In footballing terms it is something akin to alchemy. Every season since they made their Russian top-flight debut in 2006, PFC Spartak Nalchik have seemed favourites for relegation. Yet under Yuri Krasnozhan's leadership they have developed uncanny powers of self-preservation.
Rarely able to keep their best players, Nalchik tend to start each campaign with a rag-bag of kids and cast-offs from other clubs. Somehow, though, their 47-year-old coach manages to turn these base metals into something approximating football gold.
If mid-table finishes have been Nalchik's speciality, to everyone's surprise they topped the table for five rounds this year before dipping to fourth before the month-long summer break. "We have matured enough to do even better," Krasnozhan told UEFA.com. "We must try to beat our best-ever finish of ninth in 2006."
Krasnozhan joined the Caucasus side in 2004, overseeing their promotion to the Premier-Liga the following season. "I had coached Nalchik's reserves for several years, but working with a first division team was completely new," he said. "The hardest thing was convincing my players they had a quality coach. You can decide if I succeeded."
Instilling that belief has been crucial to Krasnozhan, who has experienced his share of scares. "We had a number of difficult periods," he added. "At the start of last term we were second from bottom for a long time. I asked if we needed a new coach, but the club expressed their faith in me. I haven't considered leaving since."
Modest success continues to come at a price, however: the summer has seen more of Krasnozhan's leading men leave. "Aleksandr Amisulashvili went so we will try to cover his position with young defender Viktor Vasin," said the coach. "We had two Argentinian players on trial. One of them joined a German club, the second is still thinking."
The pressure of keeping his no-frills squad together is considerable, yet Krasnozhan said: "It is a very hard job but I enjoy every day of it. Rubin Kazan, Zenit St. Petersburg or Spartak Moskva would not consider fourth place progress, but it definitely is for us. We even wanted to get into Europe last season.
"The budget increases from year to year, and I hope this growth continues," concluded the alchemist. "At the same time we do not have official targets for this campaign. The most important thing is to continue our development both in terms of quality of play and results. We will see in the autumn if we managed to improve or stayed at the same level."
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