Dan Petrescu is quietly making the leap from top class player to manager at the highest level and making it look easy. Domm Norris reports on a man happy to forge his own career path.
The evolution of a football player into a manager is one that’s potentially hazardous. For many the transition of power and influence from the field of play to the touchline is an obstacle that’s just too vast to overcome. There are others however, who have the natural ability to find success in an aspect of the game that is hugely demanding and pressurised.
One such example who’s managed to forge a strong managerial reputation in the year's following his retirement from professional football is former Romania and Chelsea defender Dan Petrescu. To many the name Unirea Urziceni may not hold a great deal of significance, but to Petrescu this is a football club who provided him with a platform from which future successes can be attributed.
Upon Petrescu's appointment as Unirea coach the club was a relative minnow, having been newly promoted to the Liga 1 and having never been on such a prestigious stage as the nation's top flight. In the space of 3 seasons Petrescu managed to transform the fortunes of Unirea and led the club to a Romanian Cup final in 2007/08 and the league title in the following season, which meant the club qualified for the Champions League - the grandest stage of all. Such success, even in a league that is not widely followed across Europe, inevitably leads to attention from other sides and when Petrescu eventually resigned from Unirea in December 2009 he was linked with a number of jobs in England and other major European leagues. It therefore came as a surprise to many to see the former Chelsea man take the reigns of Russian First Division side Kuban Krasnodar.
Kuban's recent history has been perpetuated by a yo-yo effect which has seen the club struggle with the transition to the rigours of Premier League football. This is in spite of the fact that they’ve managed to win promotion to the league on a regular basis despite the constant setbacks caused by their subsequent relegation. The failures of many of the club's managers to find the right balance to survive within the Premier League has resulted in a constant managerial shift, which is shown by the staggering fact that the club has had 27 coaches since 1992. It’s this instability that has caused the club to be unable to provide the Krasnodar Krai region with a lasting influence within Russia's top division, which would be hugely significant especially when considering that the Winter Olympics arrive in the Krasnodar Krai city of Sochi in 2014, thus increasing the infrastructure of the region. The appointment of Dan Petrescu was therefore a huge statement of intent by the club who are adamant that Kuban should be able to sit at the top table of Russian football, and his $1.5m contract only strengthens this level of ambition.
The turbulent nature of Kuban's domestic form since the turn of the millennium can also be witnessed in the years since its inception in 1928. The identity of a football club - socially and politically - are generally established through its roots and beginnings which become the foundations upon which the teams we witness today are built. However Kuban's history is far from black and white. The changing face of the Soviet era and the highly politicised nature of the nation's football clubs left a deep impact on the Krasnodar club, which began under the influence of the NKVD, the Soviet Union's secret police force. These political overtones consequently meant that the club saw fit to change its name on five separate occasions; including Dynamo, Neftyanik, Kuban, Spartak, before reverting back to Kuban in the early 1960's. It is natural for football clubs to evolve and change, as many of the power houses of today's game are not known by the name of their origin, but for Kuban it is testament to the club's endurance that an identity survived at all.
For Dan Petrescu however, history is something that he seeks to create instead of look back upon. The historical turbulence of the club may have been mimicked through levels of instability both on and off the pitch, which has seen a constant trend of managerial changes and a lack of investment from the state who previously owned a majority share in the club. But Petrescu's initial success in the First Division looks to have provided the club and its supporters with the hope that the future could well be promising indeed. The success that Unirea enjoyed and the knowledge gained from such an experience will provide Petrescu with a platform upon which to build a strong side in what is a hugely competitive league. The investment of Oleg Mkrtchan, who presently holds a 75% share in the club, could prove crucial if the club is match the ambitions of the coach, and Mkrtchan's willingness to offer Petrescu such a lucrative contract shows that money may no longer be an issue for a club that has so often been crying out for investment. For many managers the thought of bringing a newly promoted side into a new era of top flight football could be a pressure that weighs too heavily upon one's shoulders, but for Kuban's coach the only way is up.
Domm writes regularly for IBWM and if you would like to read more from him please visit the excellent football ramblings.