The waiting is over. The suspense is history.
After nearly a half year since Dick Advocaat was fired by Zenit management, the largest question surrounding the club has been answered.
Former AS Roma manager Luciano Spalletti has been tabbed, by a unanimous board vote, to be the next manager of the Blue-White-Sky Blues. Although Anatoliy Davydov was offered a formal contract earlier, Spalletti now takes over full time managing duties of the club that recently became Russia's third and final participant in the 2010-11 UEFA Champions League.
Spalletti agreed to a three-year deal to go to St. Petersburg. Those three years will also mark the first time that he has ever managed or played outside of Italy. His objectives are very straightforward—win the domestic title, establish annual success in European competition, and help young local players reach the senior squad.
The 50-year-old had a very productive run with AS Roma during his tenure with the capital club. He was the Serie A Coach of the Year in 2006 and lead Roma into the knockout rounds of the Champions League. He also lead the club to two consecutive Coppa Italia titles in 2007 and 2008.
Although he experienced some struggles with Roma late in his career, his innovative offensive tactics will be remembered for a some time.
But his new task is quite different. He becomes the second Italian member of Zenit St. Petersburg, and the second bald-headed one at that. Former Torino midfielder Alessandro Rosina transferred to Zenit during the summer.
"Spalletti will be welcomed here as he is a well-known international coach. It's great to have another Italian around the team, he is one of the best coaches around, " Rosina told Sky Sports Italia . The talented midfielder scored in his first match with Zenit and was also named Player of the Month in August.
While Spalletti absolutely carries a tremendous record of excellence, success in major leagues around Europe hasn't necessarily translated into victories in Russia. During the 2009 Russian Premier League season, four well-known managers were dismissed—Michael Laudrup, Dick Advocaat, Zico, and Juande Ramos.
The final two of those were both fired by CSKA Moscow.
But there is no question Spalletti can succeed with Zenit. His popular 4-2-3-1 formation is very similar to what Zenit played for the majority of the 2009 campaign. But in order for the system to have it's best effect, there is one piece from his formation that is still missing:
A true striker.
Four men have tried their hand up front, with nobody having true success. Pavel Pogrebnyak began the season well, but it showed very quickly that he missed the services of the departed Arshavin. 32-year-old Fatih Tekke ended up leading the club in scoring, but he faded tremendously over the latter part of the season.
Sergei Kornilenko was a total failure and Mateja Kezman seemed to need a partner up front to help out.
For Spalletti, this is the first order of business during the winter transfer period. However, he might not have to look very far. Hyper-athletic 20-year-old Pavel Ignatovich registered 18 goals for Zenit's youth squad, helping them win the Russian title. That makes two consecutive double-digit goal seasons for him, and it is almost painfully clear that he has nothing left to prove with the youth side.
But regardless, Spalletti already has a terrific foundation to work with. As it stands now, Zenit's 2010 starting line is already something to be proud of.
Goalkeeper: Vyacheslav Malafeev
Defense: Aleksandr Anyukov (C), Fernando Meira, Nicolas Lombaerts, Dong-jin Kim
Defensive Midfield: Igor Denisov (A), Konstantin Zyryanov
Attacking Midfield: Alessandro Rosina, Danny, Vladimir Bystrov
Striker: Pavel Ignatovich
The squad can also improve with anybody else who Spalletti manages to lure to St. Petersburg this winter. He was limited by Roma's finances later in his career, but that will not be the case with Zenit. Backed by natural gas giants Gazprom, the club has no shortage of money and Spalletti will not be limited in how much he can spend to get the right players.
However, nobody will be questioning the character and credibility of Spalletti. The biggest question will revolve around the man that quite possibly lost his job for no reason, Anatoliy Davydov. Why was he not allowed to stay on?
Davydov, after all, did lead the club from eighth place in the league into a Champions League berth next year. He also did wonders for the club defensively, with nobody benefiting greater than central defender Nicolas Lombaerts, who truly blossomed under Davydov. When Lombaerts returned from injury, he went from a substitute, to a starter, to completely irreplaceable all in a very short period of time.
Although Davydov lost his job as manager, it is not all gloomy skies for his future. He will be staying with the club, possibly as an assistant. After all, there still are a number of Russians on the team who don't speak English all that well.
But it's a new day for Zenit. A brand new stadium in 2011. A new world-class manager. And many reasons to have hope for the future.
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