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EvilDave

[FM17] Trials and Triumphs of a Turkmen

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After being invited to the Far East last winter, this time round we found ourselves called to North America for a profile-boosting tour. None of Toronto, Seattle or Orlando could find a way past us, but on our return to Donetsk we struggled somewhat, losing to visiting Flamengo and then struggling against Olimpik with a reserve team. No injuries picked up, which is always a key aim in these games, but I'd rather we were preparing for PSG with a little more form under our belts.

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As ever, youth graduation day is an important one at Shakhtar, and this year is now different. There's another largely incompetent Turkmen is Bayramow, a locally-born Brazilian who will never make it, and then a good number of players who look likely to make professional careers but not at our level. A couple have a chance at succeeding - centre-back Talalaev, and this year's star performer Kolesnyk. He's relentless in his pursuit of improvement, and if he stays that way he should be just fine.

 

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Regardless of how average we were in the midseason break, when it really mattered we stepped up our level. PSG came to Donetsk full of confidence and flying at the top of the French league, only to be undone by our attacking movement and left with only a consolation away goal to take home. In Paris they scored early to raise the hopes of the home fans, but a double on the stroke of half-time all but ended the tie, and Palamarchuk's late clincher gave us a convincing 6-2 aggregate win. The quarters have paired us with Manchester City once again, and while we couldn't get the better of them in the groups, we've shown before that we can deliver when it counts in the knockout stages.

Our first leg exertions cost us the following weekend, when we picked up just our second draw of the season at home to Karpaty, but other than that we were imperious in the league. Zorya were brushed aside in a second-half blitz, Dnipro never posed a threat, and in Kyiv we got off to a flying start and then put our foot on Dynamo's neck, leaving with a 4-1 win and all three points once again in the last game before the split. 

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Our gap remains 18, with Obolon-Brewer taking advantage of a wobble from Zirka to jump into the runners-up spot. They're really the only 'expected' candidates for the top six aside form ourselves, with Olexandriya the surprise package of the season and the trio of Zirka, Chornomorets and Zorya all doing well to find themselves in the top half. At the other end, the relegation scrap is in full flow. Vorskla are as good as gone, but any of the other five could easily join them - including both Dnipro and Dynamo, who sit second- and third from bottom and in real danger of going down. Historically, both sides are 'too big' to be relegated. On their showings this season however, neither could have any complaints.

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Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the first team, let's just pause a moment to celebrate our youth team's achievements. Having made it through the same group as the seniors, they then took on and beat some of Europe's top sides on the way to a final which ended up rather one-sided. Unbeaten through the competition, every group opponent beaten at least once, and just as impressive away as at home - if I leave nothing else behind at Shakhtar, a youth set-up established to conquer the continent will be no bad legacy.

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However, we won't be repeating the trick with the first team. At home to City in the first leg, we were lucky to be goalless deep into injury time, when a perfect ball from Bobrov on the left sent Fedorenko through on goal. He was brought down in the area, Palamarchuk was clinical from the spot, and all of a sudden we had a lead and a clean sheet to take the Etihad. However, that advantage was cancelled out after just 10 minutes in Manchester, and from then on it was a case of hanging on and trying to land the odd counter-punch. We'd stayed level and held our own for most of the game, but in the 78th minute our defence was breached a second time, and we had no reply. Losing to a side of City's calibre and resources is nothing to be ashamed of, but a loss in the quarters is not how I hoped my last campaign at Shakhtar would end.

Domestically, we remain untouchable, the only points dropped in April coming before the second leg against City and with the entire first-choice XI rested. We beat Zirka twice in five days, the second to book our place in the cup final, then smashed four past Zorya ahead of our European first leg. Odessa saw us drop points, but after our Champions League disappointment we hosted Obolon and saw a simply stunning display of goalscoring from Palamarchuk...

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Which saw us clinch the title with six rounds remaining. Given that we only opening the scoring in the 41st minute, to win 6-0 against one of our 'closest' rivals was a superb way to officially reclaim our crown, and we go into the final month of the season with nothing to play for other than the cup final. We won't be letting up though - I'd like to see how wide we can make our final winning margin, and leave whoever follows me with a tough job to follow.

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At the moment, the gap stands at 22 points, which is frankly ridiculous - thanks to our 6-0 win, second place Obolon actually have a negative goal difference, which simply shouldn't happen. The rest of the top six is unremarkable other than the sides in it, and we've covered that already, but the bottom is another story. Neither Dnipro nor Dynamo has been able to battle out of trouble, and Vorskla have even narrowed the gap somewhat. Could we end up losing both of the giants?

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47 minutes ago, tyler16 said:

Something tells me your heart is in Russia.

That was my thought as well.

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We'll start at the end - my final match in charge of Shakhtar, the only meaningful game left of our season - with the cup final against Zorya. As expected of the league champions and overwhelming favourites, we won comfortably. As was fitting for a season and indeed managerial tenure dominated by the goalscoring of one man, Palamarchuk took the spotlight with all four of our goals. We finish my time in charge with a emphatic victory, another trophy, another double. Donetsk has been good to me.

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Aside from the cup final, we were imperious in our remaining league games. Olexandriya were beaten 3-0 twice, Zirka and Zorya seen off with little trouble before a slightly more difficult win over Obolon, but we saved our best for Chornomorets. Braces for Palamarchuk and Kazakov plus four from third-choice striker Pokatylov gave us a thumping 8-0 win, sending the Odessa side home embarrassed.

All in all, we continued our run of clean sheets - having not conceded domestically since a 4-1 win over Dynamo at the end of March, and emphasised just how dominant a side we are in Ukraine. To go through all 10 post-split games without letting in a single goal, and with a solitary draw our only dropped points, shows just how big a gap there is. As does the league table...

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We finish more than 30 points clear of Obolon-Brewer, who remember were champions when I arrived. I suspect they won't find themselves in that position for some time. We have the only positive goal difference in the entire league, drop just nine points in a 32-game campaign, and are so far ahead of the competition that for 95% of our games, the question is not whether we win, but by how many. Quite simply, no-one can keep up.

Yet this year, we are not the story. Seven points from safety with six games to go, Vorskla embarked on a remarkable run, winning five and drawing the sixth of their matches. With others around them not able to match their points haul, that meant the single biggest relegation in Ukrainian football history, arguably paired with the second - Dynamo Kyiv will be playing second tier football next season, as will Dnipro. It's a sad day for the historic club, but for Shakhtar fans, it's a day of great mirth - this is a side that considers itself our rivals, and they've fallen a long way from that.

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This is the squad I leave behind. 100% Ukrainian, an excellent mix of youth and experience, a side capable of taking on the best Europe can throw at it. Goal machine Palamarchuk is probably the best player I've managed, and he's still only 24. Fedorenko will become a star, establishing himself as a first-team starter at 18, while Sidorov is one of a new group of defenders coming through who should shore up the back line for years to come. The squad is all I hoped to build here in Donetsk - and my four years have paid great dividends.

But I cannot stay longer. There is no domestic challenge, the remaining worthy Ukrainians are unattainable targets, and with the Champions League lifted two years ago there are no more goals on the continent either. I will miss Shakhtar, I will miss Donetsk and I will miss this wonderful group of players, but the time has come for me to move on. My destination is not yet known - although I have a clear preference and there have been developments - but after four years, it is time to say goodbye.
--

Bahtiyar was on the move. To where, he did not yet know, but his team at Shakhtar concluded in an appropriate fashion - a dominant league campaign and a domestic double to add to the growing trophy cabinet. His Ukrainian transfer policy had borne more fruit than anyone could have imagined, and now his job was a victim of his own success - for Saparow and Shakhtar, there were no lands left to conquer.

All of which leaves our Turkmen hero in limbo. No job has been immediately lined up, and there are no guarantees of anything. Both the club game and international variant could present options, but for the time being, our young manager faces uncertainty. Surely a man of his abilities will not remain available for long? 

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2 hours ago, tyler16 said:

Something tells me your heart is in Russia.

 

1 hour ago, decapitated said:

That was my thought as well.

I couldn't possibly comment... but it is the only league Saparow has managed in and not won,and there aren't too many options for a move from a side like Shakhtar...

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Perfect farewell, especially with Dynamo and Dnipro going down.

Will be interesting to see how many points Shakhtar win the league by next year.

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The full Ukrainian squad is an incredible sight. Fitting farewell and fantastic work :applause:

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6 hours ago, tyler16 said:

Perfect farewell, especially with Dynamo and Dnipro going down.

Will be interesting to see how many points Shakhtar win the league by next year.

I think Dynamo going down might be the biggest fall from grace I've seen in FM - my saves in 'big' countries never last long enough to see top teams crumble. My bet would be on Shakhtar winning the league, but buying a load of foreigners and doing it by 8-10 points.

4 hours ago, DavidBeckham said:

The full Ukrainian squad is an incredible sight. Fitting farewell and fantastic work :applause:

Thank you! Going all-Ukrainian with Shakhtar was a bit of a punt, but if there's one side in the country with the facilities to make it work, it's them. And added a layer of challenge to a side who would otherwise outspend everyone else!

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On June 11th, this happens. Sosiashvili has been at Spartak for 13 years, but a change of ownership - an Azeri businessman taking over from long-time owner Leonid Fedun - and a failure to retain the title means that the Georgian has chosen to stand aside. For the first time in more than a decade, my dream job is now a possibility, and needless to say my application has gone straight in. Looking at the apparent leading candidates, my CV stands out as far superior, but then Spartak have not always been a club to apply logic and common sense to these decisions...

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Four days later, Sosiashvili's departure from the Otkritie Arena makes a great deal more sense. The chance to step into the Old Trafford hotseat will never materialise for 99% of managers, but following the long-awaited retirement of Jose Mourinho, those in the corridors of power at United have chosen to turn to the Georgian in a bid to overhaul the triopoly of Arsenal, Chelsea and City at the top of the Premier League.

Part of which makes me wonder - how high could I be aiming? Sosiashvili is an excellent manager, winning six titles with Spartak in his 13-year tenure. However, with league titles in six countries and Champions League wins on two continents, my stock should arguably be even higher - especially given my track record of signing domestic players and advocating attacking football. If I had applied for the Old Trafford job, would I now be taking up residence in Manchester? Perhaps more to the point, would I want to? 

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A week after Sosiashvili's unveiling at Old Trafford, I got the call. Mr Ismayilov was impressed with my application, and was eager to sit down with me face-to-face. I was already in Moscow at this point - I had somewhat presumptiously expected an interview - and so it was hastily arranged. I was not the only candidate, I was told - and the media had been somewhat wide of the mark with their assumptions, although I had no idea who my competition was - but the new man in charge seemed pleased with my answers to his questions, and impressed with my track record. Unless he believes he can convince a manager from one of Western Europe's elite clubs to the Otkritie Arena, I'm not sure who else can boast my history of success.

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Interestingly, the press caught wind of my interview too - and I had nothing to do with it. This leads me to believe one of two things - either the new owner is putting out feelers to judge how the Spartak faithful respond to the idea of me taking charge, or a member of the admin staff is trying to cause trouble. Regardless of which is the truth, I am now the outright favourite to fill Sosiashvili's shoes, and the dream move looks to be drawing nearer. Still, until I put pen to paper, I will assume nothing.
--

Saparow and his boyhood club Spartak look like the ideal match - the childhood fan and academy reject coming full circle as manager to lead his side to glory, following in the footsteps of an iconic manager who left for the riches of England. With a new chairman and a fresh start in Moscow, the time seemed ripe for Bahtiyar to finally get to the club he had always wanted to manage.

But football is not renowned for its predictability, and if the leak from the club was instead a smokescreen for them to approach another candidate... Our Turkmen star could not allow the thought to cross his mind. Surely, this was his moment?

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We're in. They say life begins at 40, right? Well, 39 is close enough. Spartak was the dream, and now I've proven it was my destiny. No more looking for the next thing. This is it.

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Image result for spartak moscow badge

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'Managerial legend' - Eurosport are welcome to any of my press conferences. I'll take that as an introduction any day of the week.

Anyway, the deal has been done, the contract signed, the announcement made. Bahtiyar Saparow is the new manager of Spartak Moscow, and he couldn't be happier.

Seriously, when I set out on my career back in 2018, this was the dream job. It's taken almost two decades to get here, and a journey which has taken in almost the entirety of the eastern half of the former Soviet Union, but I've made it. That's the easy part - the task at hand now is to turn Spartak into the greatest team in Russia, Europe and ultimately the world. I'll settle for nothing less than Champions League glory and domestic domination - that's what this club deserves, and it's what I believe I can deliver.

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We play our home games at the 45,000-seater Otkritie Arena, built for the 2018 World Cup and the club's home for four years prior to that. Situated in the north-west corner of the city, just north of the Moskva River, it is very much a stadium fit for a capital city. The facilities here are excellent, the ground only a couple of decades old, and the nearby training facilities are almost on a par with those I've left behind in Donetsk. As part of my plan to develop every aspect of the club, I'll be seeking to bring the best in technology and staffing to Spartak, but the facilities here are a great starting point. The youth system in particular is famed as one of the best in Russia, and I intend to utilise it fully. 

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As with Shakhtar, I've inherited a strong squad littered with overseas talent and domestic stars. In my absence, Spartak have been locked in a long-running battle with city rivals CSKA, the two dominating the league for more than a decade. Under my predecessor, Spartak won six of the last 13 titles, but CSKA took the title last season and neither club has been able to string together more than two wins in a row. I'll be aiming to change that.

Almost akin to my time in Ukraine, I'll be making sweeping changes to the squad. Over the course of my career, I've yet to sign a player from outside the old USSR, and I intend to keep up that record. Moscow retains a huge pull for those from the old Soviet republics, and it should take little time for us to be a hub for the cream of those nations. I'll be looking to have those players as the sole component of my squad reasonably quickly - although the reasons for that are largely practical rather than principled.

Take Antoine Kaptoum, for example. A club hero, a strike rate of more than a goal every other game over more than 300 appearances. But also 33 years old, with one year on his contract, and demanding a six-figure weekly sum to renew. Dani Santamaria is a similar case, while also at the wrong end of their career are the Dutch pair of Smits and Thé - handsomely paid and 31, with resale value dropping each year. At the other end of the spectrum, the likes of Belgian international Ziegler have a huge value in the market - a value which, if unlocked, would allow us to rebuild the side in double-quick time.

That isn't to say there isn't money available - there most certainly is - but if we can bring funds in up-front and spread out the payments on incoming deals, we could end up with the best of the old Union here in Moscow within a year. That's the aim, that's what will get us back on top of the pile, and that's what will give us the foundation from which to launch our assault on Europe. I'm excited, I can't wait to get going, and I can't believe it's finally happened.
--

Saparow and Spartak were finally together, and they were wasting no time in making plans. Not quite prepared to go for the one-nation approach of ShakhtarBahtiyar was instead casting his net across the 15 nations that once upon a time had made up the Soviet Union. Both Russia and Ukraine would no doubt feature heavily, but appearances from other nations would be welcomed.

As for goals, our Turkmen 'legend' was setting the bar high - the Russian title at the first attempt, and eventually the Champions League title. He'd done it Donetsk, and was confident of his ability to pull it off in Moscow too. If he made it, this time it would be the realisation of a genuine childhood dream.

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As with all your work Dave really enjoying this....Looking forward to seeing how your go with Spartak

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What a great journey you made all the way to Eastern Europe after coming out a legend in Central Asia. It's great that you have so many accomplishments in your career. Hopefully, you'll end up managing a national team soon.

By the way, what happened to your former teams as well as Turkmenistan and its neighbors? And who the future would be looked like? I hope that your former nations have been doing right now after you left during your journey.

Keep up the good work, Dave, and good luck in Spartak Moscow!:)

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OK, I'm going to be picking this one up again - for those of who who don't want to wait or just fancy a different take on this season, I've written a story on Saparow's first year at Spartak over on the Stories forum, but otherwise stay tuned here and I'll guide you through the next few seasons. Apologies for the delay, and on with the tale!

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Preseason has been long and busy - just the way I like it at a new club. The difference here, even when compared to a club the size of Shakhtar, is phenomenal - I had my credentials questioned when the second half of the fixtures was released. Still, they were largely silenced after the victory over Bayern, and with the huge number of comings and goings at the Otkritie Arena, the tune-up games against local opposition were very necessary. We're as ready for the new campaign as we're going to be, and I'm looking forward to it.

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The outgoings first - and none of the big fees were particularly popular decisions. Kaptoum is a club legend but wanted a fortune for a man past his best, and the same is true of Santamaria. Ziegler, Louisville, Lopes and Smits can feel hard done by in being shown the exit - although the former was actively looking for a way to Western Europe - as they certainly possess the talent to make our first team, but I'm determined to mould this club into the best of the former Soviet states, and their faces quite frankly don't fit that model.

Coming in, we've spent big. A number of the new faces are prospects for the future, but several will make an immediate impact. Zaza Pipia was the best centre-back I could find without spending all our money, and frankly for the price we negotiated with Hertha we've robbed them. Chernukho is perhaps a little older than I'd have liked to buy in, but the Belarusian was cheap over in Austria, and will shield our back line just nicely.

Ahead of them, I've brought in two faces that I know very well indeed - Polyakov, a former youth product at Kuban, on loan from Manchester United, and Shakhtar's young starlet Fedorenko on the back of a breakout year. The two of them, particularly if we can persuade United to part with Polyakov on a permanent basis, will be feeding our strikers for years to come, and we have what is certainly the most creative midfielders in the division. 

And the man they'll primarily be feeding is Yevgeniy Vorobjov. We've taken some stick for signing a Zenit youth product, but they were daft to let him go to Armavir, and the money we've had to pay shows how highly they rated him. He has the skillset to be a legend for Spartak and Russia, and if we can get him firing we have every chance of claiming the title. The first game is only days away, and I can't wait to get started.

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As first months of the season go, it hasn't been bad. We've won three from four in the league, all of those victories coming with clean sheets attached too, and absolutely hammered Inter at home to book a place in the Champions League. A decent showing in the San Siro was largely academic, but we showed good fight to come back form behind late on, and the draw for the group stage has handed us a fairly even foursome. PSG will be big favourites, but with a bit of luck we can scrap with Napoli for second.

The month wasn't without warning signs though, as we netted just four times in the four league games, and failed to find the net in the first half at all. Against weaker opposition we can eventually grind them down, but I'm not sure we want to be relying on that as a long-term strategy. Of more concern was the defeat at CSKA - they're our main rivals for the title, the fans hate each other, and while we only lost 1-0, we barely threatened. Big games away from home are something we can't afford to not turn up to.

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Four games in and we're keeping pace, but the table at this stage means nothing. CSKA and Zenit are right up there with us and should provide our main challenge to win the title back, but I'd be surprised if Anzhi stick around. It's worth noting that Armavir have struggled for goals since we took Vorobjov off their hands, and I wonder if they might just regret that sale at the end of the season.

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The games come thick and fast earlyin the season, but that doesn't stop an international break getting in the way of things. Before that we endured a hugely frustrating day in Perm, Amkar creating nothing for 90 minutes and yet somehow holding out for a point. After the disruption a late Kostenko goal saw us beat Terek at home, before repeating the scoreline against Rubin in a much more comfortable performance. A second string travelled way out to within sight of Japan in the cup and blew past Sakhalin, and then a trip to Dagestan brought three easy points despite it taking 78 minutes to open the scoring.

In Europe, we were handed our toughest home game first up against PSG, and the Parisians were just too good for us. Kostenko's late goal was nothing but a consolation, and we'll need to seriously improve if we're to harbour any hopes of squeezing through what should be a tight group.

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I told you Anzhi wouldn't stick around - they picked up one point from four games this month and slip into midtable. Despite dropping points in Perm we head up the league for the time being - a CSKA win in their game in hand will see them leapfrog us on goal difference and head-to-head - but we're certainly in the best spot for the time being. Our defence has faltered a little this month, but our attack is starting to click - the onus is on us to make it tough for other teams to keep up with us, not to do the chasing ourselves if we can help it.

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We began October with a European clash, and so we'll focus our attentions in the Champions League. Over on the Asian bank of the Bosphorus we were excellent, and Vorobjov showed exactly why we paid so much money for him in the summer with two well-taken goals. A rare strike for backup full-back Saralidze wrapped things up late on, and we responded well to defeat against PSG with a good away win. Our third game of the group saw us take on Napoli at home, and this showing was arguably even better - the Partenopei enjoyed plenty of the ball but were allowed to do nothing with it, and Kostenko punished them just before the hour to put us in a strong position midway through the group. 

Back in the league, I was given a good reception at my old stomping ground in Krasnodar, and it was somewhat fitting that two former Kuban players - Popov joining Spartak before my tenure - got the goals that saw us to a comfortable 2-0 win. At home two weeks later we blew Krylya off the park, Kolosov and Kostenko putting in their bids to partner Vorobjov with our big-money buy rested, before we rounded out the month with a frustrating 0-0 against a disciplined Khimki. We have to do better against sides that come to defend, but on the whole we're in good form.

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That form has seen us maintain our place at the top of the table, and assuming that CSKA win their game in hand against Ufa, there is the beginnings of a gap developing between our two sides and the rest of the league. Our defeat to our city rivals early in the season could prove crucial, but equally no other side has beat us whereas they have lost twice elsewhere, hence our one point advantage. It's a shame to see Kuban struggling at the foot of the table, but I'd still back them to be safe at the end of the campaign. Somebody laid some good foundations there not too long ago...

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After a busy November and three more games in December, we've finally hit the winter break. And we do so still in the domestic cup, after breezing past Amkar with a rotated side once again - we go to Tosno for the quarter-final in March.

Speaking of Tosno, that was the scene of a routine league win before we picked up our best domestic result of the season so far, strangling Zenit's attack in St Petersburg and netting three times to pick up the victory, a huge win for our title challenge and our fans. A Vorobjov brace beat Krasnodar back in Moscow, before he hit a hat-trick in an utter hammering of Ufa on the road in Bashkortostan - 5-0 up at the break, they really didn't know what had hit them. Struggling Yenisey proved tougher to break down, but a solitary Polyakov strike, this one from a free-kick, ensured we hit the break in top form.

In the Champions League, Napoli avenged their 1-0 loss in Moscow with a hard-fought 2-1 win in the San Paolo, Kostenko's second-half strike almost enough to earn us a point before we fell late on. We acquitted ourselves well in Paris without ever looking like actually winning the match, before picking up our seventh and final point of the group in a fairly lacklustre display against Fenerbahce. Would it be enough to see us through to the last 16?

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Surprisingly, yes it would! Defeat for Napoli in Paris on the final matchday left us level on points with the Neapolitans, leaving our fate down to head-to-head record. With both sides winning their home game against the other it boiled down to aggregate score, and when that remained level at 2-2, Kostenko's goal in Southern Italy proved the difference maker. We edge through by the finest of margins, and are rewarded with two legs against Chelsea early next year.

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On the domestic front, we continue to look strong - we haven't dropped points since the end of October, and defeat at CSKA in matchday three remains our only loss of the league season to date. The title holders sit four points behind us, followed by a huge 11 point gap to surprise third-place side Krylya. The title is now a two-horse race, and as things stand we're very much the frontrunners.
---

Saparow's Spartak, after a slow start, had hit top form - leading the league at the halfway mark, making light work of the Russian Cup, and progressing in Europe to boot. While the fans would no doubt be focused on beating CSKA to the title, for the Turkmen, it was ultimately the Champions League by which he would judge himself, and so knockout football in his first season was a huge boost.

All in all, things were looking rosey in the Russian capital despite Bahtiyar's upsetting of the apple cart and removal of all the non-Soviet players. After winning a continental crown with one nation's talent in Ukraine, perhaps his determination to rally around select nationalities actually had some merit to it?

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It's been a quiet winter for us on the transfer front, with nobody heading through the exit door and just one arrival. Korzun was Dinamo Minsk's brightest prospect, and while he's got plenty of growing to do and was probably overpriced at £400k, even if doesn't work out we should be able to make that money back on him and then some. If he develops as hoped, Fedorenko and Polyakov will have good competition on their hands.

On the field, a couple of home draws - a good show against Salzburg and a poor one vs Vorskla - preceded the usual tour around our capital in a bid to get everyone back up to speed. Chelsea won't take pity on us for coming off the back of a break, so we've got to be ready.

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The main event of the winter was, however, the annual youth intake, and my first as Spartak boss. Iljin is the coaches' favourite, but he'll need retraining given our lack of wingers, but they're also keen on young Philippov and of him I'm more convinced. It's always good to have a couple of promising goalkeepers on the books, and he is already the excellent combination of strong in the air without being erratic. He's by no means the finished article, but he's a very good read for a lad of 15.

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We started with the Champions League clash with Chelsea, and so we'll begin there. At the Otkritie we fell behind early on before a superb Polyakov free-kick got us back level, and a hard-fought second half ended up goalless. In London, the Blues caught us off guard early on, and despite our pushing we fell to a late second. It's disappointing to be out, but considering we only sneaked through the group, this is a positive first step.

We were also dumped out of the cup, contriving to lose to Tosno after extra time. Yes, we rotated the side, but there were enough top layers to be able to overcome what is effectively a midtable outfit. In the league though, we've been imperious. Kolosov destroyed Rostov on their own patch, Armavir put up very little fight at the Otkritie, and then came the game against CSKA. They had an early lead to defend from the opening stages, but we dominated from start to finish and got our reward with three goals in the last 20 minutes to claim a massive win against our biggest challengers. After the disappointment of Chelsea, we reinforced our position at home with a 1-0 win in Grozny, and heading into the final third of the campaign we're looking good.

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With 10 games to go, our win over CSKA puts us nine points clear - which at this point should be a big enough lead. We've only dropped seven points in the 20 matches thus far, so the prospect of dropping more than that in the last third of the season isn't an overly concerning one. Behind the top two, everyone from Khimki to Terek is separated by just six points, and Ufa to Yenisey are split by five. There are effectively three mini leagues going on - all we need to do is make sure we come out top of ours.

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Hadn't seen this thread before sadly, but keenly catching up now - glad you've picked it up again, good luck and I'll see you (probably) on page 7! :D 

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3 hours ago, optimusprimal82 said:

Hadn't seen this thread before sadly, but keenly catching up now - glad you've picked it up again, good luck and I'll see you (probably) on page 7! :D 

Thank you very much optimus - that means a lot coming from the author of my favourite thread at the moment! See you in a few seasons' time :D

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With Europe down and the cup no longer concerning us, April was all about the league. The first game of the month saw us scrape past Rubin, the disciplined hosts falling only thanks to a set-piece which defensive rock Ivashin nodded home. Amkar proved no threat back at home, the league's bottom club conceding twice in the first 20 minutes to give us an easy win.

Then came the Anzhi game. I'm not entirely sure what happened, but the Dagestani side hit us twice on the counter, once in each half, and we could only get on the scoreboard in stoppage time. It was only our second league defeat of the season, our first at home, and I demanded a response from my men.

We got it. Down in Samara, Krylya Sovetov were simply blown away in a superb spell towards the end of the first half, four goals flying in in just eight minutes to secure the win. We weren't down though, Chernukho grabbing a rare goal from the anchor position and Kostenko grabbing his third and fourth goals of the match to round out a 7-1 hammering. After that, a 3-1 home win over Kuban seemed reasonably tame - although my old side left us waiting until the final moments before sealing the points. 

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That string of results put us in a very promising position indeed, with CSKA simply unable to match our pace at the top of the table. A poor patch for our rivals sees them fall 14 points behind with just 15 remaining to play for, meaning one more win for us or any other slip-ups for CSKA hand us the crown. They travel to Zenit before we travel to Khimki in the next round of games, and we could be champions before even kicking a ball.

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As I suspected might have been the case, we needn't need to lift a finger to claim the title. CSKA couldn't break down Zenit in the earlier of our two matches, held to a 0-0 draw in St Petersburg, giving us an unassailable lead at the top of the pile. To win back the league at the first attempt, and with such a large margin of victory, is hugely pleasing.

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With the league wrapped up, we went out and played with freedom against Khimki, winning 3-1 in the Moscow suburbs. We then did what CSKA couldn't, hammering Zenit 4-1 and then giving Tosno a pasting for good measure. With a good numbers of youngsters on the field we fell to a third defeat of the season in Krasnodar, but a similarly youthful side ended the season in style with a thrashing of Yenisey, and the future looks every bit as bright as the present. 

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13 points is the final margin of victory, CSKA left trailing in our wake. Krasnodar won the fight for third comfortably in the end but are still some way off challenging for the title, while Armavir were surprise Europa League qualifiers ahead of another couple of strong seasons from Ufa and Khimki. Zenit had the worst campaign of the big sides, finishing down in 8th with fewer than half our points.

At the other end, Kuban dodged the play-offs by a couple of points, Rubin by far the biggest side at risk of dropping down. Amkar were doomed from the beginning, while Tosno were the victims of Yenisey's late-season surge and falling through the trapdoor.

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These are the men who won the title back, and the first thing that jumps out at me is the number of goals we scored this season - four men into double figures for the campaign, and three of those netting 17 or more. Vorobjov was the focal point of our attack more often than not, the big signing showing why we were willing to spend so much on him, but Kolosov and Kostenko backed him up ably as the three strikers rotated.

Behind them, our defence was also excellent. Borovkov was a revelation up and down the right, grabbing 11 assists as well as defensive security, while Ivashin was immovable at the heart of the back line, his imperious presence helping us keep out opposition great and small. There's also a good number of youngsters coming through - something I'm keen to add to throughout my tenure - and it seems we're in a good place to push on.

Looking to next year, retaining the title has to be a priority. Spartak haven't managed that this decade, and back-to-back league crowns will put us on the way to establishing a dynasty in red and white. I'd like to see us go further in the cup - if we win the league there's no reason we can't do a double - while Europe will no doubt be slower progress. It was great to see us in the last 16 this season, and knockout football will once again be the focus in the Champions League. Once we get there, who knows what we can achieve?
--

Spartak were once again kings of Russia, and convincingly so - Saparow leading his side to a double-figure league win to claim the domestic crown in emphatic fashion. CSKA had been firmly dethroned, and his first season at his boyhood club could hardly have gone better.

Our Turkmen hero would not be resting on his laurels however. Europe remained the ultimate goal, and the Champions League would not conquer itself. Not only that, but a single league title was nowhere near enough for Bahtiyar and his insatiable appetite for success. It would be another busy summer in Moscow.

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After a busy pre-season, we're once again ready to go for the new campaign. The two 'big' friendlies saw us give my old side a hammering before losing comfortably to Dortmund, which may or may not give us an indication of where we stand in the European scheme of things at the moment. Local sides then took their annual hammerings as we tuned up fitness and performance, and if the firepower on show here is anything to go by, we're set for a decent year. 

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The Super Cup suggests otherwise though - Zenit matched us blow for blow, and their early goal was enough to get the job done in the national stadium. I don't mind them taking the trophy - it's a glorified friendly anyway - but the result and performance is concerning. Perhaps we aren't as good as we thought we were?

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Last but not least, the transfer window. Plenty of departures, but the overwhelming departures were on loan. Novikov spent last year out on loan, as did Thé - the last outsider in the ranks - but they were the only two men even close to the starting line-up who moved on.

Arriving were just five: three youngsters who may or may not develop, and two men who I've managed before. Arriving very cheaply from Tosno is former Kuban man Kozacuks, who will do a job in one of the two defensive midfield roles and has a great deal of top flight and international experience for a man of just 25. The big signing however is Prudnikov, who will line up alongside former Shakhtar team-mate Fedorenko after we failed to convince Manchester United to send Polyakov our way for another year. The Ukrainian is young, creative, and strong mentally - an ideal Spartak signing as we look to retain the title. Not long now before we get underway. 

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If the first five games of a league campaign were an accurate indicator of how things would pan out over the course of the year, then it'd be time to write our name on the Champions League trophy, let alone hand over the domestic title. Ufa were edged 1-0 on the road for our opening game, and from then on we've been simply untouchable.

Krasnodar had no answer, Vorobjov exploding into life with a hat-trick as we smashed six past them for a thumping win. The Anzhi game was not as close as the scoreline looks either, Vorobjov's 87th minute goal making it 4-1 before the Dagestanis grabbed two in stoppage time. Then came the big one - a round four clash with CSKA. Prudnikov set the ball rolling after 90 seconds, and by 20 minutes in we were 3-0 to the good. CSKA pulled one back but we never let up, and by the time the final whistle blew there wasn't a single away fan left in the Otkritie. Superb.

We backed it up with a 3-0 win over Rostov, all three goals coming in eight first-half minutes. If we can keep up this form, we'll be unstoppable this season. I only hope it'll be that easy.

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As we blitzed our way through August, the Champions League draw was made - my Spartak heading straight into the group stage as Russian champions. Holding only a third seed we pulled out two giants in Juventus and Arsenal, while poor Dinamo Minsk should be whipping boys. I'm not confident of our chances, but I won't be telling the players that. Not after getting through last year.

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As you might expect, five from five puts us top at this early stage. Zenit have started well, and CSKA hold a +7 goal difference despite losing by five at our place - all the signs are pointing to another good race this season.

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Hmmm. After a flying start in August, September was a much more mixed month. In cup competitions, we've been very good - the second string blasting past second-tier Tom Tomsk over in Siberia, and the first team getting our Champions League campaign off to the perfect start, a goal in each half seeing us past Juventus. That win should make others sit up and take up notice - but it will also put a target on our backs.

In more prosaic matters, one win from three in the league is unacceptable form, especially given our opponents. We should be beating the likes of Sibir, needed a last-gasp winner to beat lowly Yenisey on our own patch, and then blew an early lead to suffer defeat at midtable Terek. Chechnya or otherwise, it isn't the sort of match we can be losing if we're to harbour title aspirations, and we need to turn things around rapidly next month if we're to stay in touch.

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For the time being, we're just about in contention, sitting just two points off the top of the pile. Zenit have been miserable, picking up just one point this month, but of more concern to us are CSKA. Our city rivals have been perfect other than that 6-1 hammering they took off us, and are looking like the team to beat at the moment. We'll be aiming to change that, of course, but will need to up the ante if we want to hold on to our title.

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In Europe, October has been a mixed bag. Over at the Emirates, hosts Arsenal were just too good for us on the night - scoring twice late in the first half and barely giving us a foothold in the game. On the other hand, our trip to Minsk was as simple as they come, a Vorobjov hat-trick seeing us cruise to our second win from three to position us well at the midway point. We'll still probably need one more positive result from Arsenal or Juventus though, so we're far from through.

At home, we improved on a poor September, but even then we started with a stutter, my old Kuban side defending very well at the Otkritie - and getting lucky when Kolosov had one chalked one for a dubious offside - to take a point away with them. Newly-promoted Baltika are still winless and not cut out for this level, and our day in Kaliningrad was a breeze from the moment they put through their own net early on. Krylya were little better back on home soil, and it was good to see young Kozhemyakin bagging a brace on a rare start.

Then there was the cup. Away to second-tier opposition, I perhaps over-rotated the side with other competitions in mind, but that was little excuse for an abject display. The Petersburgers took us to extra time, scored first to leave us scrambling, and then held their nerve to dump us out on penalties. The cup may not be a priority, but such poor showings cannot go unnoticed.

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A bad month from CSKA drops them down to third, and allows us to retake our rightful spot at the top of the table, leading by three from our rivals and Krasnodar. It's good to say Kuban in a more stable position than last year, while at the other end Baltika look doomed already. Coming up in the next few weeks we'll reach the halfway point and conclude our Champions League campaign, so it'll be a key month or so for Spartak. The thing is, they all are these days.

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We've hit the winter break after a full November and a busy first week or so in December, and we've been doing... OK. In the league, we saw off Khimki with relative ease, but were then thwarted over in St Petersburg - Zenit fought back well after Popov's early strike, and by half-time were ahead. Fedorenko pulled us level, but we couldn't find a third way through. 

A draw away at Zenit isn't the end of the world, but a home loss to Rubin had the alarm bells ringing. Yes, a handful of players were rested with Europe in mind - more on that later - but to fire blanks at a fairly middling side, not to mention actually losing at home, is hardly acceptable, and my men got the riot act as a consequence. They heeded the warning, bouncing back with home wins over Armavir and Ufa, but still five dropped points in six weeks is less than ideal.
 

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To Europe then, and first up was the home leg against Dinamo, who simply are not ready for this level of football. All credit to them for getting here, but we didn't even play particularly well in a 5-1 win. That put us on nine points, but with Arsenal and Juventus in the mix, we'd be hard-pressed to get the point we needed. To that end, I rested a few for the Rubin - a decision that saw us lose poorly - and in return I was given one of the finest performances of my tenure, my men putting the Italians on the back foot from the off, and being unlucky to concede twice. It looked like we'd come away with a good point, but in the 93rd minute full-back Nazarov arrowed one into the bottom corner from 18 yards, and we'd pulled off a famous win.

That left us with a free hit against the Gunners, knowing that a win would see us claim top spot, which would have been a phenomenal achievement given our opponents. Sadly, Arsenal were just better than us on the day and grabbed goals either side of the break to overturn Vorobjov's strike, and a late third finished us off. We'll play Bayern Munich home and away after the resumption, and if we can beat Juventus, then I give us a chance.

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We stay on top of the pile in the league, but only just - CSKA have pulled a couple of points back on us, and we lead by a solitary point. It's looking like the title fight will between the two of us once again, with Zenit heading a chasing pack already eight points adrift, so we at least know what we're up against. Elsewhere, Baltika have defied my predictions of doom to put themselves within four goals of escaping the relegation zone, and both Anzhi and Rostov need to be careful to avoid getting sucked in. We shouldn't be doing anyone any favours down there.
--

Spartak's domestic form had not hit the imperious heights of the previous season, but Saparow remained confident of retaining their title. CSKA looked like being the only competition once again, and after the 6-1 win early in the campaign, the Turkmen felt he had their number.

In the Champions League, things were getting exciting. Wins home and away over Juventus meant a last 16 tie with Bayern seemed winnable, and it would take a heart of stone not to dream beyond that. If he could take the Russians to European glory, surely Bahtiyar would be one of the all-time greats?

Edited by EvilDave

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We're back in business after the winter pause, with slightly fewer friendlies under our belt this time round. With no transfer business in or out, the big news was a contract extension for yours truly - three more years giving me time to build a dynasty here. The owner sees me as central to his vision for the club, and is backing me accordingly, upgrading the already excellent training facilities for both the senior and youth sides over the coming year. It's an exciting time to be at Spartak, and I hope to make the same true for the fans.

Elsewhere, Vorobjov was named Russian Player of the Year ahead of Real Madrid star Kozlov and CSKA dangerman Sapozhnikov, showing just how good he's been since joining us from Armavir. We paid a lot for him, but he's been worth every penny so far - and at just 23, he can be even better in the future.

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February also saw the latest class of youth graduates make their case for contracts, and while there is no immediate star of the future on show, I'm a big fan of centre-back Sekretov and especially winger Stepanov. We play a narrow formation of course, so he'll be retrained - probably to play behind the strikers - but he has the right attitude the get the work done on the training ground, and the raw ability is clearly there. We also have a Turkmen in the form of Gaur Kafanov, and there's a reasonable chance he could become a decent squad player one day. If I can help out my father's homeland with my work here, I'll certainly look to do so.

Edited by EvilDave

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Let's start with Europe, because frankly that's where the positives are. At home to Bayern in the first game after the long winter break, we edged an even game against the Bavarians, a single goal from Kostenko at the end of a slick passing move giving us a slender advantage ahead of the away leg. We went to Germany expecting to come under severe pressure, and we were until the 36th minute, when Vorobjov found space in the area to fire us ahead on the night. That meant Bayern needed three and so needed to throw caution to the wind, and as they did so we picked them off time after time, Vorobjov netting again within a minute and the second half turning a great result into a hammering. Manchester City are up next in the last eight - we couldn't, could we?

On the home front, I've been less impressed. Krasnodar are a good side but we didn't click in a 2-1 defeat, and while we beat Anzhi comfortably enough, our 3-1 win in Rostov wasn't settled until the last 10 minutes, our heavy hitters coming off the bench to grab the points late on. Then, after the euphoria of the Bayern game, we crossed Moscow to take on CSKA and choked in a major way, conceding first place and momentum to our rivals with just 10 games to go. We've made it hard for ourselves now, and if we wind up second it'll be nobody else's fault.

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As I've said, we sit second, trailing CSKA by a point as we approach the last third of the campaign. We've already dropped more points than we did in the whole of last season, and after being a long way back at one stage, Zenit are only five points behind us in third. Elsewhere, Baltika are back on the bottom, while Kuban are sitting nicely in midtable.

Next month, we have a relatively comfortable schedule - Sibir, Terek and Baltika at home, Yenisey and Kuban away - but juggling all of that with two massive games in the Champions League will be a challenge in itself. We've got to hit form top form or we risk leaving it too late, and do all we can to put CSKA under pressure. It's going to be close.

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I mentioned last month that April gave us a fairly comfortable domestic schedule, and so it proved. Sibir were little competition as we eased to a 3-0 win, and a first-half hat-trick from Kolosov saw us to all three points in Krasnoyarsk the following weekend. We avenged our early season defeat to Terek with another 4-2 win when returning home, and almost made it three in a row against Baltika, the visitors only managing one this time as Kolosov continued his excellent league form. The only side to cause us any trouble in the league were Kuban, but a late Kulaev strike got us through in the end, delivering a perfect 15-point month when we most needed it.

Then there was Europe, and a mammoth clash with Manchester City. I wondered whether they'd had too much for us when they scored early at the Otkritie, but we rallied well, Vorobjov levelling after the break before Kostenko snatched a win we barely deserved at the very death. Heading to England we knew City would come at us hard with the away goal under their belt, but Vorobjov's breakaway goal stunned them midway through the first half, and this time it was their time to strike late - their goals coming in stoppage time at the end of each half. Having been denied a famous win we could have been forgiven for having our heads down in extra time, but we were actually the better side, and a stunning free-kick from Fedorenko with five minutes to play left City needing two goals in next to no time. We didn't allow them even one, and PSG stand between us and the Champions League final.

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We needed to up our game if we were to hold onto our title, and we've managed to do just that with a perfect April. CSKA have been strong too, but a crucial loss in Krasnodar means we've jumped back into the lead, two points ahead going into the final stretch. We may well need close to perfection again if we're to pull off back-to-back championships, and looking at our schedule - should-be straightforward games against Krylya and Khimki mixed with trips to Armavir, Rubin, and a final day hosting of Zenit - if we come through, we'll certainly have earned it.

Of course, all of that is complicated by the Champions League, where we have already gone further than any Russian side in decades. PSG are a huge side with truly world-class players, but if we can beat the likes of Juventus, Bayern and City, should we be scared? The reward for success is surely greater than any risk of failure...

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It wasn't to be in Europe. We battled PSG close in Paris, but they grabbed a deserved goal midway through the second half and we couldn't find a way to the crucial away goal. We still had a chance at home - we'd certainly put in some impressive performances at the Otkritie before now - but the French giants scored early and that meant we needed three. We found one, Fedorenko twisting and turning to find space in the box, but the visitors caught us on the break and we had nothing left. A valiant effort, a superb campaign, but not to be on this occasion. We'll be back though.

At home, we got our run-in off to the perfect start with a thumping win in Samara, before a somewhat weakened side saw off Khimki between the two Champions League games. An own goals after 75 seconds got us on our way, and we never looked back. However, away ta Rubin - a side that beat us at home earlier in the season - we struggled to get going, and the Kazan side held out for a goalless draw that threatened to damage our title bid.

That left a tricky tie in Armavir to be negotiated before the grand finale at home to Zenit, and we controlled things from the outset. A first-half penalty and late strike from Kostenko were sufficient, and with CSKA falling to defeat in Rostov, our success was confirmed, and we were the first Spartak side to retain the title for more than a decade. That left the Zenit game as mere exhibition, and while the Petersburg side were not about to roll over, a rare goal from Xoshimov in the dying embers of the game was a fitting conclusion to the campaign.

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CSKA lost again on the final day, picking up just six points in their final five games to hand us an advantage we would not let go. Our own points tally is seven down on last year, and CSKA kept the race alive for longer, but in the end we had enough in the tank down the home straight to wind up with a nine-point margin. We'll be looking improve next year, but so will everyone else.

Krasnodar and Zenit rounded out a more usual top four, with my old charges at Kuban coming comfortably in the middle of the pack. With three wins all season it's little surprise to see Baltika fall away, and Krylya join them after a poor season. We've got an excellent record against the Samara side, so it's a shame to see them go.

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On the whole, it feels like this year's squad has a great deal more depth to it, with several younger players working their way into the starting rotation more regularly - Kozhemyakin, Gusev and Cherepanov at the bottom of the list perhaps three of the most promising. On the whole we're a fairly young squad, which is just how I like it, and there's plenty of room for growth.

Once again it was Vorobjov's goals and all-round brilliance that fired us to success, and with the attention of Manchester United and Spurs firmly on him, we could face a battle to keep our star striker. We don't need their money though, so I'm hoping we can convince him to stay. Elsewhere, it's difficult to see past last year's defensive stars Ivashin and Borovkov as the key men, although there's certainly a case to be made for Fedorenko and even Kolosov, whose late-season goals helped us seal the title. It's a strong squad, of that there's no doubt.

And, as you might expect, I'd like it to be stronger still. I'm not envisaging a particularly busy transfer window - not unless one of our stars decides to try and force a move - as there's no need to splash out for the sake of it. There'll be young signings and a bit of trimming of the side, but otherwise we'll come back another year older, another year wiser, and another year more driven to get to the top of the European tree. Three in a row, no embarrassment in the cup, and a deep run in the Champions League - it sounds idealistic, but it's what you have to aim for when you're already at the top of your game.
--

Saparow, after a scare at around the two-thirds mark of the season, had come through. CSKA were vanquished once more, and Spartak retained their title with relative ease in the end, such was their rivals' failure at the business end of the campaign. Success was becoming ingrained at the Otkritie, and our Turkmen was the catalyst.

Yet Bahtiyar wanted more. The cup continued to elude him, and run to the last four in Europe - only defeated by eventual champions PSG - had whetted his appetite. The Champions League was no longer a welcome extra, it was now his driving force - he would stop at nothing to take his beloved Spartak to the very top of the continental pile. 

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With last season's triumphs firmly behind us, we are back and ready for my third year in charge of Spartak. Our preseason schedule saw us take on three bigger sides rather than two - and we enjoyed fairly emphatic wins over AIK, Standard and Juventus, who must be sick of us by now - before we breezed to just as many comfortable wins over local Moscow clubs. 

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Unfortunately, as per last year, we then finished our preparations by conceding defeat in the Super Cup. Unlike last year, I'm not taking the defeat to Krasnodar - with the goal scored by a player I've had my eye on for some time - to mean anything in particular. I gave plenty of youngsters and fringe players a chance in this one, and if anything it highlights our depth that we could run them so close. No cause for concern.

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Of course, the main business in any club over the summer comes in the transfer market, and the arrivals you see on the left are, with one exception, signings for the future from around the former USSR, some of whom will make it and others who won't. The one man likely to be in and around the first team is attacking midfielder Gazdiev, who arrives after running down his Zenit contract. That alone makes him a controversial signing coming from one of our rivals, but the chance to pick up a Russian international for nothing doesn't come along every day, and we'd have been mad not to take it.

Leaving us are a number of players, largely on loan, and it many ways the year ahead is 'make or break' for those who no longer have youth as an excuse. Saralidze, Kozhemyakin and Popov leave from the first-team squad - the latter replaced by Gazdiev - but the likes of Galkin, Fedorov, Litvinov and Romanov all need to kick on in their temporary homes or risk being shown the door on their return. One to watch is goalkeeper Polyakov, who despite making only a handful of senior appearances attracted the attentions of Leverkusen. His development in Germany will be interesting to see.

Otherwise, it's a settled squad looking to make it three titles in a row, and to see if we can build on our remarkable run to the last four of the Champions League. To win the competition with Shakhtar was incredible. To do it with my boyhood club? I'm not sure I'd ever come back down.

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It's the end of August already, and we're motoring on just nicely at the start of my third spell in charge. Amkar on the opening day must have been a shock for the newly-promoted side, and a thumping win put us on top of the day one table. We then hosted CSKA - the fixture computer loves an early game between us two - and a Kostenko double turned things around against our fierce rivals to give us an early advantage in the title race.

A comfortable win in Novosibirsk was followed by Super Cup revenge against Krasnodar, before we rounded the month out with a tricky trip to St Petersburg and Zenit. Frustratingly we were unable to hold on to our lead despite scoring late on, and we were forced to share the points with our rivals. Gazdiev didn't great a great reception from the home support either.

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For reasons I'm not entirely sure of - I can only assume a perfect storm of qualifying sides - we dropped to fourth seeds in the Champions League, despite reaching the semis last time round. That resulted in a genuine 'group of death,' in which all four of us could either win the group or find ourselves out of Europe entirely. On the one hand we'll be the underdogs of the quartet, but on the other we've had Juventus' number so far and knocked City out last year. Lyon are more of an unknown quantity for us, but I'm sure they'll be fierce competition. Still, to be the best you have to beat the best...

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Once again a strong start results in an early lead, and once again CSKA's only blip came against us - their goal difference exceeds our own despite the defeat. Zenit's indifferent start suggests we should perhaps be more disappointed with leaving points in Petersburg, while Armavir are the other team to get off to a flyer. Plenty of football to be played at this stage though.

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I'll begin by expressing my disdain for the Russian Cup. It's a stupid competition, I can't stand to play in it, and whether it's youngsters or first teamers, my players can't seem to perform in it. Well done Sokol for embarrassing us again, but I'm glad to see the back of it for another year.

With that out the way, let's discuss Juventus. Looking at our goalscorers, you'd think we'd blown an absolutely incredible lead, having scored all five of our goals in the first half. You'd be wrong though - we were actually 3-2 down when Fedorenko bent in the first of his brace, and only a flurry late in the half put us in front. Annoyingly, the Old Lady developed some defensive steel after the break, whereas we utterly failed to do so, conceding the winner in the 80th minute and unable to mount a comeback. However, the win over City next time out was well-deserved, so we've got something to show for our efforts.

Other than that, we only played two matches in the league, and neither Tosno nor Armavir gave us a huge amount of trouble. We didn't win either game by a huge scoreline, but stretched out to 2-0 on both occasions, and Armavir's goal was mere consolation late on. No worries on that front.

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No real change in the standings with so few games played, but a slightly slip from CSKA gives us the chance to go three clear should we overcome Kuban with our game in hand. Zenit have bounced back, Armavir have fallen away, and it looks like a long season for Tosno at this stage.

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With an international break thrown in, October was a short month - but that doesn't make it any less satisfying to look upon perfection. Dinamo have settled back into the top flight well after their absence, and battled hard but were unable to turn things around after Kolosov's early goal. Rostov were no threat whatsoever on home soil, Vorobjov getting a rest and K2 each grabbing braces, while it was that man Kolosov again who made the difference at home to Anzhi. 

If that wasn't good enough, we also got the job done against Lyon, overcoming the shock of conceding inside five minutes and taking the game to the Frenchmen. Kostenko's goal was a thing of beauty, our passing carving open the visitors, while Pipia's winner was a brute force effort at a corner. We can do both, and with two wins from three in Europe, we're well-positioned in our terrifying group.

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Our challengers are getting a little bunched up - Zenit taking second after another CSKA slip - but if we win the game in hand we can stretch our lead all the way out to seven after only a third of the campaign. If that happens, it'll be hard to see anyone catching us after the break. Elsewhere, the bottom four have won just four of their combined 44 games - the argument for reducing the size of the league is a compelling one.

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With six games in November and three inside the first nine days of December, this was always going to be a crucial time in our season. Which made it all the more frustrating when we failed to finish off Ufa at home - a disallowed goal and three strikes against the woodwork adding to our anger. Khimki were brushed aside easily enough on the road before a contentious stoppage time penalty got us a win in Kazan, and we finally got our game in hand out of the way with a narrow 2-1 win over my old side at home. A few days later Terek were handled comfortably, and we rounded off 2037 in the league by hammering Amkar with five first-half goals to end a run of four straight home games.

Also on the line was our immediate European future, and as if going down 6-5 in Turin was not enough, we travelled to Lyon and shared eight goals with the hosts in another thriller. This time we were the ones fighting back - the hosts were 3-0 up after 25 minutes - and as if the goals were not enough, Lyon had one ruled out for a foul and Kostenko missed a penalty for the win. After catching our breath we battled Juventus to a draw on home soil to move us to eight points, and every outcome was still available to us on the final day. We fought hard in Manchester but succumbed to a second-half barrage, and were left waiting to see if the game in France had fallen our way...

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And it had! Juventus earned a point at Lyon to ensure they took top spot and prevented the hosts jumping into the top two, while our 2-0 win in Moscow trumped City's final day 1-0 win over us. As in my first campaign - when we pulled a similar trick on Napoli - we'd made it through by the skin of our teeth. As far as the last 16 goes, a draw against Sporting was as good as we could have hoped for from the pot of group winners too - could it be our year?

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We're still unbeaten at the halfway stage, draws at Zenit and at home to Ufa the only blemishes on our record. With that in mind, to see CSKA just six points back is almost impressive from our rivals, while the St Petersburg side are clinging on too. Behind them there's a big gap to the fight for fourth - currently featruing Ufa, Armavir, Rostov and Krasnodar - before Kuban and the midtable gaggle, and finally the bottom five with their combined 10 wins from 80 games. We're odds-on favourites as things stand, and I'm fairly confident too.
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With a six-point lead and an unbeaten record, Saparow was feeling fairly confident about his side's chance on the domestic front. Spartak had once again embarrassed themselves in the cup, but in the Champions League had edged through a very difficult group, and a favourable draw in the knockout rounds had our hero dreaming of glory.

No Russian side had ever lifted Europe's greatest prize, and for Bahtiyar to take his childhood club to the top would be the crowning glory of his career - unless he were to win the World Cup with Turkmenistan, or something equally preposterous. With only CSKA to deal with domestically - although Zenit would dispute that assertion - he could already feel his attentions being drawn increasingly to UEFA's ultimate trophy...

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With the end of January comes the annual deluge of friendlies, and while our home friendlies were against a slightly lower calibre of opposition this time round, easy wins over Zilina and FCK give us confidence heading into our European clash with Sporting. Three local sides were then dismantled in the traditional fashion - Torpedo really have fallen far - and we're as ready as we're going to be for the Portuguese side.

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With no transfers in or out, academy graduation day was again a highlight of the winter period, and this year our youth staff seem to have been working particularly hard on our defence. Volkov looks like a decent holding man in the making, Gamkrelidze and Sychev could end up competing for a first-team berth on the right, but the star of the show is Kozhemyakin. A brave, determined, hard-worker of a full-back, he's got the early signs of a potential star in the making. It's up to me to unlock that potential.

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We're back and, let's not beat about the bush, we're through to the Champions League quarter-finals. Sporting gave us a bit of a scare in the home game by scoring with thier very first attack, and although we fought back to take a lead to Portugal, it was only a narrow one. However, we needn't have worried - Vorobjov got us off to a flyer by cancelling out their away goal, and seven minutes later Kostenko almost broke the net to make it 2-0. Again, Sporting fought hard and were level by the hour, but we struck late on as they pushed forward to seal the win, and we're in the last eight once again. Chelsea await us, and it would be ideal time to get revenge for my first-year elimination.

In the league however, our European exploits seem to have taken their toll. After taking Sibir apart at home and then putting in probably our best domestic performance of the year - thrashing CSKA on their own turf and hearing them leave the field to a chorus of boos - we then collapsed to defeat in Krasnodar, our unbeaten record ended after 19 games of the season. We followed that up by firing another blank at home to Zenit, and we'll need to find our form again if we aren't to risk derailing our title bid.

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However, for now we remain six points clear - our win over CSKA giving us breathing space which we promptly used up by dropping points in two consecutive games. With 10 games remaining in April and May, as well as our European commitments, we're in a strong position with both games against CSKA, Zenit, and Krasnodar under our belts. We can't be complacent of course - we still play other sides in the top half - but unless we blow up down the home stretch, we should be champions for a third time in a row.

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We're approaching the business end of the season now, and things are getting tense. We took 83 minutes to find the breakthrough at Tosno, the struggling side forcing us to wait for the win, and then at home Armavir we needed a goal from Valeriy Teslyuk - a young Belarusian brought in to give the first team some rest between European ties - even to earn a point against a side chasing European qualification themselves. Kuban were beaten 1-0 in yet another nervy affair, but in the final league game of the month we exploded into life in Rostov, embarrassing the hosts- who sit as high as fourth in the table - with a 7-0 thumping in which everything went to plan. Six to go in the league, and it's getting interesting.

In Europe, we flew out out of the blocks in London to stun Chelsea, netting twice in two minutes early on to put us in a commanding positions. The Blues came back hard, but we defended resolutely, and they only managed to breach our defences once in retaliation. That meant we took and advantage to the Otkritie, and while we were far from our free-flowing best, we were imperious at the back. They couldn't break us down, we couldn't net on the break, and we progressed to a second successive semi-final.

Waiting for us there were Celtic, in a match very few would have anticipated at the start of the campaign. With the home game first up we pulled off another rapid-fire double on the stroke of half-time to put ourselves in the driving seat, and the clean sheet that accompanied the win means we travel to Scotland in a very strong position to reach the final. We've been dreaming for a while now, but it's starting to look like it could actually be a reality.

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We dropped two points in April, and so did CSKA, so it's business as usual at the top of the table with six points between us and six games remaining. Zenit have fallen further off the pace and would need a miracle to take the title from here, so it's a familiar story and we have the edge. Two of Amkar, Tosno, Sibir and Khimki will be heading down, while there's something of a scrap for the remaining European spots. It's only the top we're concerned about though, and we've just got to hold our nerve.

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Let's start with Europe first - you'll no doubt have noticed one remained game to be played at the bottom of the list there. We travelled to Glasgow leading 2-0 from the first leg, and when Celtic hit us inside 10 minutes we started to worry. However, a glorious ball from Fedorenko played Vorobjov in on the half hour, and his strike meant Celtic needed to win by three. They needed again on the hour to ensure a nervy last 30 minutes, and when we conceded a needless penalty with 10 minutes to go, the comeback was well and truly on. Thankfully we held out - truth we told, we didn't deserve to - and we'll take on Benfica in Dortmund for a place in history.

Domestically, we started the run-in with a big win over Anzhi with young Teslyuk again on the scoresheet, before seeing off Khimki comfortably at home. CSKA had been struggling to keep the pace, meaning that a win at home to Dinamo and more dropped points for our rivals would hand us the title, and...

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We made it hard for ourselves, playing a very scrappy game and gifting them the lead through an own goal, but eventually we were given a penalty, and two minutes later Vorobjov tucked home the title-winner. Three in a row, and it's hard to argue against us being the dominant force in the Russian game.

Job done and a little subdued, our final three games were far from thrilling, but a 1-1 draw in Ufa followed by narrow wins over Rubin and Terek send us into the biggest game of them all in good form and in high spirits. Nobody can quite believe we're there, and nor can they wait any longer.

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In the end, CSKA ended up a full 12 points back, closer to bronze medallists Zenit than to taking the trophy. We lost just the one game all season - away at Krasnodar, who put in a late surge to take fourth - and although we didn't rack up big scores too often, a goal difference of 58 over just 30 games speaks for itself. We're a real force domestically, and if only we could sort out the damned cup, we'd be imperious.

Elsewhere, the trio of Armavir, Rostov and Ufa all put in good campaigns, while Dinamo will be thrilled with 10th place on their return to the big time. Tosno and Amkar drop after failing to hit the 20 point mark, and with only two wins all season you can't imagine Sibir are feeling too confident about their play-off. Kuban stay safe in 9th, and it's great to see an old side established in the top flight. I must have been doing something right after all.

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Ahead of the senior side's date with destiny, a moment of recognition for our youth team, who have swatted aside all comers en route to lifting the UEFA Youth League for the first time Spartak history. With the same nightmare group as the first team, our youngsters dropped just points against Juventus, City and Lyon, securing top seeding for the knockout rounds.

Once there, a Yury Iljin hat-trick saw off Viktoria Plzen before a resounding win over Dortmund booked a place in the final four. In-form Valeriy Teslyuk, who got a few games for the seniors towards the end of the year, fired them past Sevilla and into a final against Atletico, where he again made the difference in a tight game. It's a great achievement for our youngsters and their coaching staff, and highlights once again that the future of this club is very promising indeed. The hope now is that the first team can hold up their end of the bargain and complete a rare double.

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In the biggest game of our lives, after overcoming the odds to make it, we only went and did it - Spartak Moscow are European champions!

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The statistics suggest a game that Benfica were unlucky to lose, but in reality we were in control from the moment Shestakov met Fedorenko's corner with a thumping header after just two minutes. Our opponents had more of the ball, but we were able to stay compact, press them at opportune moments, and break with pace when we turned over possession. 20 minutes in Kostenko was brought down inside the area on one such break, but he saw his shot saved well and we stayed just the one goal to the good.

That lasted less than 15 minutes, when our dead ball tsar Fedorenko bent a free-kick past Coelho from nearly 30 yards to double the lead, and it was all I could do to stop my men getting carried away. The stats will show that Benfica had more than double the number of shots we managed, but all bar one of ours hit the target. We managed the game well, stopped them getting too close, and in the closing stages shut things down expertly. Spartak Moscow are European champions - and what's more, they deserve to be.

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These are the men who conquered a continent, and each one of them deserves their place among the icons of the club. There are, of course, those who will say that defeating Sporting, Celtic and Benfica is hardly a run worthy of champions, but that conveniently forgets the quarter-final win over Chelsea, and the fact that we had to get past Juventus, Manchester City and Lyon just to make the last 16. We're on top of Europe, on top of Russia, and nothing can bring us down right now.

I'm being mentioned as one of the best managers of all time, but really this one is down to the players. Fedorenko has come of age, putting in a man-of-the-match display in the Champions League final to cap off a superb season for the Ukrainian. Ahead of him, with Vorobjov struggling a little, both Kostenko and Kolosov stepped up their games, the latter in particular adding assists to his cool finishing. Finally, we were superb at the back, Shestakov overtaking Pipia for a first-team berth and securing a fantastic year with a goal on the biggest stage of all. We have a squad both strong and deep, and the level of interest in our players suggests that others know about it too.

Our summer business will largely depend on how much of that interest we can fend off. The likes of Fedorenko, Shestakov, Vorobjov, Xoshimov and youngsters Gusev and Cherepanov are all being watched by big Western Europe sides, and while we can clearly compete on the field, our financial limitations are somewhat tighter. Losing one or even two would be manageable given the depth and youth we have in our ranks, but any more than that and we'll find ourselves scrabbling around somewhat. We wouldn't be short of cash however, so we'd be well-positioned to recruit as European champions.

As for my own future, at present I can see absolutely no reason to do anything other than remain in Moscow. To have reached the very top of my profession after 20 years in the game, and with the club I have always dreamed of leading to this point, is a superb feeling. To have done it on my terms, with my players, is incredible. Now, as we go into the next season with a huge target painted on our backs, it is time to secure a legacy, to build a dynasty. Saparow and Spartak should be a combination to be feared the world over - until that is accomplished, there is little point in stopping.
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Despite a horrible group and being the underdogs at every stage, Saparow had somehow guided his Spartak to the top of the footballing world. The Champions League win - the first ever for a Russian club - turned him and his men into global stars, and it was hard to argue that they didn't deserve it. Our Turkmen hero was now being honoured as one of the all-time greats, and he wasn't done yet.

With Europe conquered the first time, he had sights on doing so again, all the while fending off CSKA and other pretenders on the domestic front. He wanted to become an icon of the club, a man who would have stands named after him and of whom generations to come would speak fondly of. Bahtiyar had earned that right, and now he would cement it.

Another right he has undoubtedly earned is the right to speak for himself. From now on, I plan to simply sit back and enjoy the show.

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