Daniil had landed the Baltika job and had officially travelled 4,571 air miles from his home in Vladivostok to the Kaliningrad Arena. But there wasn’t time for Daniil to admire his journey as a manager. He had a job at hand, starting with CSKA Moscow 2 days into his reign as manager.
Daniil was happy to write this game off against CSKA, but he knew that time was against his new team as they sat on 10 points and were well involved in a relegation dogfight. Coming into a new team 2 days before a massive match was bad enough, never mind coming into a new team with no infrastructure in place; Daniil had to hire from scratch his full backroom team. It was going to be a bumpy four games until the winter break for Daniil, could he hit the ground running and fast?
An impressive 0-0 draw at home to CSKA officially kickstarted the Daniil Muravyov reign in Kaliningrad, and Daniil saw plenty of positives to take from the match. After sporting a new style of play that he wasn’t used to, Daniil knew that this was the way forward until he could properly rubberstamp his authority on the team, and it came up trumps with that opening draw where many thought CSKA would coast to victory. A lot of players needed to be shipped out as they just are not good enough for the top-flight, but Daniil was keen to get minutes into 16-year-old Oleg Yakovlev which would allow Nail Umyarov to be deployed as the supporting deep-lying playmaker.
Any sign of momentum would be welcomed with open arms by Daniil, however, it was a mixed bag of games. Hosting his old clubs Rubin Kazan & SKA Khabarovsk, before travelling to Shinnik and then ending by playing host to Akhmat, Daniil was targetting a massive 6 points against his relegation companions SKA Khabarovsk and Shinnik.
Just as Shinnik recorded a massive 1-0 victory over Lokomotiv Moscow earlier in the day to leapfrog Baltika, Daniil knew that avoiding a heavy defeat against his former employers was going to be massive for confidence. However, the unthinkable occurred and Russia was in shock.
Amado Delgado broke Rubin hearts within 60 seconds, and the defensive setup held firm in the face of one of Russia’s most potent attacks. Daniil knew that if he could get Delgado firing, Baltika had a great chance at pushing for a mid-table finish despite a horror start to the campaign – Delgado only had 2 goals to his name before Daniil’s arrival.
Baltika then went into their next few games full of confidence, and that was apparent when SKA Khabarovsk came to town and Baltika recorded a 1-0 victory. 6 points had already been achieved, but Daniil needed more to push this team further. Just as it looked like it would be 9 points out of 9 in this run of games when winning 1-0 away to Shinnik, the hosts grabbed a 94th-minute leveller to share the spoils. 2 wins, 2 draws and 0 defeats to this stage, and Daniil was happy with how his side reacted to his arrival. Baltika thought they were going to go into the break unbeaten since Daniil took over, Dino Costanzo ensured that Akhmat would steal 3 points from Baltika, and Daniil was frustrated with their goal. He had no reason to feel anything but happiness after coming into a new team and taking 8 points from 12, but this was the winning side of Daniil coming out. He needed a good transfer window, and badly.
Money was a massive problem for Daniil as he entered the transfer window at the start of February. With money to spend on players, he didn’t have the wage budget to accommodate his targets, meaning free loans were his only option and they were difficult to find. Daniil decided to take a chance on two things. Firstly, the squad he inherited. He saw signs that this squad was good enough to live to fight another day in the top flight, and it was up to him to get the best out of them this season. Secondly, he took a chance on young Italian wing-back Mauro Marganti. Mauro was not the quality player that Baltika needed to take them to the next step, but he was a viable option as cover on the right-hand side when required. Baltika was paying nothing towards his wages, and had the option to make the deal permanent for £57,000 should Daniil wish. Daniil knew that he had a youth intake to come along, and he was banking on this producing some talent that can almost step into the first team.
With 11 league games remaining, Daniil kickstarted this final stretch with a double-header against Zenit; league and then the cup, both away. It was always going to be difficult, but Daniil was looking for positives to take from this massive week. However, the games were anything but positive, as Zenit put 5 past Baltika in the league and Delgado would be out of action for 7 weeks with sprained knee ligaments. Things were just as grim in the cup for Baltika also, as Zenit put another 4 past Daniil’s Baltika to end the cup-run. Daniil’s only positivity from that week was in the shape of 3 players from his youth intake, and at a stretch, they are not quite the quality he was looking for:
The mood around the Kaliningrad Arena was awfully low, and it had been this way since the late equaliser away to Shinnik. Back-to-back heavy defeats at the hands of Zenit was soon followed up with another sore defeat, this time to the hands of Lokomotiv Moscow losing 4-0 and Daniil knew something had to change. He was hired on the basis that he would play solid defensive football, but he doesn’t have the quality of player to do this. And with time running out, for the club & Daniil himself, Daniil decided to go more optimistic and attacking with his team, irrespective of not having his first choice strikers available.
Daniil’s decision to be a bit more plucky in his team set-up certainly had its moments during the final 9 games, but it did rack up 4 important wins; Rostov, Krylia Sovetov, Spartak Moscow and Orenburg all fell to the hands of Baltika. Dinamo Moscow, Ural, Chaika Peschanokopskoe, Krasnodar and CSKA Moscow inflicted defeat onto Daniil, but only Ural and Krasnodar were comfortable victors, winning 3-0 and 3-1 respectively.
Daniil was content with his decision to switch to a more attacking style of play, as this is what saved Baltika from an embarrassing relegation play-off, but he knew there was a lot of work to be done over the summer. There was no time to marvel at his accomplishment of steering Baltika away from relegation. Daniil knew he had to make use of all reports available to him to see what needed to be improved on during the summer, and he knew he had to get to work straight away.
All-in-all it was an abysmal season for Baltika, but Daniil knew he could take this information and improve the team for the new season. Immediately, Daniil looked to bring in reinforcements for the defence, bringing in one import and one youth player from Lokomotiv Moscow:
Daniil was delighted to bring Carlos António to the club in the summer for £110,000 upfront, and £105,000 as instalments. The Brazilian central defender would come in as a first choice, and whilst not a massive threat from set-pieces, he would certainly make his presence known in both boxes. Denis Lipkin on the other hand was going to be an improvement on the current option that is Vjekoslav Steko due to being Russian and very similar quality of player despite being 4 years younger.
Daniil knew that these two additions would not be enough to bring the free-flowing attacking football he has in his mind. But he knew that this was a step in the right direction. The pre-season was going to be massive. The hard work is only beginning.