That tough, hard-working, never-to-be-satisfied Russian! The story by Michal Zachodny about Stanislav Cherchesov’s success in Legia Warsaw
When with three league games to go it was all even at the top of Polish Ekstraklasa, the jury to pick nominees for prizes has gathered. When it came down to who should be among Top Five coaches of the season Stanislav Cherchesov received just four out of thirteen votes. Only when it occurred to journalist in jury that he is out of those nominated, someone put quite valid question. «Imagine if he wins the title and Polish Cup over next week or so and he is out of this group. How stupid that would make us look?». The vote has been retaken, Cherchesov included, even if footballers in the end decided that Russian’s successes at Legia does not deserve the individual prize.
«Nobody expected us to be that high when I was signed as Legia manager», said Cherchesov only two days later and after his team demolished their title-contenders Piast Gliwice with an emphatic 4:0 win. But he was also about to field second-string squad in an away match at Lechia Gdansk, only to give his tired first-choice players a rest and some recovery time. He lost and the anger has expanded — how Cherchesov could do such thing if he had a real chance to clinch the title with one game to go?
In the end it still ended in Legia hands, as they recovered and have beaten Pogoń Szczecin on the final day of the Ekstraklasa (3:0). But when one looks at the pictures of the team on the podium when the trophy was lifted, Cherchesov is nowhere to be seen. He didn’t even get the biggest cheer from the crowd. «From what I have seen in the changing room, my players are better at celebrating than playing football», he commented afterwards. And just minutes after the title was clinched he more or less precisely said, that he needs new, better players if Legia is to challenge for the Champions League group stage.
«He is not one for celebrations, that is why even that night he made us discuss future for three hours», said Legia’s chairman, Bogusław Leśnodorski. And this is exactly how Cherchesov is received by the crowd — as a tough, never-to-be-satisfied and hard-working coach, who doesn’t do nice talking and praising anyone. Was his eight-months-long stint in Warsaw underappreciated?
Numbers stand behind him. Apart from winning two trophies with Legia, he has won 56 points from 26 league games since taking over, 12 points more than anybody else over that period of time. That gave the much-needed title for the club that is celebrating its 100th birthday, but the matter in which it has been won was still pretty nervous. Possibly more nervous than it should be, given Legia’s advantage in financial terms — after all, their budget is twice of the size of the second-richest Lech Poznan and five times bigger than of second-placed Piast.
Their advantage was clearly seen during winter transfer window. They have signed Adam Hlousek from VfB Stuttgart, a rather unpreceded move for a Bundesliga player to join Ekstraklasa. They were able to match FC Krasnodar’s Artur Jędrzejczyk’s wages in a six-month long loan. The biggest move, however, involved taking the best player out of their most fierce rivals, Lech Poznan. Kasper Hamalainen’s contract ended as Lech were unable to meet his wages demands, something which Legia easily did. Although the Finnish playmaker did not play at the beginning, he proved to be crucial in the final games, scoring against Piast Gliwice and Pogoń Szczecin in vital wins.
Cherchesov is not remember fondly, because he is harsh coach, used to putting everybody in their corners. When fans were moaning about the physical style of the team, he said: «What do you want more, we are top of the league after being ten points behind when I took over!». «This is what Legia needed», claimed Leśnodorski in a post-season interview. But it is not necessarily what Legia needs in the future. That is why talks were held with the coach, who demanded better players and higher wage. Possibly more power too, as he is not happy with how sport’s director and his assistant work. What is more, the club owner, Dariusz Mioduski said he is unhappy in how Cherchesov treats club’s youth players. «They must give me the reason to know their name», Russian coach has stated. «What can I do, he wins his games» was Mioduski’s response.
Not all of his games, though. The much controversial defeat in Gdansk proved to be a gamble worth taking in the end, but leaving bad taste among the fans. Legia also lost in the smallest village of the top flight leagues in Europe, Nieciecza, and in a dreadful manner too (0:3). Cherchesov’s Legia away record isn’t that good either — they have won only every second game.
He has improved the team, though. Legia are clearly stronger and sharper than any of the league sides, something which proved to be crucial at the end of season. They are pressing significantly higher than under previous coach, Henning Berg. They are more chaotic, too, which often makes their games look as if is more about kicking than playing the ball. That accusations is also often made against Cherchesov’s Legia, as saying that there should be more structure and plan behind their tactics, less of pure power and pace.
«But we are playing in a different sport than the rest of the league», Leśnodorski says, meaning that Legia played significant number of games more than, for example Piast. Cherchesov made his players train more and be better prepared during winter training camps, but they still were not looking sharp in the end. Despite the double success, Cherchesov is far from being a success for Legia. When the title was clinched, the newspapers on following day’s morning were far from glorifying the champions. As in Przegląd Sportowy, where every player was rated out of 10, and only three got marks equal or higher than seven.
Perhaps, in the end, that lack of full satisfaction is a good thing for Legia and Cherchesov. As with previous coach the mutual agreement and happiness came too early and vanished quickly, now more suspicious approach may be needed and may be helpful in team’s one more try to get into the Champions League. After all, Cherchesov will be judged by team’s form in European cups.