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Zenit's mediocrity in Europe underlines a persistent problem in East European Football

Zenit's Only European Success: 2008 Europa League Title
Zenit's Only European Success: 2008 Europa League Title
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Amritangshu Bandyopadhyay

Zenit St. Petersburg has emerged as one of the most successful clubs in Russia. They have won the Russian Premier League title a record three times in three successive seasons. As things stand, they are on course for their fourth straight title.

Such supreme dominance at home should generally translate into better performances in European competitions. However, it has been six years since they last played a knockout match in the Champions League, under the tenure of Andre Villas-Boas.

Since then, Zenit has seen as many as three managerial changes. Unfortunately, they have failed to get past the group stages. As far as this season goes, they are already out of Champions League football.

Zenit's had their troubles not just in Champions League football; even in the Europa League in recent years, they have failed to get past the Round of 16 in recent years.

One major reason why Zenit's story is such a model of Eastern European football is because of the enormous financial clout that backs them.

Domestic success in Eastern Europe is top priority

Eastern European countries - Turkey, Russia, and the former USSR colonies - prioritize domestic success over anything less.

Galatasaray and, more recently, Istanbul Baseksehir have seen political influence and monetary injections from national government wings to buy world-class players to challenge for league titles. The same has been the case for Zenit.

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Gazprom promised to take Zenit to the higher echelons of European football when it took the majority share in 2005. To date, their best performance in Europe was winning the Europa League in 2008, under the management of Dick Advocaat.

For a club that prides itself on transforming the dynamics of Russian football in terms of infrastructure and investment in the 21st century, Zenit's performances in the European top flight have been nothing short of dismal.

Local Derbies carry significant emotions

Be it Zenit, Red Star Belgrade, or Galatasaray, history, legacy, and domestic political violence have carried the emotions of these clubs for a long time. The ultras of these clubs are more attracted to the local derbies than inter-continental fixtures.

This knowledge puts additional pressure on the club's management to prioritize derby wins over European qualification.

Zenit- CSKA is a bigger in Russia than any other inter-continental tie.
Zenit- CSKA is a bigger in Russia than any other inter-continental tie.

The world saw a great example of this when Zenit decided to put Artem Dyzuba on the bench against Juventus after utilizing his services in a 4-1 win over Dynamo Moscow. Dzyuba's absence from subsequent Champions League fixtures against Malmo and Chelsea further underlined Zenit's true European ambitions.

Zenit St. Petersburg paving a new way to cut costs

Despite failing to take Zenit into the knockouts of UCL, Sergey Semak has kept his job. It reflects a new trend in East European football. Formerly, Zenit tried their luck with Luciano Spalleti and Andre Villas-Boas, who, in all fairness, did better in Europe than Semak.

However, Zenit has persisted with a home coach to cut back on its expenses. The club also released as many as six first-team squad players in the 2019-20 season alone. They included the likes of Dimitry Poloz, Elmir Nabiullin and, Miha Mevlja.

With overwhelming dominance over domestic rivals and no major European objectives, this approach signifies why Eastern European clubs are struggling in Europe.


Edited by Rohit Mishra
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