Time for a Change?

Dick Advocaat accumulated plenty of political capital during his time at Zenit. But as Domm Norris reports, things aren't going so smoothly at the helm of the Russian national side.

As one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, Benjamin Franklin may not be a man you would associate with Russian football. The two nations' historically fraught political relationship and the fact Franklin was born in the 1700's are both obvious reasons for this. But Dick Advocaat and his conservative band of ageing stars could well learn a lot from Franklin's choice words - as they find themselves quaking beneath a barrage of criticism and abuse.

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”

Youth development are two words that many footballing nation are all too familiar with - some more than others - but for Russia it has become quite the buzz phrase. Stark similarities exist between Russian and English football, in that both nations have been swept along on a wave of outdated perceptions on how best to nurture young talent. The progression of the likes of Spain and Germany has highlighted the lack of emphasis placed upon development programs that will - in the long term - provide Russia with a far wider pool of players from which to choose from.

Both Russia and England have been forced to live with the influx of vast sums of money thrown into a select few clubs. This has meant that a significant amount of expensive foreign talent has arrived in both nation's to plenty of fanfare and excitement. However while such purchases may have aided the development of Russian football over the short term, it has threatened to dramatically destabilise it in the longer term as young, local talents have found themselves pushed aside by their more exotic counterparts.

The impending World Cup on Russian soil has meant that words such as 'growth', 'progress' and 'improvement' - are being bandied about by the Russian Football Union with a growing regularity. The need for Russia to be a competitive force come the tournament means that their reliance on players in the mould of Andrei Arshavin - who is performing at a pitifully low level - could cost them dear. Pressure is building on coach Dick Advocaat to usher in a new era for Russian football, one that will do away with a sense of normality and identify the talents that will bring glory in 2018.

"Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn."

Dick Advocaat's persistent unwillingness to diverge from the values that his predecessor - and fellow Dutchman - Guus Hiddink implemented is a symbol of his conservative ignorance. After a feeble draw against Qatar Advocaat blasted his critics by stating that 'I don’t have time for experiments' - but would experiments have time for him? Advocaat has placed his nail firmly to the rotting mast - much to disappointment of Russia's brightest young talents - thus would any back tracking simply result in players showing the coach the lack of respect that he has shown to them? It's possible - but Russia quickly need a liberal thinker to trounce the rulebook and pave his own path.

"Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment."

Handling the media is one of the most difficult aspects of coaching a national team - particularly for a foreigner. The expectations of the nation can often weigh heavily but the words that people read on a daily basis can harvest a connection between the team and the public. But in Russia's case there is a separation that has been created by Dick Advocaat - through his obvious disdain for the media in all forms. His poor grasp of the language does little to aid proceedings - which causes a sense of annoyance among a great deal of people, who perceive his poor language skills to be a symbol of ignorance and indolence. It is quite reasonable to assume that had Advocaat sought to forge relationships with the Russian media, then the criticism that he is currently facing after a string of poor results may not have been half as virulent.

"Trouble springs from idleness, and grievous toil from needless ease."

There's a strong sense that Russia's starting line up is based solely upon the idea of reputation. The over-reliance upon players who served Guus Hiddink so well during Euro 2008 is proof that Russia's established players need not exert themselves beyond the bare minimum - and some will go below even that - to be guaranteed a place in the national team. Andrei Arshavin and Igor Semshov are startling examples of the importance of reputation within the Russian set up - neither have performed well for club nor country for a significant amount of time; and thus it is difficult to see just how Russia will begin to see progress. James Appell recent highlighted this worrying trend: 'in the year since Advocaat took over there have been only six new caps - and none of the new call-ups have featured in a competitive fixture.' Clearly, the times could do with a 'changin.

“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it”

No truer statement about Dick Advocaat's time in Russian football could be made. Before taking charge of the national team, Advocaat could be found guiding Zenit St Petersburg through the club's most successful period in their history. These exploits saw him win the Premier League, Russian Cup, UEFA Cup and the UEFA Super Cup - which in turn saw him named the first foreign Honorary Citizen of St Petersburg since 1866. But his turbulent spell with Russia is gradually chipping away at the perception of Advocaat's managerial mastery.

The problems that face Russian football are by no means irreversible. The development that is needed to make Russia a truly competitive nation on the world stage - in the short term - requires just a little foresight and imagination. Dick Advocaat's stubborn, conservative approach is ultimately stunting the growth of a nation who long for success in the run up to the World Cup. The long term need for youth development is obvious, and the RFU have begun to address the issue with ever-increasing urgency. But Benjamin Franklin shall justifiably have the final word:"Any fool can criticise, condemn and complain and most fools do."

To read more from Domm, visit Football Globe.

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