#29 – SEASON 16 – RUSSIA & BALTIKA KALININGRAD

3rd July 2038

Off I set upon another international adventure, swapping out the mild weather in Kaliningrad for the unpredictable climate of South Africa. I learned on our flight down that the climate can vary in South Africa due to the degree angle from the equator and its location between the Atlantic and Indian oceans. Our two group games would take place in Cape Town where it is would feel a lot like home, and I knew that this could benefit our side.

Coming into the tournament on the back of a 1-0 defeat and a 5-2 victory against Norway and Burkina Faso, I felt we were well prepared for the challenge of Jamaica and The Gambia in the groups. It was safe to say that we were in full control of our destiny throughout as we racked up a 2-0 and 7-1 win respectively to win the group in style.

On the back of an emphatic 7-1 victory, confidence was flowing throughout the squad and unfortunately for the South African hosts, they were on the receiving end of a 5-0 drubbing. Another game is done and dusted, and another safe passage into the Third Round where we would go toe-to-toe with World Cup holders Argentina. I knew that this was going to be a tricky prospect, but on our day we were good enough to beat any country in the world. Many pundits expected the holders to see off our threat, but by the time 90 minutes were up, a lot were sitting up and taking notice of Russia. We absolutely battered Argentina over the 90, but somehow couldn’t get the all-important breakthrough. Extra-time it was. A similar trend followed; we battered Argentina with no real response, and just as it looked as though the Argentinians had done enough to take the game to penalties, Alexy Babushkin ran into acres of space off the shoulder of his markers and cooly slotted home the winner in the 116th minute. One of Russia’s biggest results in recent times, and one that got the country believing. I had a score to settle after the disappointing final at the EUROs, and I wanted to make this one count.

However, I knew there was a lot of work to be done before we could dream of the final, especially getting a Quarter-Final showdown with our bogey nation. Denmark. The last time we faced off, we got battered 5-1 in Denmark, and I was keen to get revenge on them for forcing us through the EURO play-offs. A similar story panned out like the Argentina game, only this time we could not hit the target at all; rumour had it we would still be there to till the next day trying to hit the target. We dominated possession and we knew that one chance would change the outcome of the game. Unfortunately, I did not envision it would be Denmark’s chance, as their substitute left-back got on the scoresheet with a late run from a freekick with only 6 minutes to go. We huffed. We puffed. But we could not blow down the Danish wall, and with that, we exited the tournament at the Quarter-Finals for the third tournament running. Agonisingly close, I could sense a breakthrough was coming. We just had to believe in the process.


Straight from World Cup duty, Daniil joined up with Baltika in Austria on their pre-season tour. Fortunately enough that his star players – Selimović and Jazbec – were not called up for World Cup duty, but he knew that interest was rife in both players. With contracts running down, it was going to be make or break for Daniil as he stared into the eyes of an intense transfer window.

Eventually, the day arrived when Daniil couldn’t reject bids for both players. Selimović did have a release clause for Champions League sides, but with no interest from these clubs, Daniil knew that a bid would need to be close to that release clause. After weeks of bids getting rejected, Olympique de Marseille eventually tested Daniil’s resolve with a bid that could reach the release clause of £15M. A player that was expecting to be sold should his release clause be matched, and becoming increasingly frustrated at not being able to move, Daniil had to accept this offer. Not exactly weak in the striking department, Daniil could afford to move him on whilst making a massive £12.9M profit on the Serbian. Tilen Jazbec was next on the move after failing to agree on a move in the winter transfer window. Borussia Dortmund was still on the tail of the Slovenian, whilst Manchester United and Arsenal had dropped their interest. £20M release clause was matched and within a matter of 24 hours, Jazbec was out the door; Daniil now needed to reinforce his team to cope with the loss of these two. The final two monetary moves of the window involved Fábio Suárez (RB) and Vladimir Shaikhutdinov (GK) who were both unhappy over their game time. They moved to Bologna (£4.5M) and Nizhniy Novgorod (£300K) respectively.

With a healthy bank balance, Daniil knew that he could afford to spend some money to try and replace the calibre of players that have left, whilst bringing in experience and depth. After going through a season with a slim squad, Daniil knew that the run of games eventually was the contributing factor to their slump in the second half of the season, and wanted to avoid that scenario once again. His key signings were as follows:

Spending £32.5M all in on 11 players for the squad, Daniil was in a much more convincing position that his squad had the capabilities to go on and challenge on all fronts. Other notable signings were Facundo Iglesias, Moussa Guèye, Vladislav Rubtsov & Dominik Michalik, whilst an older German Banegas joined the club to provide further experience to the up-and-coming players of Baltika’s future, and Daniil would hope it rub off on the current first team.

Russian Premier League. Russian Cup. UEFA Europa League. Daniil had three trophies to fight for in this domestic season – he refused to finish empty-handed.


3rd September 2038

I haven’t had a chance to check-in at all – it has been a hectic couple of months after the World Cup, with pre-season, transfers and the campaign beginning. But I have managed to take some time the night before our UEFA Nations League opener against Bosnia & Herzegovina, and where do I begin?

Our European campaign is due to begin in 13 days’ time, and we have been handed another favourable group; SK Sturm Graz, Jagiellonia and PSV Eindhoven. The Dutch side will prove to be challenging I bet as we battle it out for the title of group winners, but I am delighted that we should, realistically, be playing European football after our winter break.

6 league games have passed since pre-season and now; we have 4 wins, a draw and a loss to our name. Not a fantastic start, but we are saved by the fact the rest of the league have started slowly. Impressive victories against Lokomotiv Moscow (2-1), Dinamo Moscow (3-2), Rubin (2-1) and Zenit (3-0) could only be a good sign. The bad sign is dropping points to Spartak Moscow away (1-0) and a very poor 1-1 draw with Krylia Sovetov. However, I don’t want to get drawn into the negatives. A brand new mindset for this season and we will take the positives, Krasnodar is only ahead by 2 points and have played a game extra, we can turn this around and we will.

A short and sweet update for the time being. I need to shift focus from domestic football to international football as we host the Bosnians before travelling to Ireland. 2 games I don’t know how to take, but they must be shown respect; they are in Division A for a reason.


9th November 2038

I swear I will try to make more time available to update this journal more often. I never anticipated another 2 months to pass before loading the document once more, but here we are. And what a couple of months it has been. I last left off being 2 points behind, what I would class as a weaker version, Krasnodar and there was plenty to play for between the League and the Europa League.

The Europa League is going perfectly to plan at this stage; we have qualified with 2 games to spare, knowing that a win will be enough to go through as group winners. I was mostly concerned about PSV before the games kicked off, but the surprise package has actually been the Polish outfit Jagiellonia Białystok – they are 3 points clear of PSV in second. Our campaign kicked off with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Sturn Graz in Austria, Hallace came to our rescue midway through the second half and it proved to be enough to take the 3 points back home. Jagiellonia were up next before the double-header against PSV, and after blowing them away 3-1 at home, I knew that PSV was going to really define our credentials. Rodrigo Jiménez put PSV to the sword with an inspired performance as we ran out 3-1 winners in Russia, before a nervy 2-1 victory in Holland was enough to put us in the driving seat. 4 games were done and dusted. 4 wins and a healthy bit of prize money due to the £538K for each win.

However, the main focus was the league, and I really wanted to kick on. Knowing we had a game in hand on Krasnodar, taking full advantage of this was going to be crucial so early on in the season. Our return from the international break saw us let slip a 1-0 lead away to CSKA Moscow, as they fought back late in the second half to steal the spoils; not the start I really wanted, as it opened up a bit of an opportunity for the teams gunning for the league title. However, it did spur us on, as I led the team to 8 games unbeaten in the league – 6 wins and 2 draws where we drew 2-2 with Krasnodar and banked on a 92nd-minute penalty from Hallace to salvage a point away to Torpedo Moscow.

The halfway stage and we are just leading the pack. Only just. A couple of silly points dropped against Torpedo and Krasnodar, but a point gained nonetheless. Certainly having a much bigger squad is helping, as quality is being replaced with quality and our performances aren’t being halted in the slightest. Rodrigo Jiménez has really stepped up to the plate in Selimović’s absence which has been a god-send, as the older Costa Rican striker is leading our average match rating rankings, whilst Víctor Rodríguez has been consistently performing in the top-flight at the young age of 18. I’m really happy with the way the squad’s talent is developing, our average age in the squad is 24 which is lower than the league average of 26 and we are ranked at the top end of the table for players used being 24. Rotation is perfect, and as I head into the final run of 4 league games before the winter break, there is a massive 6-pointer on the horizon against Dinamo Moscow…

Currently, I am in Moscow preparing the national side for a showdown with Italy in our second last Nations League match. We can’t progress to the finals thanks to the last international break thanks to a sub-standard performance against Bosnia & Herzegovina (1-1) but our inability to beat the Italians away from home (0-0) meant we required a miracle from Bosnia & Herzegovina should we beat the Italians in Russia, but I know that Ireland is going to be a stuffy team to beat as well – a lot of luck was riding on our progression.

Thankfully, the FA share the same opinion as me on the Nations League; glamorised friendlies that bring very little meaning to the international breaks. EURO qualifying will begin shortly, and I am tempted to trial a couple of things in these last two games with a view to the future.

I promise to check back in soon after the final domestic game before the winter break. I have a lot riding on the next 6 weeks, and this could really be our season. However, I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, I’ve seen the Hyde side of Baltika come out before when it comes to the second half of the season. A lot of football is still to be played, but it truly is the hope that kills…


19th March 2039

I have a strange concept of time. Well, no, not really. That would be a disservice to me. It has been non-stop around these parts since the last international break and I suppose I best get to work on a quick update whilst I have some free time.

The glamour tournament that is the Nations League came to an end, and we could count ourselves unlucky not to qualify for the finals; although I was never too fussed in the first place. A battering second-half performance against the Italians in Moscow saw us cut their lead to a single point going into the final game, but both nations were expected to win with ease – and win they did. The Irish took a shock lead in Russia, but the reaction from Russia saw Ireland ship four, whilst Italy secured passage thanks to a nervy 2-1 victory in Rome. A single point was the difference, but I could take a lot of positives from these two games – my Baltika style of play was beginning to brush off on the players and we were reaping the benefits. These would be our final international games until now, where we would square off with Croatia, San Marino, Cyprus, North Macedonia and the Faroe Islands for a place at the 2040 EUROs joint hosted by England & Germany. A favourable group, and one that we should be topping with games to spare.

Moving the focus back onto domestic matters and where better to start than our Europa League campaign? With passage already secured to the knockouts, I was keen to ensure that our record in the groups remained unbeaten, Sturn Graz made us work for a 4-2 victory at home before we demolished Poland’s Jagiellonia 7-0 in Poland. 6 games, 6 wins, 20 goals for and 5 against – it was certainly a record for teams to be worried about in the knockouts.

In terms of the most important competition, the league, the only blip on our way to the winter break was a poor 2-0 defeat at the hands of Dinamo Moscow. Given how close the league is, letting up ground is always going to be disappointing. Thankfully, we convincingly won our other games against Orenburg (2-0), Lokomotiv Moscow (3-0) and Spartak Moscow (3-0) which kept us right in the title race and with a simple task after the break; win all games. If a manager tells you they don’t look ahead to games, they lie. I knew that with Dinamo out of the way before the run-in, I would have what would be considered the more favourable games, however, disruption ensued.

As we entered January, a lot of interest was bigging to spark up in certain individuals. Victor Sidorov was having a brilliant season for us, averaging a 7.18 rating in 16 league matches, was subject to bids from Spain and Dinamo Moscow. His heart was set on a move to Dinamo and I couldn’t say no to a bid of £10 million for the 25-year-old. The biggest loss was to come in the shape of Rodrigo Jiménez, scoring 20 goals in 22 competitive matches whilst averaging a 7.81 rating. The 31-year-old was out of contract in the summer, and couldn’t agree on terms on a new deal. When he eventually walked away from a final offer, Standard Liege offered £1.5 million for his services, and it seemed sensible to cash in now. Víctor Rodríguez was capable of filling that position, and with Vladislav Rubstov into the Shadow Striker role, I knew I could afford to buy another striker to fill a depth void. Finally, and not a massive loss thanks to the emergence of Alexandr Ignatov, Alexsander moved to Sevilla for a fee of £8 million.

I was then able to throw our financial muscle about the market a bit thanks to the above deals, and immediately I targeted a striker to fill the void left by Jiménez:

Marvin Alvarez was the number one target, and whilst he was not the direct replacement for his fellow countryman, he certainly bolstered the supporting striker position with his creativity. His previous club of Alajuelense in Costa Rica proved to get the development spot on when it came to Jiménez, and I am just hoping that I can pick up where they left off with Alvarez. Considering I lost Sidorov this window as well, I thought it would be irresponsible not to replace him with a project. We had cover to see us till the end of the season, but if there was talent available that could step in for some development games, then I hit the jackpot. Step forward, Evgeny Dmitriev. Despite his preferred position being left-back, Dmitriev definitely has what it takes to be a leading centre back for Baltika in the years to come. His only downside was the financial implications that the deal came with, Baltika parted with £6 million and a further £5 million in future add-ons, but to steal someone as good as him from rivals Dinamo Moscow? Worth every penny. Finally, project player Dennis Vallejos came in on deadline day from River Plate for £3 million. Well-rounded at the age of 19 with room to grow and develop, I thought that this was too good to say no to at the time, and I look forward to seeing what type of player he develops into, especially given our lack of future options on the left.

With these signings in the proverbial van, I felt we were ready to meet the league challenge head-on in the second half of the season. The annual training camp of United Arab Emirates was a success as it had proved to be previously, and it was the perfect preparation for the journey to St Petersburg for the restart against Zenit. A first-half brace from Želimir Labus, who had benefitted greatly from the sale of Selimović, was enough to secure 3 points, despite a late surge from Zenit. We entered March and the fun was just about to begin – games were packed in left, right and centre with Thursday & Sunday scheduling back in full flow. Sparta Prague was given the task of Baltika in the Second Knockout Round, either side of an Orenburg Russian Cup tie, and I knew that I had to get the squad balance spot on. Thanks to a late goal to seal a Labus hattrick, we came back to Russia with a 3-2 advantage over the Czechs and I had the opportunity to rest key players against Orenburg; part of me was paranoid of the old “underestimate the opposition”, but that was swiftly laid to rest thanks to a 4-0 progression into the Quarter Finals.

It was this week that then started to become a bit cagey for Baltika, as we faced Sparta Prague in the second-leg, before squaring off with relegation dog-fighters Krylia Sovetov. Many big clubs would look at this week as a bread-and-butter week in football, but I know that European hangovers are a thing, and our 2-2 draw with Sparta Prague, to progress 5-4, took a lot of energy out of the players. And then the worst day at the office yet. Krylia Sovetov came to Kaliningrad with a plan to frustrate and that was exactly what they did; 4 shots and scoring 3 of them, we just had no answers.

I sat in the changing rooms after that match and couldn’t help but think our league charge was over before it could really get into the nit and gritty. A huge result for Krylia, Krasnodar, Rubin and Dinamo, we had given them a platform to go and build on despite having a game in hand. We had to get the game plan right against Akhmat the following game week to make sure it was a one-off, and even though we were behind, the boys were superb in turning the game around and winning 3-1.

I’m in the apartment just about to begin packing for the trip to the Faroe Islands for our qualifying opener. Croatia was up after the Faroes, and this is the perfect opportunity to lay down the standard required of the players. I need a distraction from the league, and this is the perfect one for now. April and May are going to be massive, we are a point ahead of Dinamo as things stand – who was going to blink first?


20th May 2039

I did say April and May were going to be massive; I just didn’t think it would come down to this. I’m sitting here in my apartment the night before Baltika’s biggest league game in their history, but I surely need to bring you up to date on everything else first?

Russia breezed through the international matches against the Faroe Islands and Croatia with no real difficulty, the Faroes were no match as we ran to a 4-1 victory over there before Croatia put up more of a struggle before we were confirmed 2-1 victors. The perfect start to the qualifying campaign, and our final international matches until after the season. It was a much-needed distraction, and I felt energised for domestic matters once again.

Rewarded with a glamour tie against AS Roma in the Quarter-Finals of the Europa League, but it was at this stage our run in the competition would come to a close. We recorded a famous 4-2 victory in Rome in the first-leg, but the Italian giants refused to give in and walked over us 3-0 in Russia – a result I was totally embarrassed about considering our considerably strong home record.

I also managed to steer Baltika into another Russian Cup Final, thanks to a 5-2 Quarter-Final victory over Akhmat, and a totally undeserving 1-0 victory over Zenit – we were second best to everything on the day and lady luck still gave us her blessings. A bit of a revenge job for last season’s final, I was delighted to be leading the team out at the Torpedo Stadium in Togliatti come the 29th of May, but that was in the future and not a priority for now. The league was and it was time to get caught up.

With the exception of the home leg against Roma, April was a clean sweep which meant it was keeping all the pressure on Dinamo Moscow to not let up any ground; and they didn’t. Which meant the league title was going to go the distance in May, and both teams were on tremendous runs in the league – something had to give.

Unfortunately, it was ourselves that gave into the pressure first, with a disappointing 0-0 draw with Chaika Peschanokopskoe who I swear is always out to ruin my seasons with Baltika. Thankfully, Dinamo also fell short of their own standards are were defeated against the odds and the gap was 0 points. Dinamo led the table thanks to their 2-0 victory against us in the buildup to the Winter Break, but I backed my boys to do enough – Dinamo had lost once, they could lose again, right?

We held our own nerve. Dinamo held their own. Both teams went into the final day on 67 points. We hosted Orenburg. Dinamo hosted Torpedo Moscow. A straight shoot out on the final day, both teams knowing what was required of them. Was Dinamo going to make it 6 in a row? Or was I about to lead Baltika to their first-ever top-flight title?


Saturday 21st May 2039

Not many people in Russia knew this, but Daniil was fully aware of the past. This was actually the second time in his career that the league title went down to the final day, and Torpedo was involved also. 15 years ago, SKA Khabarovsk was chasing the First Division title against Spartak Moscow-2, Torpedo Moscow played host to Spartak, and beat their rivals to hand Khabarovsk the title. Daniil was hoping that history would repeat itself in the top-flight, but the gulf in quality was there to see.

GOAL – Víctor Rodríguez – Baltika Kaliningrad 1 Orenburg 0 – Baltika move to the top of the league!

A wonderful pass through from Jorge Félix to find the young Mexican, who inadvertently played a 1-2 with the post to tap in from 2 yards!

GOAL – Jorge Félix – Baltika Kaliningrad 2 Orenburg 0 – Baltika move to the top of the league!

They have another one! Moments on from the Rodríguez opener, Félix finds himself inside the box with all the time in the world to cooly slot past the goalkeeper!

Half-time Results: Baltika Kaliningrad 2 Orenburg 0. Dinamo Moscow 0 Torpedo Moscow 0

As things stand, Baltika will be going on to win their first-ever top-flight title, and this is truly Dinamo’s biggest 45 minutes of the season. Could they emulate Spartak’s 6 in a row from 1996-2002, or would they fall at the last hurdle?

GOAL

Oh hello, we are in for a treat here! Dinamo Moscow has found the breakthrough they had been searching for, and that breakthrough has moved them back to the top of the league. This is going to be a cagey 31 minutes for both sets of fans, but as a neutral, we are really in for something special!

There was a hush around the Kaliningrad Arena as the clock struck 88. Still no news from Moscow about the Dinamo result, and no further goals here. Orenburg is quite happy to let Baltika have the ball, their season was over prior to this game and they can’t achieve any higher. Baltika has done everything it can do. Dinamo looks to be on course for their 6th league title in a row, and it is bitterly painful for Daniil Murayvoy and his team as they fall short thanks to a horror 2-0 defeat to Dinamo earlier in the season.

GOAL

Wait! Wait! There has been a goal in Moscow. The signal is coming and going. Fans are murmuring around the stadium. A roar goes up behind the Baltika goal. Surely not?!

Marcel Chernov – 91st minute – Dinamo Moscow 1 Torpedo Moscow 1.

Well, I say, do not scratch your eyes, this really is happening! A VAR check did take place but no infringement occurred in the goal’s build-up, as Chernov steers home a loose ball inside the Dinamo box. Their first shot on target! Can they hold out?

THEY HAVE DONE IT! Full time here in Kaliningrad, full time in Moscow. Baltika Kaliningrad are the Russian Premier League Champions for 2038/39 and for their first time in existence. Daniil Murayvoy, take a bow. You really are achieving something special here!


29th May 2039

I really wanted to write in this much sooner following last week’s success, but the party didn’t stop for 2 days. The people of this city – wow. Just wow. I have never seen a party atmosphere like it in my life, and I am truly grateful to be in charge of this club.

As I said, I wanted to get back to this as quickly as possible, but our season wasn’t over yet. We had a small matter of a domestic cup final against Dinamo Moscow today, and this was one I really wanted to secure. Prepared for the backlash from Dinamo following last weekend’s disappointment on their end, I was ready to right the wrong-doings of last season at the same stage and come home with this cup also.

I need to go. We are due to meet to travel to the stadium from the hotel in the next 15 minutes. I just hope I return to this hotel room with another cup.


Welcome to the Torpedo Stadium here in Togliatti for the much-anticipated clash between Baltika Kaliningrad and Dinamo Moscow. Baltika, on a high from last weekend’s league success, are out looking for their first success in this competition to go with their most successful campaign to date. Dinamo, out looking for revenge and Russian Cup number 6.

It’s a cagey affair here today as both sides are showing a bit too much respect for one another. We had to wait until the 30th minute for the game to burst into life when Gavrilov had to make a smart save from Dinamo’s Belkacem. From the resulting corner, Baltika hit on the counter-attack and Taylor could count himself lucky to escape unpunished after performing a cynical foul.

GOAL34th minute – Baltika Kaliningrad 1 Dinamo Moscow 0 – Marvin Alvarez

And it is the young Costa Rican striker that gets today’s opening goal! Dinamo never cleared their lines properly from the resulting freekick, and the creativity and vision of Rodríguez has cut Dinamo right open with a simple through ball for Alvarez to slot past the onrushing goalkeeper. Game on!

GOAL43rd minute – Baltika Kaliningrad 2 Dinamo Moscow 0 – Víctor Rodríguez

Yet another wonderful goal from the young Mexican, and it is no wonder he is the third-ranked best youth talent in the world! With the ball transitioning from defence to offence, Rodríguez peeled off his man and into the pocket vacated by Alvarez to receive the ball through and a first-time finish into the opposite bottom corner gives Baltika the reigns. It surely is theirs to lose now!

RED CARD – 52nd minute – Robert Sabic – Dinamo Moscow

And with that decision, Dinamo can kiss goodbye to a way back into this match surely? Sabic flying into a lunging tackle from behind leaves the referee with no choice but to send him for the early bath. How is your nerve Daniil Murayvoy?!

GOAL – 54th minute – Baltika Kaliningrad 3 Dinamo Moscow 0 – Želimar Labus

Well, here is my answer! Labus is played down the channel and cuts onto his favoured right foot, to curl one in from the edge of the box. Dinamo’s goalkeeper had no chance, and Dinamo have no chance of salvaging a consolation at this rate!

FULL TIME – Baltika Kaliningrad 3 Dinamo Moscow 0


29th May 2039 – Cont.

WE ARE GOING TO PARTY! What a day. What a season. What a team! I owe so much to these players for their hard work this season. Their never-say-die attitudes. It would have been easy to down tools before Christmas, but we stuck with the plan and look at us now. League winners. Cup winners. Champions League next season. THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE! Imagine Barcelona or Bayern Munich in Kaliningrad!

I could sit and savour the moment. Put my feelings and expressions into words. But I’m not going to. Hallace has promised us all drinks on him for this season’s accomplishments – I cannot wait to be up samba dancing with him!


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