FC Kuban Krasnodar have been bouncing up and down between Russia's top two divisions on an annual basis since 2006, but having reached the winter break in the transitional 2011/12 season in eight place, Maksim Zhavnerchik hopes they are finally in the Premier League to stay.
The Belarusian international midfielder, 26, has experienced a promotion and a relegation since coming to Krasnodar for the 2009 campaign, and is used to hearing Kuban dismissed as an elevator club – a Russian phrase denoting a side who are constantly going up and down between divisions. "It was terrible to be dismissed as an elevator club," Zhavnerchik told UEFA.com. "I hope it's in the past."
Since the club brought in Dan Petrescu as coach in December 2009, things have certainly been more up than down. The former Chelsea FC defender created a big stir by leading FC Unirea Urziceni to the title in his native Romania in 2008/09, and has seemingly shown his side how to fight well above their weight in Russia.
"Before the season, our aim was just to survive in the Premier Division," admitted Zhavnerchik. "But we have surpassed ourselves.
Eighth place is fantastic for us. Even though we have no stars, Kuban are having one of the best seasons in the club's history."
The 44-year-old Petrescu has already left his mark on the club from southern Russia, where he won promotion in his first season and has already seen his contract extended until 2015. "Discipline comes first for the gaffer," Zhavnerchik explained. "He will not let us rest on our oars for a single minute. Petrescu is to-the-bone professional and it shows in everything he does. He demands from us the same as what he demanded from himself when he was a player."
Success has also brought raised expectations; having beaten the same side 3-1 at home at the start of the season, Kuban drew 1-1 against FC Spartak Moskva – Russia's most celebrated side – in their final league game of 2011, and felt positively deflated. "To be honest, there was a bitter taste after that game," said former FC BATE Borisov player Zhavnerchik. "We created more chances and we should have won. But after the match there was a banquet to end the year so we left all the negative emotions behind."
Now the hope is that more positives lie ahead. Kuban have never qualified for a UEFA competition before, but director Suren Mkrtchyan has told his side that a sixth-placed finish – and a European place – is now their primary target for the remainder of the campaign. "I think we can do it," said Zhavnerchik. "We have shown already that we can beat Spartak or Rubin and compete with Zenit St Petersburg, so why can we not do so again? We have to strengthen the team a little bit, but over all it depends on us."
The pressure is on, and holidays are off – the players have been following individual training plans since 19 December. "I would like to have a proper rest, but we will come back to Krasnodar on 9 January to start training again," said Zhavnerchik. "But now we are eighth. To compete for the highest places, you have to make sacrifices."
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