Football is a landscape perenially littered with great clubs fallen on hard times but as history tells us, beware the idle giant...
The term 'fallen giant' is one that often gets banded around the footballing world. The slightest sniff of a team or individual falling from atop their perch sees a crowd of teeth baring maniacs ready to pounce and relish the opportunity to shoot their mouths and make 'knee-jerk' claims that later come back to bite them in the arse. In the wild the blood of a wounded animal brings about the wrath of an awaiting predator and football's primal nature is no different.
There have been countless teams who have dwelled in the doldrums of deterioration and witnessed a pack of ambitious opponents pull the rug from beneath their feet. Liverpool, Saint-Étienne and Pro Vercelli have all experienced such hardships at various points of last century - as the successes of yesteryear become an ever darkening memory. Football's ruthless nature means that any sign of weakness will be rapidly picked up upon and as such complacency is a football club's most destructive emotion. The collapse is rarely pretty to behold, always easy to lay the blame at someone else's door and terminal in its nature. However the common footballing cliche of the game 'working in cycles' provides both hope and underlying expectation that from the ashes of the fallen a new brave behemoth can emerge and shatter the woe that has come before.
The footballing landscape is an ever evolving masterpiece. It is a piece of art that can never be completed due to the constant re-workings and amendments that serve to transform what has appeared before. The final stroke of Leonardo da Vinci's brush upon the cheeks of the Mona Lisa may have provided a sense of satisfaction in completion but football as an artform can never gain such a feeling. The growth of the global game has provided football with a far wider and diverse palette - one that can widely express the rises and falls of the globe's greatest footballing institutions. The red and white that is so connotative of Spartak Moscow represents both the success of old and the failures of the present - such colours will remain rooted in history and tradition but as football's landscape is ever changing the fresh perceptions of the club may well serve to undermine the successes of the past.
The Russian evolution is one of huge contrasts - as vast wealth of the few has provided the world with a warped perception of what exactly that nation's football actually represents. The brush strokes of oil, magnates and racism are obvious protrusions on a canvas that has yet to fully bloom since the establishment of Russia in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse. Money has helped propel Zenit St Petersburg to the foreground while it has helped aid CSKA Moscow's stabilisation at the top of the Russian game. The colour of money, blue and white have replaced the blood red of Spartak Moscow as the formerly perennial champions find themselves watered down beyond recognition. The Russian game - like the rest of the world - mimics a society in which money reigns supreme. It brings wealth, comfort and change but it doesn't always bring satisfaction, happiness and betterment.
Spartak's transformation from an undisputed heavyweight to something more comparable with a spent force living on former glories is a change that many can relate to. Season after season fresh optimism is rapidly extinguished by the haunting images of defeats to relegation stricken opponents who would otherwise have been easily rolled over in one fell swoop. Svarog's sun no longer burns upon the club that was created in order to represent the people away from the politicalisation that enclosed Russian sport in the 1920's - and remains so today. But the plight of the greatest 'sleeping giants' are more often than not man made issues - formulated through short sightedness and the pillaging of former ideals. Spartak's constant managerial shifts, Liverpool's grave managerial choices and Saint Etienne's financial meltdown all caused the collapse of seemingly impregnable empires.
History teaches that it is human weakness that destroys the greatest of dynasties. Genghis Khan's desire for the opposite sex, Attila the Hun's penchant for alcohol and Julius Caesar's cruelty are all speculated to have led to the death of these universally recognised historical figures. The deterioration of a football club may not be held in as high esteem as the rulers of age but it is equally as significant in the expression of the human race's underlying faults. History, like football, works in cycles. The development of power, authority and wealth takes a certain amount of time to peak and such the impending 'boom' that follows is also met by a 'bust' which threatens the potential for stability. In both society and football the pursuit of success have similar means and ends - with a single man, a single ideal able to bring about a fresh dawn that transforms previous perceptions. But ultimately when a person is capable of achieving greatness - they are equally capable of destruction and it is this human instability that places football in the hearts of minds of its audience.