Ver­sa­tile Leo has a lot Mour to of­fer

The Football League Paper - - LEONID SLUTSKY - By Chris Dunlavy

IT WAS FK Moscow’s flam­boy­ant gen­eral man­ager Yuri Belous who dubbed Leonid Slut­sky ‘The Rus­sian Mour­inho’.

Aged 33, the rookie coach from the in­dus­trial city of Vol­gograd had just beaten city ri­vals Spar­tak in his first game.

That was in 2005 and, from those vaunted be­gin­nings to ti­tle glory with CSKA and ten tu­mul­tuous months in charge of Rus­sia, the moniker stuck.

In re­al­ity, how­ever, Hull City’s af­fa­ble new man­ager couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent from the dour, di­vi­sive, win-at-all costs men­tal­ity of the grudge­bear­ing Por­tuguese.

“It’s true,” said Rus­sian jour­nal­ist Igor Rabiner, au­thor of Leonid Slut­sky: the Coach from Next Door.

“He is meticulous and suc­cess­ful but, in terms of per­son­al­ity, Slut­sky is much more like Guus Hid­dink and Carlo Ancelotti.”

Trust­ing. Laid back. Jovial. From his self-dep­re­cat­ing hu­mour to his phi­los­o­phy on man-man­age­ment, Slut­sky is a man who prizes re­spect and friend­ship above medals.

“I want to win,” he once said. “But, if win­ning th­ese ti­tles means hard re­la­tions with play­ers, then I wouldn’t make a choice in favour of ti­tles. This re­la­tion­ship is the big­gest fac­tor for me.”

Early on, many in the ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive, ma­cho world of Rus­sian foot­ball felt Slut­sky was too soft, too un­ortho­dox, to suc­ceed.

They scoffed at his ded­i­ca­tion to aca­demic study, the use of sports psy­chol­o­gists to pro­file his play­ers.

In 2007, Slut­sky was even sacked by FK Moscow af­ter owner Mikhail Prokhorov de­manded a coach “with more balls”.

Yet over the years this in­tel­li­gent and pro­gres­sive ap­proach – al­lied to a nat­u­ral affin­ity with the me­dia – has gar­nered both suc­cess and re­spect.

In­tel­li­gent

He prefers jokes to jibes. He quotes poetry, the­atre and movies in his press con­fer­ences.

He is a regular on Rus­sian com­edy pro­grammes and went viral af­ter he was filmed per­form­ing a self-penned rap at an ex-player’s wed­ding.

Last year’s Rus­sian res­cue act of­fers the per­fect il­lus­tra­tion of how his ebul­lient per­son­al­ity can charm a dressing room.

The team was four points adrift of qual­i­fi­ca­tion for Euro 2016 when the joy­less, au­to­cratic Fabio Capello was dis­missed. But Slut­sky won four matches out of four to book a berth in France.

“Slut­sky turned the at­mos­phere 180 de­grees,” said Zenit St Peters­burg’s mer­cu­rial striker Artem Dzyuba.

“He ra­di­ates pos­i­tive en­ergy: he’s not just a win­ner but a very de­cent man. And all that is sup­ported by the fact that he is a pro­fes­sional and su­per-strong coach. The team fell in love with him and started re­spect­ing him at light­ning speed.”

Equally telling, how­ever, was Slut­sky’s con­cil­ia­tory ap­proach to Cap­pello. The pair spoke reg­u­larly and even went for din­ner to­gether. Cap­pello, in turn, lauded Slut­sky’s great po­ten­tial.

De­spite an open­ing draw with Eng­land, Rus­sia crashed out of the com­pe­ti­tion in the group stages. In yet an­other de­par­ture from the Mour­inho mould, there were no ex­cuses.

“Af­ter los­ing to Wales, me and some play­ers gath­ered in my room,” he told the me­dia. “We talked until 9am and then con­cluded ‘We’re s***’ in uni­son.”

Slut­sky’s lev­ity and sense of per­spec­tive is per­haps un­sur­pris­ing when you con­sider he lost his fa­ther, Vik­tor, to can­cer at seven and his play­ing ca­reer to a fa­mous freak in­ci­dent.

Aged 19, he fell six me­tres from a poplar tree at­tempt­ing to res­cue a young neigh­bour’s cat, shat­ter­ing his knee and suf­fer­ing mul­ti­ple frac­tures.

A year in a Soviet-era hos­pi­tal al­lowed him to walk again, but his goal­keep­ing days were over.

At that stage, Slut­sky toyed with fol­low­ing his mother’s de­sire for him to be­come a lawyer or a doc­tor.

A grad­u­ate in lin­guis­tics, Lyud­mila Niko­laevna was forced to forgo her own aca­demic am­bi­tions when Vik­tor died. She built a kin­der­garten and be­came a teacher to pro­vide for her son, then watched in de­light as he fin­ished high school with top grades.

Yet foot­ball al­ways held sway and, aged 22, Slut­sky started train­ing the academy at Olimpia Vol­gograd, a lo­cal side. His first pupils were gath­ered via hand-writ­ten ad­verts that Lyud­mila posted in the lob­bies of nearby apart­ment blocks.

Olimpia’s youth team won ev­ery­thing in sight and in­cluded two play­ers, De­nis Kolodin and Ro­man Adamov, who reached the semi-fi­nals of Euro 2008. So grate­ful was Adamov that he bought Slut­sky and his mother an apart­ment when he signed his first pro­fes­sional con­tract.

Cor­dial

“He kept me off the street and gave me a ca­reer in foot­ball,” said Adamov. “No apart­ment or amount of money can re­pay that.”

Along the way, Slut­sky was sacked and shafted, of­ten by peo­ple he trusted. Typ­i­cally, how­ever, he re­mains cor­dial with most.

Next came FC Moscow, then seven years across town at CSKA that yielded three league ti­tles, one dou­ble and a run to the Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter- fi­nals.

“I al­ways re­garded my­self rather crit­i­cally,” said Slut­sky. “So that first Cham­pi­ons League game gave me the feel­ing of un­be­liev­able in­ner com­fort. I am not in this pro­fes­sion with­out rea­son.”

Un­like the ma­jor­ity of his peers, Slut­sky has long har­boured a de­sire to coach abroad. A friend of Ro­man Abramovich – the Chelsea owner con­sults him about trans­fer tar­gets – he moved to the UK af­ter Euro 2016 and has spent the last six months trav­el­ling to watch games by train.

He has also im­mersed him­self in politics and cul­ture, learn­ing about Brexit, go­ing to plays in London and study­ing English.

Savvy enough to recog­nise the Premier League was out of range, he tar­geted a job in the Cham­pi­onship. In June, aided by the sup­port of Abramovich, Hull took a punt.

“For me, he is a world class man­ager,” said Ger­man Tkachenko, the Rus­sian man­ager who first in­tro­duced Slut­sky to Abramovich. “Very de­tailed, very sys­tem­atic. To prove his level, Leo just has to over­come the lan­guage bar­rier be­cause his style de­pends on com­mu­ni­ca­tion, on ex­pla­na­tions. Suc­ceed in that and he will suc­ceed full stop.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

IN­NER CON­TROL: Slut­sky watches as his Hull side take on As­ton Villa in the sea­son opener

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