KANCHELSKIS, KOLYVANOV AND A CLUB LATE TO THE PARTY

Much like England and the two rugby codes, there are some Russian towns in which ice hockey is king, and there is little point in other sports competing for popularity. For every football-mad Manchester or Liverpool there is a Wigan or a Hull, and the vast Russian Federation is no different. Ask any resident of Yaroslavl, Magnitogorsk or Cherepovets whether they are more concerned with football or hockey, and you'll be laughed at just for posing the question.

Ufa, the capital of the primarily Islamic Republic of Bashkortostan and situated in a quiet corner of Russia between the transcontinental divide of the Ural mountains and mighty artery of the Volga River, is another such city. With a population of just over one million, it is the 11th largest city in the country, and yet to the Western world it is largely unknown.

However, its ice hockey representatives are local heroes: Salavat Yulaev, the team named after a local hero who participated in the Pugachev Rebellion of 1773-4, became champions of the Kontinental Hockey League for the first time in 2011, and have firmly established themselves as one of the strongest sides outside of the North American elite.

With their hockey heroes as a focal point, there is little room left in the hearts of the Bashkirs for a second sports team, particularly given that their footballing ventures have never reached the top flight of the Soviet or Russian game. Neftyanik Ufa reached the second tier on a handful of occasions before disappearing from the game, whilst the horribly-named Bashinformsvyaz-Dinamo failed to escape the regional leagues in their two years of existence.

Today, however, there is a new team in town, and one that comes with a little more expectation. Formed from the ashes of the previous side in 2010, the more sensibly-titled FC Ufa came into being to represent Bashkortostan in the nation's other favourite sport, with the long-term ambition of one day emulating Salavat Yulaev and bringing sporting success to their republic. Of course, given the huge gap in quality between the regional tiers and upper reaches of the First Division - let alone the top flight - and the huge budgets of a number of teams in their way, it is a huge if not impossible dream, but one which Ufa are determined to at least try and realise.

Ufa's ambition cannot be doubted. With the creation of a new club comes the need for a backroom staff, and the name of the man appointed as the first manager of FC Ufa raised more than a few eyebrows to fans of the English game: Andrei Kanchelskis.

The man who made his name terrorising Premier League left backs throughout the early '90s for Manchester United and Everton is now a fully-fledged football manager, and whilst his list of achievements is small it is not to be discounted. A second-place regional finish in charge of Torpedo-ZIL Moscow would have been followed by another promotion charge had the club not folded, and Kanchelskis' success was enough to convince chairman Marat Magadeyev, formerly a key figure in Bashkir regional government, to take a chance on the 43-year-old.

It was a risk that brought great rewards. Before Kanchelskis' arrival, Ufa struggled in their debut season. Even the advisory presence of the Soviet Union's 1988 Olympic-winning coach, Anatoli Byshovets, did not help as they finished the Second Division season 10th out of 14 in the Ural-Povolzhye zone, picking up just 28 points in 26 games and never threatening to push any higher than lower midtable.

However, under their iconic new manager, things changed at Dinamo Stadium. Were it not for the inspired performances of Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, another name more associated with its hockey team than its football, Ufa would have found themselves champions of their region, losing just three of their 39 games and missing out on the title by virtue of goal difference. Noted for flamboyance in his playing days, Kanchelskis got his team working as a cohesive defensive unit, conceding just 19 goals all season, and fell agonisingly short of promotion.

But that was not the end of the story. As in the unpredictable world of Russian football, one team's fate is another's fortune. KamAZ Naberezhnye Chelny, perennial top half contenders in the First Division, withdrew from the league as a result of ever-increasing financial vows. As runners-up in the Ural-Povolzhye region, Ufa were quickly granted a license for First Division football, and after a handful of games are coping well with the step up in quality.

Not all of the promotion-winning side are continuing their journey into the second tier; Russia's lower leagues are particularly fluid when it comes to player movement, and Kanchelskis is no longer at the club, choosing to end his affiliation with Ufa in favour of continuing his coaching education as an assistant to Gadzhi Gadzhiev at Volga Nizhny Novgorod. Although the Bashkir faithful are understandably disappointed not to have a legend of the game in the dugout, it is a shrewd move for a man who clearly sees his future managing at the top level.

The club's most recent appointment is another ambitious one. Replacing Kanchelskis is Igor Kolyvanov, the former Dinamo Moscow, Foggia and Bologna striker who made 59 appearances for his country. Kolyvanov may not be a household name in the same vein as Kanchelskis, but since 2002 he has been heavily involved with the Russian national team at under-19 and under-17 level. His knowledge of the country's younger players has already materialised in his youthful transfer policy, and having thrashed Torpedo Moscow 3-0 in just their second game to announce their arrival, Ufa look to have the makings of a strong squad.

Of course, with the project at such an early stage there is no way of knowing how Ufa's latest footballing project will end. Bashinformsvyaz-Dinamo ended in stuttering failure after lack of funding, whilst Neftyanik never possessed the resources or drive to maintain a position anywhere other than on the periphery of Russian football. However, with a promising young staff and ambitious recruitment policy with regard to the playing squad, there is hope that FC Ufa can one day be the club which finally puts Bashkortostan on the footballing map.

You can read more of Rob's fabulous work at More Than Arshavin and follow him on Twitter: @RobDillonMTA

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