The contrast between Stanislav Cherchesov and Henning Berg in the role of Legia Warsaw coach could not be bigger. Yet the question — is he the right man? - is still vital in the third month of 52-year-old Russian work at Polish club.
The entrence was somewhat spectacular. Cherchesov joked, provoked and laughed during his first press conference, showing how different he is to previously cold and boring Henning Berg. The Norwegian, who once played for Manchester United, was perfect representative of the Scandinavian behavior, in front of the press he was always satisfied with players' performance, with the result and situation in the table. While it was not irritating at the beginning, Legia fans grew tired of it with the league results becoming poorer and poorer. It was a miracle that Berg survived last summer, given he has lost the title. Yet few further months showed that something was broken to the point beyond repair. Step in, Stanislav Cherchesov.
Cherchesov is a translator's nightmare. At Legia he changed the first two, only recently got used to another one, but during press conferences he rarely brakes into silence — he keeps going on, nevermind the question that was asked, he starts talking to the ever-present in the audience person from his staff, looking for appreciation and agreement.
— Why are you not asking questions? I will stop coming here if you don't have anything for me! — he said after recent 1-1 draw with Piast Gliwice. He seemed happy and satisfied, despite his team being outplayed by sensational Ekstraklasa leaders on Legia's own turf. Serious questions regarding tactics and individual performances are long gone, journalists quite certain it will bring ridicule, anecdote or a laugh. Even during that press conference, when the more concrete questions came, his response was anything but what journalist looked for.
Cherchesov's mission in Warsaw, of course, is not about satisfying journalists' needs of information and insight. It is rather the one thing that shows how different he is to the ever-serious Berg. That change is also seen in the dressing room, but Cherchesov is much harder for his players.
When he joined the team during international break, the trainings were so intense and tough that Legia's chairman Bogusław Leśnodorski tweeted, that he has never seen players running so much during training. While Berg preferred to stick to more tactics-based, on-the-ball sessions, Cherchesov's reign is all about running. They start with ten laps around the training pitch, not one. When players called up for the international duty tried to contact those who stayed at Legia and trained with Cherchesov, the response was: «You don't want to come back». Some had problems with getting up in the morning.
That was not the only change, though. Large parts of the backroom staff at Legia became redundant once Cherchesov came. Analysts prepared large dossier of Berg's Legia, but new man in charge wasn't interested. Diet? As long as players are running as much as he wants, they can eat what they want. The list goes on.
The results got better, but one cannot say the performances improved - it is rather hard to find one inspiring, proper match of Legia under new coach. Perhaps the 3-1 over Cracovia could be, as Nemanja Nikolić hit a hat-trick and Tomasz Jodłowiec assisted every goal. — For me he is worth at least 15m euro — said Cherchesov afterwards of his central midfielder. But that was coach's debut, later he lost to Lech Poznan, his team limped against the likes of Górnik Łęczna and Śląsk Wrocław, to the irritation of fans drew in Bielsko-Biała against Podbeskidzie, getting the draw only in the last minute or so.
It is fair to say, that Cherchesov could not enter the club at more problematic moment. The situation was already complicated - the dressing room is divided in groups, the pressure to win the title for 100th anniversary is huge, while some of the players are either constantly underperforming or too weak for the team. Cherchesov has improved some (defender Igor Lewczuk), with others he failed (promising midfielder Ondrej Duda). But he has to work with a squad significantly weaker than the one Henning Berg had during successful autumn of 2014.
Winter is coming — a time of changes at Legia. Players will be moved out of the club and more will come to win the title. But there is a feeling that if Legia will not perform better, up to the standards required at Poland's richest club, then another managerial change may be made next summer. Legia should outplay opponents, not allow them to come to Warsaw and pass around with confidence, much to the frustration of home fans.
— It would be different had they travel to Naples and back during the week - he said afterwards. The fact that Legia's schedule has been tight planned and full of games did not help the new coach — from the start of the season until final week they had to play 38 games, full season of the Premier League. There is little time to train, coach those players — rather recover in the time between, do a little things. That and the need of a revolution in the team, has put a mark on the first few months of Cherchesov in Warsaw.
— The question of players' development is more philosophical than connected to football, because everyone has own limits. I'm 1,84m tall and I won't be taller. You can nurture me and I won't grew taller. Team is a different thing. We have some reserves and ways to develop — he said once, stating that everything needs excelling in his team.
Down on the touchline he is not the same humorous and animated person we, journalist know him now. Hands in the pockets, rarely getting frustrated, he just walks from one side to the other, at times looking at his feet and wondering what went wrong, what can he do to make his team better. And the thing is, at this moment, the ball is not on his side. Team needs new players, not new manager. We now know Cherchesov as a man, but there is still a lot to find out about him as a coach.