It only took a month. But Zenit St. Petersburg's season is already hanging by a thread.
When Zenit defeated Russian Premier League leaders FC Moscow 1-0 at the Petrovsky Stadium on July 12, their season looked to be headed in the right direction. They finally had a solid result against a good team, and had to overcome a penalty shot to preserve a victory.
The result had every marking of a win that could give them just enough momentum to make it through the next several matches. But then it all started to unwind.
The Sky Blues were dealt a crushing defeat at the hands of Terek Grozny the next week. Szabolcs Huszti and Pavel Pogrebnyak scored back-to-back in a matter of minutes to pull Zenit even at two, only to conceed the winning goal with a minute left.
Next was the crucial showdown with FK Rubin Kazan at home. Zenit outplayed Rubin by a mile, but manager Dick Advocaat was unable to find a winning combination. Rubin had been playing with ten men for the last 20 minutes of the match but held on for a draw.
Zenit then traveled to Saturn Moscow to face the Aliens, and held a 2-1 advantage late in the match. But again, Advocaat did not make any defensive substitutions and Saturn tied the match off a Vyacheslav Malafeev goalkeeping blunder.
The came the signing of Italian playmaker Alessandro Rosina from Torino.
Advocaat took no time at all to voice his opinions on the new players.
He told the press, "Rosina? I did not want him at all. I'd asked for two or three strikers instead and they bought him without consulting me. I am disappointed, as this is the first time in my life that a club has bought a player without my consent."
However, Rosina made his Zenit debut in Russia's Cup against Nizhny Novgorod and scored magnificently in the 39th minute of play. He earned the highest player rating on the team at 7.4.
Rosina was a happy man. The fans were ecstatic. And the players on the field immediately responded to the Italian's play, despite having almost no practice time together.
Zenit then had a few days away from the pitch, but came right back on Sunday to face Tom Tomsk, one of the worst teams in the league.
This was a team that Zenit had defeated handily on the road, 3-0 earlier in the season. In all honesty, it should have been 5-0 or more.
The Sky Blues, captained by defender Aleksandr Anyukov, began in dominating form, earning numerous corner kicks but failing to convert on any of them. After a barrage of uninspired shots on the Tom goal, Zenit took a 0-0 match into halftime. And apparently, were perfectly happy with that.
Advocaat clearly had no changes to make. Even though midfielder Radek Sirl would turn the ball over every time he touched it. Even though any corner earned would be won by Tom inside the box, as it floated in harmlessly.
What is the deal? Was he trying to make a point? Even when Tom scored once, then again in the 68th minute, no changes were made.
Not one substitution from a team that was virtually unchanged from the 11 men who took the field only a few days earlier. No. He just sat there at the end of the Zenit bench, expressionless as his players looked for answers. This was supposed to be the same club that was previously undefeated at home.
As the match thankfully ended, Zenit supporters trudged out of the stadium, very disappointed. And they had every reason to be upset. It was a genuine shock. What just happened?
The entire city viewed Advocaat as a hero. Only a year ago, he was given honorary citizenship of St. Petersburg, an honor that had not been awarded since 1866.
He is still the most successful manager that Zenit has ever had, leading the Sky Blues to four trophies in the last three seasons, none more important than the UEFA Cup win over Rangers.
Earlier this summer, Advocaat accepted the position to manage the Belgian national team, but he would not leave St. Petersburg until December 31. Which brings up a painful question.
Is he all-in for the last half a year of his Zenit tenure?
"No, I am confident that our team is much stronger than Tomsk. I have some suggestions as to why something went wrong. I will explain this to the board of directors and let's see."
It's unsure why Advocaat would not accept a player other than the select few that he named, one of those being Lazio striker Goran Pandev. A transfer of course, is still possible, but what is the true reason for being upset with an excellent player like Rosina, who is now signed long-term?
New director Igor Korneev knows he must not only add stronger players for the immediate future, but down the road as well. Advocaat will only be managing the club for another five months, while both Kornilenko and Rosina are signed to four-year deals.
If Advocaat can be all-in for his remaining months as Zenit manager, everyone will be happy and the team results will show it.
If he is not committed, the team will show a poor result.
Zenit fans are always tremendous and committed. They expect nothing less than the same from all players and coaches alike. Alessandro Rosina has already embraced the city, and they have embraced him back as one of their own. He even has a nickname.
But the supporters deserve much better than the awful display of football they witnessed today at the Petrovsky. And Sir Advocaat, it's up to you how you would like your last few months in St. Petersburg to go.
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