Interest was heating up in Russia’s newest formidable force, as Europe’s elite were chasing some of Kazan’s younger talents. With attraction growing in Gajović and Guevara, Daniil had to ensure that capable replacements were going to come in and hit the ground running.
First out the door was Serbian Jakša Jevtović, who had found his game time limited thanks to the performances of Girón last season, and Đilas this season – the 24-year-old secured a move to Ligue 1 side Nîmes for a fee of £4.5 million. Aging Danil Krugovoy and Daniil Fomin were both attracting interest, and Daniil did move them on to Getafe and FC Köln for £850K and £1.7 million respectively. Slowly but surely building back up the transfer kitty, Daniil knew that it was a matter of time before Gajović was on the off also, after rejecting a £20 million bid for the Serbian from Red Bull Leipzig, the German giants soon returned with the £28 million bid that would activate the release clause. A right-winger was the top priority for Daniil now.
Before Daniil could replace Gajović, he had Fomin to replace. Fomin was instrumental in the middle of the park with Camavinga, and even though he was ageing, Fomin had slotted nicely into the ball-winning midfielder role that Daniil was utilising. Vladimir Ivanov had fallen out of favour with the national side and at CSKA, and Daniil knew that he had to take a chance on him. Capable of playing the 10 and also being 9 years younger than Fomin, Ivanov was coming into the side to be the high-flying ball-winner, and also bring something to the team’s attacks in transition. The Russian home-grown tax had once again kicked in, along with CSKA selling to their rivals, and it took £7 million for the Moscow side to part with Ivanov.
Moving onto the replacement for Gajović, Daniil once again went out his way to break the bank. Tiago was swapping the tropics of Brazil for the cold Russian plains, and whilst he lacks the creative edge that Gajović brought to the team, the sheer pace of the winger will cause plenty of problems. Daniil initially tried to hardball Sport Club do Recife, but he eventually had to activate the release clause of £11.25 million to sign the Brazilian.
Daniil rounded his incomings off with the signing of Romanian Petrişor Chera from FC Steaua Bucharest and Croatian Dean Bogolin, with the young Croat going back out on loan to his old club Rijeka. Daniil thrashed out deals worth £3.3 million and £3.1 million for the youngsters respectively, and ensure that they would continue their development in Russia and prove to be a worthwhile investment in years to come.
With all his dealings done, there was only one more deal that was to go through, and that was Atletico Madrid activating Deivoon Guevara’s release clause of £12 million. Daniil was not too worried about losing the Mexican, as his game time was limited, but was delighted that his transfer would balance the books in the current winter transfer window.
Now with a team to kick on for the second half of the season, and a recognised striker for the Champions League, Daniil felt ready to face the challenges put in front of him.
Yet another warm-weather training camp in the United Arab Emirates for Kazan, Daniil was ready to put the players through their paces once again, in particular, his two new strikers Giorgio Addessi and Jakub Baránek. Although goals were only slightly down in comparison to the same stage as last year, Daniil knew that he couldn’t keep relying on Đilas and Ramírez from midfield to bang in the goals.
With friendlies lined up against Slavia Prague, Al-Falah and Ural, Daniil took the opportunity to play his new signings to get them up to speed along with Addessi in his natural position. Daniil was to be left feeling satisfied after this mid-season break, recording a 4-1 victory over the Czechs and 7-1 victories over their hosts Al-Falah and Ural – Addessi scoring a hat-trick in all three games. With confidence breading throughout the squad, could anything send this down the drain?
Truth be told, Daniil was to be left feeling down after Arsenal left Kazan with a 1-0 victory thanks to Bukayo Saka. The English side had come off the back of the daunting winter schedule in England, whereas Kazan had only played in friendlies before this massive game. Daniil knew that progress was going to be difficult at this stage of the Champions League, but he was hoping to at least take a positive result back to the Emirates to give themselves some form of fighting chance.
Kazan had to host Strogino Moscow, before squaring off with Textilschik Ivanovo in their Russian Cup defence, and then Chaika Peschanokopskoe in the league. Kazan would then travel to North London for the second leg of the Champions League, and Daniil knew that form was going to be important going into that one. In typical “brush down a defeat” fashion, Strogino were blown away 7-1, Textilschik Ivanovo made Kazan work for a 3-2 victory in the cup and a rotated side saw off Chaika 3-1 as their final preparation for the Gunners.
Perhaps the game of the tournament, Arsenal were immediately put under pressure thanks to a first-minute opener from Addessi, but Kazan couldn’t capitalise on the momentum that had generated. Martín Satriano then squared the game to bring Kazan back down to earth, before Darwin Núñez and Kieran Tierney looked to put the game beyond Kazan. Camavinga hit back almost immediately after the Tierney goal, and as Kazan pressed for a 3rd, Núñez added an Arsenal 4th to kill the tie. Đilas added what appeared to be a consolation goal on the 90th minute before Tiago made the last minute of injury time interesting with a goal in the 93rd minute, but it wasn’t to be for the Russians as Arsenal progressed 5-4 on aggregate.
The European adventure had come to an end, but as this chapter ended, another one continued as Daniil continued his pursuit of back-to-back league titles.
The European hangover, unfortunately, carried over into the final game of March, as Ural extracted some form of revenge for the 7-1 drubbing just weeks ago. Ural surprisingly led to begin with before Kazan were given a way back into the game with a Ramírez penalty – but the league leaders could not find a way through once more and recorded their 4th draw of the season. Daniil knew that he had to get Kazan back on the straight and narrow, and with 3 massive games against Moscow opposition, now was the time to do so.
Lokomotiv Moscow, Spartak Moscow and then Dinamo Moscow in the Quarter Finals, it was going to be a tricky run of games but Daniil was always back his players. Lokomotiv was struggling at the lower end of the table, so it came as no real surprise to see a 5-0 thumping – Addessi grabbing himself an 11-minute hat-trick. Daniil thought that this was going to be the perfect setup for the journey to Spartak but it was not to be as Kazan fell to their first defeat of the season – a sole Larsson strike was enough to seal the points. Daniil was unsure how Kazan had actually managed to lose that game, but he couldn’t think about that result any longer, nor could the players, as Dinamo came to town for a cup showdown.
A massive first-half display was enough to ensure Kazan remain unbeaten against Dinamo this season, and Daniil was delighted that he was able to see off the threat of Dinamo early on in the competition. With Dinamo exiting the competition, there was only Spartak Moscow, CSKA Moscow and Zenit left; all challenging games in their own manner, Daniil was hoping to avoid Zenit at this stage.
To round off the month of April, Daniil had to see off challenges from Rostov and local rival Krylkia Sovetov Samara, and Kazan saw them both off with ease, winning 2-0 and 5-0 respectively; maintaining their 5 point lead at the top of the table as it boils down to the final run of games; Dinamo had a game in hand against Krasnodar to make things interesting. The month of May was huge for the club, with a semi-final tie against Spartak Moscow wedged between Torpedo Moscow and Dinamo Moscow, and Baltika and Zenit to round off the season, a defeat against Dinamo, or any team for that matter, would be a massive slip-up, and Daniil had to ensure that his players were focused for the full 90 minutes of each game.
Torpedo Moscow was massive for Daniil after the earlier 2-2 draw where Torpedo latched onto complacency and stole a draw within seconds. Despite racing to a 4-0 lead, it was almost déjà vu as Torpedo scored in the 74th, 77th and 85th minute to make Daniil squirm in his seat for the final moments. Thankfully, Kazan had enough left in the tank to see the game out, and Dinamo was still chasing with only a handful of games left.
Spartak Moscow travelled through to Kazan as Dinamo hosted Krasnodar, and their result was in before the semi-final commenced. A Dinamo victory saw the gap come down to 2 points with 3 games left to play, the mid-week fixture in Kazan between first and second was going to be a massive title-deciding game. Daniil had to bring the players’ focus back into the room and onto the task at hand. This was going to be a difficult semi-final tie, and with Spartak inflicting the only defeat of the season, Daniil wanted revenge.
An emphatic victory over Spartak saw Kazan move into the final where a shock result had presented itself. Kazan was going to square off with CSKA Moscow at the Otkrytie Bank Arena in Moscow in June, and it was a massive opportunity for Daniil to retain the Russian Cup. Fans and players were ecstatic at the thought of playing CSKA, but Daniil had to keep using his press conferences to remind them that there were 3 massive games before the final; full focus had to be on Dinamo Moscow first and foremost.
Coming off the high of a 2-0 victory in the Quarter-Final, Daniil knew that Kazan was going to be up for this game, but Dinamo was equally going to be up for revenge. With the gap sitting at just 2 points, this was a must-win for Dinamo and a must-not-lose for Kazan; a draw would still keep them in control but with a tough game on the horizon against Zenit, nothing was going to be guaranteed.
With the stakes being so high for both sides, the first half was a very cagey affair with nothing much on offer from either side. The teams went into the interval with the score at 0-0, both knowing that one moment could change the outcome of this game massively. Before the hour mark, that is exactly what had happened. Sven Botman rose highest from a corner shortly after the break to nod Kazan in front, before Ramírez converted a penalty after being fouled in the box moments later. A 2 goal advantage on the hour mark and Daniil was pleased with the position he found Kazan in; Dinamo would have to throw everything at Kazan now and perhaps he could pick them off on the counter. Former Kazan wide-man Denis Makarov however, had a different plan of action and brought Dinamo back into the game with 20 minutes to play. 2-1. Kazan stood firm for as long as they could against the onslaught of Dinamo attacks, and eventually, the pressure buckled. Awarded a penalty for a push in the box following a corner, Luis Suárez continued to haunt Daniil with another goal, and it made for a real nervy ending to the game. Just as the momentum looked to have swung in Dinamo’s favour, Makarov was shown a straight red for a horror lunge, and the game petered out at 2-2. A massive point for Kazan, but still so much to do with two games left. It was going right to the wire.
Matchday 29 sprung no surprises at all in Russia, as Kazan strolled to a 4-1 victory in Kaliningrad and Dinamo brushed off Krylia Sovetov Samara 5-1 without getting out of second gear really. And it then came down to the final shootout. 2 points being the difference. Dinamo praying for a Zenit victory; Kazan, with a much better percentage of wins, knew a draw will be enough to secure the league title.
It came down to this.
25,969 fans filled the Kazan Arena on the final day, all had their notifications on to keep tabs on the Dinamo score in the Moscow derby with Torpedo. It was very easy for Daniil and his team to get lost in the emotion of the stands, but he knew they had to take care of business. It had been over a year and a half since Zenit last recorded a victory over Kazan, but they were looking revitalised after Kjucka took over from Dejan Stankovic who left for Internazionale. It was going to be difficult, who dared to blink first?
42′ – Silyanov picks up the ball on the right touchline, feeding it into Ivanov. Ivanov, back to Silyanov, manages to find a yard of space for Baránek to run onto. Baránek cuts it back to the penalty spot… LUKA ĐILAS SCORES! Kazan takes the lead, and they have one hand on the league title! Rubin Kazan 1 Zenit 0
48′ – Roman Evgeniev nods down the ball from the Dinamo corner, it bounces off two bodies, Reinier is there at the back post… REINIER SCORES! Torpedo Moscow 0 Dinamo Moscow 1 – but it isn’t enough as things stand!
64′ – Rodrigo Bentancur picks up the ball in the middle of the park, clocks the run of Luis Suárez and finds his man, can he apply the finishing touch? Suárez chips the goalkeeper and makes it 2-0 Dinamo!
70′ – Pembélé finds himself in acres of space down this right-hand side, spots the run of Suárez, he is in again! Suárez with the keeper to beat… GOAL! Dinamo has a third and it is safe to say this game is no longer a contest. How is your bottle, Kazan?
Daniil was pacing the touchline barking encouragement to his players. It had been a long season and he could see legs beginning to go particularly Đilas who had been instrumental in everything good this season. With Dinamo 3 goals up, and with 20 minutes to go, Daniil knew that Zenit could cause an upset and decided to be bold. Daniil elected to go to the bench to try and freshen things. A change in fullbacks saw young Romanian Gabriel Neagu come on for his 10th sub appearance this season. At the other end of the park, the decision to sub off Đilas did not go down well with the fans. Chera was coming on to replace the Serbian who looked dead on his feet, Daniil was just hoping that this would not backfire on him.
Zenit knew that they could go on and win the game and was pushing and pushing for a way back in, but they just couldn’t break down the Kazan defence. Time ticked on. Tensions building around the stadium, how was it going to go?
87′ – Zenit St Petersburg on the attack here down the left, and Abner Vinicius brings down his man in cynical fashion! Carlos Bruno standing over this freekick for Zenit, he looks to the box and lays off to Shulyak. Shulyak has time here, gets his head up and delivers a teasing ball into the box, Nakai gets a flick on and Verbitskiy is shut down immediately and wins a corner. Short-one, a ball into the back post and Safonov with a massive save but it’s not away yet! Iosfiov crosses it back in for Zenit, dealt with by Ivanov only as far as Verbitskiy who has a pop from 25 yards! Great save from Safonov again and Zenit is piling on the pressure with another corner.
88′ – Iosifov lifts the ball into the box, Botman is there to clear at the front post and picks out Neagu. What has the youngster got in his locker? He beats one and runs towards the halfway line, can he pick out a red jersey? He finds Camavinga advancing towards the box, Zenit has been caught out here. Camavinga slides a wonderful ball into the path of Chera. Chera with just the keeper to beat… GOAL! Chera has sealed the league for Kazan! Remarkable bit of play from both Romanians as they cut through Zenit like butter on the counter – Rubin Kazan 2 Zenit 0 – RUBIN ARE CHAMPIONS AGAIN.
Kazan had held their nerve for the second year in a row and delivered an unlikely league title once again. Tears of joy streamed down the faces of players, fans, board members, backroom staff and of course Daniil. If anyone had any doubts about Kazan being a force in Russia before the season commencing, they wouldn’t be casting any doubt now. Kazan was a force to be reckoned with. Daniil had built a team capable of competing.
But it wasn’t all over. Despite the feeling of needing to party, Daniil had to get his boys back into the mindset of a game one last time this season. The showdown with CSKA Moscow. After losing his first two games to the side from Moscow, Daniil had then since recorded 4 victories and 2 draws. The stats were all pointing in Kazan’s favour, but one-off cup finals were not as straightforward as stats make them out to be. Daniil knew that this was going to be a battle.
A historic domestic treble had just been completed by Daniil, for the first time in Kazan history. All three trophies were on show at the Kazan Arena for the first time, all thanks to the young Russian manager.
With no international tournament taking place, Daniil knew that he could for once actually enjoy the moment. Savour the moment with his players. Achievements like this don’t come round too often, and Daniil had postponed enough success over the years. 3 trophies available, 3 trophies won. Daniil’s Kazan was truly the Relentless Russians.
Although Kazan only recorded 2 defeats post-winter break, Daniil was delighted with the work put in by his players to see the job out. Winter signing Ivanov proved that he was capable to do a job in the middle of the park, and whilst still growing accustomed to his new surroundings, Daniil was delighted with the impact he was going to bring for the future. Brazilian winger Tiago was unfortunate with injury spells, missing 8 games in the second half of the season, but with his time on the park, he did show flashes that he would be able to replace the void left by Gajović.
However, the biggest impact on the team was the performance of Giorgio Addessi, as Kazan retained their titles from the previous season. The young Italian striker managed to bag 25 goals in 20 games in the second half of the season, 19 goals in 17 competitive matches which were massive for Kazan. Although Velásquez was a much better striker in comparison, Addessi’s natural goalscoring ability was going to be crucial for the future of the club, providing Kazan can fight off interest in his services.
Now that Kazan was considered as one of the top clubs in Russia, the future was looking very bright for the club. But would what the future hold for Daniil…?