Jonny EyresComment


Jonny EyresComment

Formed in 1936, Russian First Division side Sibir Novosibirsk are not a club illuminated by glitz and glamour despite being located in a city that has the third highest population in the country.

Novosibirsk may well be an extremely attractive hot spot in an industrial business sense, but the growth and expansion that makes the city so vital to the Siberian Federal District gives a false impression of the overall picture due to its awkward location.

Novosibirsk is situated on the banks of the Ob River in the West Siberian Plain; travelling to and from the city is very difficult indeed.

In the realm of Russian football, Sibir are a humble outfit and their history has been relatively success-free, stifled by the fact that it is difficult to commute to away games and that Moscow and Saint Petersburg will always have more 'pull'. Investment is increasingly tough to generate.

They have gradually climb through the tiers but their overall impact has been limited as a lack of funding, certainly compared to the likes of Anzhi Makhachkala and Zenit St Petersburg, has meant Sibir - like many other clubs on the Russian circuit - find sustainability hard to come by.

In 2010, they were promoted to the Russian Premier League but despite playing a tantalising brand of football the young side were severely punished for having a terrible defence and were ultimately relegated.

However, thanks to a fantastic cup run in the previous season - they eventually and unfortunately lost to Zenit through a 60th minute Roman Shirokov penalty - they had a chance to compete in Europe, specifically the Europa League. After navigating their path past Greek Cypriot side Apollon Limassol in the third qualifying round (on away goals) they faced the daunting task of having to beat Dutch side PSV Eindhover in order to get through to the group stage.

Incredibly they made history by beating PSV 1-0 in August 2010. Maxim Astafiev calmly and expertly laid the ball into the path of Aleksandr Degtyarev, who fired home with aplomb deep into injury time to send the players, the astonished bench and their amazing supporters into rapture unconfined. Sibir were thrashed 5-0 in the second leg to end their dream but the famous, glorious, underdog win in the first leg will live long in the memory.

Taking into account their distinct lack of achievement, that the hockey and volleyball franchise is much more ingrained in the culture and the fact that the city is so far out of the way, it came as a real surprise that Alex Miller became their manager in January 2012.

Miller is from Glasgow and played for Rangers for 15 years, managed Hibernian - where he won the Scottish League Cup in 1991 - and was a scout and assistant manager for Liverpool for nine years (under Gerard Houllier and Rafael Benítez). These were all cultural melting pots, saturated in raw, intense passion and rich civic history, so Novosibirsk appeared a bizarre choice of destination.

But becoming Sibir's manager is in itself a fascinating and proud prestige for the 62-year-old Glaswegian: it made him the first ever British person to manage in Russia. It is also unlikely that his tenure will be an experience that fazes him, as his passport stamps demonstrate how vast his experience is - he has already managed in Hong Kong, Japan and Sweden.

The soul of the club is something that has resonated with Miller: "I think it is very important you keep a home identity, especially with a club that is not a Zenit St Petersburg or Spartak Moscow."

The facilites that he has at his disposal are outstanding and have impressed him thoroughly, with an indoor training centre which holds 3,500 spectators - and a number of swimming pools - being the pick of the bunch. He has a sensible and frugal chairman in Lev Strelkov and he will always be surrounded by zealous supporters, especially their rabid Ultras, who create an enthralling and intimidating atmosphere.

He has also inherited a side with a healthy blend of youth and experience, featuring the likes of defender Igor Klimov, midfielder Ivan Nagibin, midfielder and captain Veliče Šumulikoski, and strikers Aleksei Medvedev and Dmitri Akimov.

While he won't be expected to produce the phenomenal miracles of Istanbul 2005, where he aided Benítez in winning the Champions League for Liverpool, his appointment is an intriguing one. The club will certainly benefit from his fearless hunger and desire, combined with his tactical nous and nomadic experience, and supporters will be waiting in earnest anticipation to see if Miller can help the Eagles to soar back up to the Premier League.

Jonny Eyres is the author of offthebarinthebar. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnyjameseyres