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Rostov are Russia's answer to Leicester City

Rostov are the surprise package in the Russian League this season
Modified 16 Mar 2016, 11:35 IST

Rostov have been hit with a transfer ban and averted a player strike, but they are top of the table against all expectations and on their way to producing one of the biggest shocks in Russian footballing history.

Hailing from the banks of the mighty River Don, Rostov have never been a powerhouse of Russian football, yet a 2-0 win over CSKA Moscow on Saturday put them top of the table with just a third of the season remaining.

While they have produced a number of talented players, such as Viktor Ponedelnik, who scored the Soviet Union's winning goal in the 1960 European Championship final, they have never finished higher than sixth in the league.

That was in 1998, when the club was known as Rostselmash, after the local farm machinery plant. Formed in 1930, it took them 84 years to win their first major domestic trophy, the 2014 Russian Cup.

Yet the following season they narrowly avoided relegation and finished 14th in the table, which did not bode well for this season's title push.

Rise to the top of Russian football

Their rise to the summit of Russian football is, even more, surprising when you look at their squad, which is bereft of star names and worth 40 million euros ($44.46 million), according to the stats website

In terms of squad value, that places them ninth in the Russian top flight, and a long way behind glamour club Zenit St Petersburg, whose squad is worth the most at 196 million euros.

Rostov's recent form has been excellent, however, with the team winning seven of their last nine matches to lead second place CSKA Moscow by virtue of a better head-to-head record.  


Perhaps the biggest name in the Rostov set-up is their coach Kurban Berdyev, the vastly experienced manager who hails from Turkmenistan and helped former club Rubin Kazan win back-to-back Russian titles in 2008 and 2009.

His former side also sensationally beat Barcelona 2-1 at the Nou Camp in the Champions League in 2009. Berdyev is a man of few words. He took over as Rostov head coach in December 2014, but he never speaks about targets.

"We just take each match as it comes," the 63-year-old said after beating CSKA.

Master of psychology

Rostov midfielder Alexander Erokhin told Reuters in a telephone interview that Berdyev is a "master of psychology and tactics".

"Wherever he has worked, he has always managed to get excellent results," Erokhin said.

"This shows just what a good coach he is."

Despite topping the table, not one of Rostov's players has been called up for Russia's March friendlies against Lithuania and France.

"Maybe there are no star names in our team," Erokhin added.

"But a good blend of youth and experience is giving us good results. We go out to play each match as though it is our last and this is why we are constantly managing to pick up points."

Rostov's Alexandru Gatcan celebrates a win

Pundits in Russia have compared Rostov's rise to that of Leicester City, who currently lead the English Premier League, despite lacking the resources of their title rivals. Yet while Leicester are bankrolled by Thai billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, Rostov's current financial plight is less rosy.

In September, with Rostov over 4 million euros in debt, Berdyev denied claims he had given an ultimatum to the club's board that senior players would boycott future matches if they were not paid.

This followed a decision by the Rostov coach to send the youth team to play against Tosno in the Russian Cup while the senior squad stayed at home.

Berdyev's assistant Dmitri Kirichenko denied this was a boycott, but rather a "message to the club's board".

They were handed a short-lived transfer embargo by the Russian Football Union (RFU) in February, due to unpaid wages, although that was lifted a few weeks later when certain player debts were settled.

This financial upheaval, however, has seemed to have little impact on the pitch and last week they signed a large sponsorship deal with an agricultural company, Agrocom Group.

Should they maintain their momentum in the last weeks of the season and finish in the top two then they will qualify for Europe's lucrative Champions League for the first in their history. That would be a remarkable end to a stunning season for the side from southern Russia.

Published 16 Mar 2016, 11:22 IST
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