By Aleksandr Keplin
Second from bottom of the league after eleven games, it has been a difficult season for FK Almaty, but the arrival of only the third coach from outside the former Soviet Union in the Kazakh Super League may yet revive their fortunes.
Dutchman Antonius Cornelius Joor has followed in the footsteps of Serbo-Montenegrin Zlatko Krmpotic and German Klaus Stark in becoming the third western European coach to take charge of a Kazakh club, and as he led his side to a 3-2 win against FC Bolat MSK Temirtau in his opening game, he made a good start.
Until recently, Joor was working in Qatar at Al-Arabi alongside former internationals like Stefan Effenberg and Gabriel Batistuta. Now he faces a stern challenge to avoid relegation in order to stand a chance of seeing his six-month contract at Almaty extended.
Krmpotic has already proved that it is possible for outsiders to thrive in Kazakhstan. The Serbo-Montenegrin led FC Kairat Almaty to success in the Kazakh Cup in 2001 and earned them a place in the 2002/03 UEFA Cup, where they bowed out after a 5-0 aggregate loss against FK Crvena Zvezda.
Stark, however, was less celebrated in his spell at FC Zhenis Astana, despite signing Brazilian Ratinho, a one-time 1. FC Kaiserslautern player, to spearhead his side's league challenge in 2004. A poor start underlined the problems Stark had in communicating with his players, and he was soon on his way out of the club, with Ratinho following close behind.
While language problems may have been an issue for Stark, there have been no such worries for the plethora of coaches from the former Soviet republics who have plied their trade in Kazakhstan. Since most Kazakhs speak Russian, Russian and Ukrainian coaches have been able to get their message across.
Russian Aleksei Petrushin guided Kairat to the title in 2004 and will lead them into their first UEFA Champions League campaign this season, while Ukrainian Aleksandr Golokolosov had two successful seasons at FK Atyrau. Current Ukraine youth team coach Oleksandr Ishchenko enjoyed a spell at FK Aktobe Lento, while former FC Dynamo Kyiv and Juventus FC player Oleksandr Zavarov worked at Zhenis last year.
The most respected of all the foreign coaches in Kazakhstan is Vladimir Mukhanov. He may not have won the title, but made his mark in the 2003/04 UEFA Intertoto Cup by leading FC Tobol Kostanay to aggregate wins against KP Polonia Warszawa and K. Sint-Truidense VV en route to a third-round defeat by Austria's SV Pasching.
However, the Russian trainer has enjoyed less success since taking over at Zhenis this season. His side lie in tenth place after eleven games and after a recent 1-0 home defeat against FC Okzhetpes Kokshetau many believe that he is ready to hand in his resignation.
Another Russian coach, Leonid Pakhomov, found life tough after being appointed as national team coach in 2003. Having led his side to a 2-2 draw against Malta in his opening match, the coach was denied the chance to play competitive football as Kazakhstan had joined UEFA too late to play in the qualifiers for UEFA EURO 2004™.
In the end he was never to coach the side in a competitive game, and was dismissed in April 2004 after a 3-2 friendly defeat against Azerbaijan. Joor would be wise to note as he takes up the reins at Almaty that, in a nation yearning for footballing success, patience is a limited commodity.
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