to stay at one club for my saves but I'm inspired and extremely tempted to try my hand at a challenge like this. Top marks!

 

On 04/10/2018 at 20:52, kidthekid said:

Really great progress. Curious to see what you do and where you will be next season. 

Thank you guys, I'm glad you're enjoying the ride. Apologies for the lack of updates recently - I got carried away with playing (in a major way) and then went away for a week, but I've got screenshots and Saparow is ready to roll again...

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