But doubts about new Zenit manager
24 March ~ From his first press conference as Zenit St Petersburg manager, Andre Villas-Boas has set his sights high. As well as targeting the league title (Zenit are currently second, three points behind Lokomotiv Moscow), he compared himself to the Russian emperor who created the city, Peter I. "I'd like to do the same… build a team like the emperor built the city." Given that Peter I's achievements are so highly revered in that part of the world, he might have chosen a different analogy – his recent lack of success in the Premier League has not gone unnoticed in Russia.
There doesn't appear to be much support from his Russian peers. Former Zenit manager Anatoliy Byshovets described Villas-Boas as a "copy of Mourinho – but a long way from the original" on the Russian website Championat.com. Yuriy Semin, a former national team manager, told the daily Sport Express that it was "laughable" to compare Villas-Boas to predecessor Luciano Spalletti. Many Russian fans seem to share the reservations that he is not yet the finished article, and wonder whether he will be able to produce the instant success Zenit want.
The critics also suggest it is a "political" appointment largely about main club sponsors Gazprom raising their profile. They point to the availability of Kurban Berdyev, recently departed from Rubin Kazan but that club's driving force in a phenomenal ten years that saw them take the Russian title twice. He, or the up-and-coming Dan Petrescu, know the Russian league well and would have cost far less: though the club claim Villas-Boas's wage is less than the reported €8.5 million (£7.1m) per year.
Some also believe the club needs a strong disciplinarian following a period under Spalletti when the dressing room became divided, and there is concern that he has been appointed largely because of his former Porto charge and Zenit forward Hulk, who recently complained that he has not received the same freedom at Zenit as he has elsewhere.
But some supporters are looking forward to life under Villas-Boas. Though seeing the move as a risk, Zenit fan Serge commented online that he expects a more open, attacking style of football that will be "St Pete's version of Shakhtar Donetsk in its glory". Some, including me, believe he will be given time at Zenit: big-name foreign managers usually last around six months in Moscow, but over the last decade Zenit have rapidly improved under three foreign managers who spent at least three years each at the club.
"If he achieves as much as Peter I, I'll only be happy," was the comment of one fan on the Sport Express website. Whether he can, as Peter I did, build a "window into Europe" remains to be seen – for that he first needs to make sure Zenit are in next season's Champions League. Saul Pope