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Is it time for Zenit St. Petersburg to look beyond Sergei Semak?

The sleeping giants of European football barely woke up in the Champions League this season.
The sleeping giants of European football barely woke up in the Champions League this season.
Modified 23 Dec 2020, 18:57 IST

For perennial domestic champions Zenit St. Petersburg, the phase between 2014-18 was not a memorable one. In that time, the club from Saint Petersburg lifted the domestic title just once - in the 2015/16 season. 

Since Andre Villas-Boas' departure, Zenit tried their luck with Mircea Lucescu and Roberto Mancini but failed to win any silverware. Under Mancini, the club finished in their lowest position in a decade - fifth - in the 2017/18 season.

Roberto Mancini's departure led to the appointment of fan-favorite Sergei Semak. Semak worked with the club on an interim basis following Luciano Spalleti's dismissal before his appointment as a full-time manager. He also served as an assistant to Villas-Boas during the manager's three-year tenure before moving to FC Ufa.

For the Zenit ultras, Semak's appointment signaled the promotion of local Russian talent - something which has remained a dream till now.

Every manager since Spalleti has relied heavily on Gazprom's investment to push for success. Many fans feel that these managers came to their club to reinvigorate their careers rather than improve the club. Semak's appointment was a break from that trend.

Semak's failures on the European scene cannot be ignored.

However, things have become stale at Zenit in the last three years. While they won the domestic double last season and are on course for a third Russian Premiership title, their performances in Europe have been below par. Under Villas-Boas, the club finished the group stages in the 2015/16 Champions League season with a record six wins from the same number of games.

However, Zenit have failed to make it out of the group stages in each of the six seasons since. The last two UCL seasons under Semak have been ones to forget.


In his first year in the Champions League, Semak's men were drawn in a group comprising of Olympique Lyon, RB Leipzig, and Benfica. Despite putting themselves in a position to qualify after four games, they bottled the rest of the group games and bowed out of Europe.

This year's European venture was an even bigger nightmare as the club picked up just one point from six games. It is hard to argue that Zenit does not have a formidable team to compete in the Champions League, but they have failed to perform in Europe.

Perhaps, it comes down to Zenit's ambitions or maybe the manager's personal aspirations as well. Semak is guaranteed to retain his place in the dugout by simply winning the domestic league. The Gazprom hierarchy also seems to have given up on achieving success in Europe. 

While Semak has successfully organized his team to be successful in domestic competition every season, his lack of success on the European scene is a cause for concern. A change of guard in the dugout is a must if Zenit want to give a good account of themselves in Europe.

Published 23 Dec 2020, 18:57 IST
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