A huge second half of the season awaited Daniil. The Russian media were beginning to write off the young Russian’s dreams for the season; “too inexperienced for the task at hand” many were writing. Perhaps they were right. Daniil himself knew that he was swimming with the sharks in the shape of Dinamo Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg. Two clubs built on winning titles and cups, they had the psychological advantage over Daniil and Kazan – could an upset be on the cards?
For this season to turn successful, Daniil had to plan ahead for the winter transfer window early, and try and get a lot of deals over the line for the window opening. This way his squad depth was not going to be affected, whilst he would also ensure that rivals aren’t strengthing at his expense.
With Patrick Phiri signing on in the summer, Daniil was keen to give the 20-year-old first-team exposure, and that came at the price of Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson‘s game-time. The 34-year-old Icelandic never featured for Daniil at all since the summer and he was keen to get him off the books. When the New York Red Bulls tested the waters with a bid of a million, Daniil moved him on quickly, knowing that the net would be safe with Botnar’ and Phiri. Montassar Talbi was another one that was moved on by Daniil, in what seemed like a culling of older foreign players. Talbi entered the final 6 months of his contract with the Russian club, and the prospect of a new deal was very slim. A host of Spanish clubs were eyeing up the Tunisian, but it was Getafe that signed him for £900,000 in the end.
Controversially, Daniil then let go of two options in the middle of the park, again due to limited game-time, ageing and the contract situation. Oliver Abildgaard was allowed to move on to Villarreal for 1.5 million. The ability to play in midfield and defence was going to be missed, but with the summer signing of both Fomin and Litvinov, Daniil had two players that could do the same role as Oliver. South Korean Hwang In-Beom was limited to 8 games in the middle of the park after the arrival of Fomin, and with a couple of months remaining, he sealed a move to Qatari side Al-Arabi for £575,000.
After freeing up wages, Daniil did another quick squad-take and noticed interest in Roberto. At this stage of the season, Daniil couldn’t afford to lose his AMC who was in fine form, raking up 7 goals and 6 assists in 17 games, so Daniil went about his business to bring in a suitable replacement, along with cover in the defence and a potential star in the making.
£625,000 was enough to force Alianza of Peru to lose Renato Ramírez, and Daniil was excited to bring him in and get him up to speed. Ramírez looks capable enough to slot into the Shadow Striker role should Roberto get a big move, so Daniil was already in a position to slot in like-for-like. Sayouba Bougouhi was a bit of a risk for Daniil, but given his determination at the age of 20, Daniil had a feeling he could come good. Moving for only £450,000 from ASEC Mimosas, the young Ivorian is not as comfortable on the ball as Abildgaard but had plenty of time to learn and improve to impress his manager with 6 months of the season remaining.
Matheus Eduardo joins the club on a free transfer following his release from Red Bull Bragantino meaning this 19-year-old has almost no risk involved at all. Eduardo will spend the remainder of the season with the Under 19s to get himself accustomed to life in Russia, and Daniil will be watching carefully until the summer when he will get a chance to take him under his wing.
Coming in alongside Eduardo, was another South American. Cristian Castro Devenish joins Kazan after leaving Atletico Nacional in his native Colombia and looks to fit into the system like a glove. A bit older than Bougouhi, but his experience will be vital going forward for Daniil, along with his ability. Unfortunately for both Castro and Daniil, this signing wasn’t completed in time for the UEFA Europa Conference League registration deadline, so Castro will struggle to get a run of consistent games under his belt.
Instructed to reach the quarter-finals of the Russian Cup once again, Daniil felt that this was achievable but he was setting his eyes on a semi-final appearance at the least. Given the form Kazan had been in up to the halfway stage, there was no reason why this would not be plausible, so Daniil set the challenge to the players.
The players certainly took notice of the challenge being asked of them, and when paired with Dinamo Moscow in the quarter-finals, they repaid Daniil’s faith with a characteristic performance to come back from behind twice, whilst being down to 10 men for the last half hour.
However, the machine that is Zenit St Petersburg proved to be too strong for Daniil in the end; perhaps this was down to fatigue. After all, they had played 22 games between the 25th February and the 27th May, with only one international break in amongst those dates. A 2-0 score-line wasn’t a fair assessment of the game, but Daniil knew that his side, on their day, was capable of toppling the best – Kazan’s domestic success was coming.
Russian Premier League
After reaching the halfway stage just 2 points behind Zenit, Daniil knew that this was going to be a huge mountain to climb – Zenit were unlikely to drop many points in the second half of the season and when they did Daniil knew he had to capitalise on this.
What could only be described as a poor March, Daniil’s boys were really struggling with the number of games to play in against the limited days of rest they could get; some weeks were scheduled Sunday, Thursday, Monday, Thursday and then Sunday again. The momentum those runs can build are frightening, and Daniil was hoping that would be the case, but they can also be catastrophic as Daniil soon learned.
Slipping up against Spartak Moscow, heavily, and a shock 0-0 draw with Arsenal Tula, the gap between Zenit and Kazan widened, but Dinamo Moscow and Krasnodar also snuck up behind Daniil. Dinamo was leap-frogging Kazan now and then, as a reminder that they are in this title race as much as them, and they wouldn’t be lying down any time soon.
Eventually, Kazan’s title charge fell away mid-April following successive draws with Chaika Peschanokopskoe and CSKA Moscow. Both these game-weeks allowed Kazan to close the gap to Dinamo and Zenit following dropped points on their end, but the energy just wasn’t there to see the job out.
Kazan did have the opportunity to steal a Group Stage Champions League spot from Zenit on the last day of the season, and after equalising with 20 mins to play, Kazan just couldn’t find the winner. However, Champions League football will be coming to the Kazan Arena next season, a competition they have not been a part of since 2011-12. Daniil was ecstatic with his player’s accomplishments domestically this season, and that they have proven they are here to rumble with the big two.
UEFA Europa Conference League
Keen to round off the group with a 6th straight win and maximise their prize money, Daniil named a relatively strong side for the final showdown with Dudelange, knowing that the winter break was just around the corner. The side from Luxembourg was unfortunately blown away by Kazan in front of their own fans on the night, losing 9-1. Daniil was delighted with his team’s performance in the group and was hoping that it was going to be a sign of things to come for the future.
Daniil’s second competitive game following the break was his second knockout round tie with WSG Tirol of Austria. Daniil’s scouts were advising that they were a fair bit off the pace of the leaders in Austria, and that then led to Daniil perhaps showing his inexperience at this level, and underestimating them.
With a massive Fifth Round tie with CSKA Moscow on the weekend, Daniil played a rotated side in Austria for the first leg, and despite carving open the hosts on multiple occasions, Kazan left Austria with no goals – a 0-0 draw meant this game was going to the wire in Russia. Daniil’s only problem? A massive game against Spartak Moscow after the second leg. Knowing that he couldn’t afford to go full strength, but that he couldn’t exactly rest them all, Daniil still decided to go full rotation. That plan backfired as the visitors hit on the break and went 1 up inside the first 20 minutes. No chances were created between that goal and half-time, Daniil sent on the big guns in the form of Velásquez, Roberto and Đilas. Thankfully, Renato Ramírez saved some blushes with an equaliser 11 minutes from time, but Kazan couldn’t find another breakthrough and the game went to extra-time. Daniil’s lesson was learnt at this stage in Europe – underestimate no one.
Litvinov, covering CB for this game, popped up with a massive header in the second half of extra time, and Kazan held out a nervy 2-1 victory against the Austrians. Daniil got away with one, and the fans were quick to let him know about that.
However, it was key that Daniil learned his lesson from this, and avoided making that mistake once again. And he did learn from it, as he followed up that close shave with an impressive 4-3 victory over Real Sociedad over two legs in the quarter-finals, and a comfortable 5-1 victory over Brøndby IF in the semi-finals. Kazan was in their first continental final. They were going to Austria to play at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion. Against Newcastle.
The first half of this final was one of the most cautious games of football Daniil had ever been involved in, both teams showing each other a lot of respect and being afraid to attack in case they were cut open. Marcelo Velásquez did open the scoring in the 44th minute, but Tyrese Campbell immediately hit back in injury time to tie the game. Daniil knew that he was going to be in for a game in the second half with their quality; Campbell, Greenwood, Ward-Prowse, Hudson-Odoi and Saint-Maximin all on the park for the Toon.
Luka Đilas then made his announcement in European football with a rocket at the start of the second half, and after riding the impending Geordie storm, Kazan held on and their lead still intact. Just as it looked as though Kazan had seen the worst of Newcastle attacks off, Mason Greenwood curled one beautifully in with the aid of the post, and it was all square for the second time. Daniil was concerned about the psychological effect that goal was going to have on his players, but super-sub Zelimkhan Bakaev had other thoughts on his mind, finding space in the box to meet Colin Dagba’s deep cross and bulleted home what would be the winner.
Russia retains the Conference League. Kazan wins their first-ever European Cup in their first final. It was a day that would go down in Kazan folklore. And Daniil had managed to add to his ever-growing collection of honours.
Daniil was still ecstatic with the European accomplishment, it was much needed following the disappointing end to the league campaign, and it proved to the pundits across Russia that Daniil was capable of managing at this level and laying down a marker.
On a personal note, Daniil had now managed to win the Manager of the Year award across the top 3 divisions in Russia; one with SKA-Khabarovsk, one with FC Chita and now with Rubin Kazan. Danii was now beginning to set his sights on the Russian Hall of Fame following his European success, earning 62 points.
But there comes a time where the media ask “what is next for Murayvoy?”, and Daniil didn’t really have an answer for this. He was contracted to Kazan until the summer of 2031, another two years on his deal, and he still wanted to achieve so much more for this great fan base. He did have an eye on one job in particular, but in the short term, Daniil is happy. Daniil is settled. The European success was just the start, but Daniil was keen to bring domestic success back to the stadium for their fans to revel in, and that was just what he was planning.
To do so, his recruitment in the summer has to be spot on. Knowing that interest will be generated in his players following the Conference League win, Daniil was planning to replace players should their heads be turned, and immediately agreed 3 pre-contract deals:
A contingency of Serbian players now at Rubin Kazan, Gajović comes in with the ability to play on either wing, whilst bringing raw pace and a few bags of tricks. Daniil was excited to see the young Serb join him in the summer, and can envision him becoming a big player in the months to come.
Mexican Deivoon Guevara will be exchanging the tropics of Mexico for the harsh weather in Russia, but Daniil was hoping that his strong mental state will be able to put aside this lifestyle change and become a big part of his team. Although Ramírez was brought in during the winter as cover for Roberto, Daniil could not let the opportunity to sign this youngster on a free slip with Liverpool sniffing around him, and it will be healthy competition between the Peruvian and Mexican.
Finally, Girón completes the trio of free transfers. Predominately plays on the left and even more raw pace on the opposite wing from Gajović which could be game-changing for Daniil going forward. With 31 caps at the young age of 21, Daniil is hoping this is a diamond in the rough.
Otherwise, it was going to be back to the drawing board for Daniil as he looks to clean Russia completely and overthrow the giants. Kazan was now the “best of the rest” but could they take that one final massive step? Time will tell.