After more than 600 appearances Andrei Tikhonov played the final competitive match of his career last Sunday. UEFA.com outlines why the former Russia winger was so loved by FC Spartak Moskva fans and respected by the rest.
The last Spartak man to be afforded such a warm-hearted farewell was Fedor Cherenkov when, in August 1994, a packed Dinamo Stadium gave an ovation to the midfielder, Spartak's icon of the 1980s. Seventeen years later tens of thousands of fans did the same for their hero of the 90s, Tikhonov, after the 40-year-old started the Premier-Liga game against his former club FC Krylya Sovetov Samara as captain and shone in the first half before leaving the pitch forever.
Though he never had classy ball skills, lightning pace or a dangerous shot, he still became a legend and a highly respected figure among a generation of Russian supporters. What prompted this admiration which did not diminish even in the decade after he left Spartak and played elsewhere? UEFA.com suggests five reasons.
He never graduated from a big football academy, was never in pursuit of big bucks or involved in any controversy. He was an ordinary Joe from the Moscow area who served two years in the army and spent almost all his career in his homeland (apart from short spells in Israel and Kazakhstan). A Spartak man to the bone, he did not attract the ire of rival fans – and not just because he played 29 times for Russia. PFC CSKA Moskva, FC Zenit St Petersburg and FC Dinamo Moskva supporters respected the man who never gave a slightest hint of disrespect towards the opposition and tried to prove everything he wanted to prove on the pitch only, as well as being easy-going with fans and media.
There was no shortage of prominent captains at Spartak in the 1990s – Viktor Onopko, Ilya Tsymbalar and Dmitri Alenichev all wore the armband – yet it was the No11 who was considered the club's best skipper. Tikhonov met all the demands of the job. He had authority and was controlled, reasonable and intelligent. Even in games that did not go his team's way he remained a leader, never played half-heartedly and offered an example to his men. After Tikhonov moved on in 2000, Yegor Titov stepped into the role.
Man for the moment
Tikhonov's brilliant save in the UEFA Cup against Silkeborg IF in 1997 – when he was an emergency keeper – is a wonderful episode in Spartak's history. Other great moments from Tikhonov include his crucial league strikes against FC Okean Nahodka in 1993 and FC Alania Vladikavkaz in 1996, a memorable goal versus FC Internazionale Milano in the 1998 UEFA Cup semi-finals and a hat-trick in the UEFA Champions League against Willem II in 1999/2000. He scored about 100 competitive goals, many of them vital. Even at 40 Tikhonov looked as good as ever, helping set up Spartak's opener against Krylya Sovetov and adding an assist for the second.
End of an era
Only two members of the Spartak side under coach Oleg Romantsev are still playing – Maksim Buznikin with second-tier FC Nizhni Novgorod and Konstantin Golovskoy at FC Kairat Almaty in Kazakhstan's Premier League. Goalkeeper Aleksandr Filimonov, meanwhile, switched codes and recently won the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup with Russia. So it is clear that with Tikhonov's retirement the acclaimed Spartak squad of the 90s passes into history. Coincidence or not, Spartak have not won a trophy in the decade since Tikhonov departed the Moscow outfit.
Future head coach?
"Andrei will become Spartak coach for sure and it will happen in the near future," said current boss Valeri Karpin. If some were surprised by Karpin's words given Tikhonov does not have the necessary licence, many were inspired by the statement. Who else if not Tikhonov, with 20 years' experience, to lead Spartak to fresh success and renew the spirit within the club and dressing room?
What they say
"He was and always will be one of my favourite players. Everybody liked him so much. He has one very valuable quality – he sticks to a daily schedule and regime. That's the secret of his long career."
Oleg Romantsev, former Spartak coach
"The idea of bringing back Tikhonov was obvious. Tikhonov is a well-known fighter with huge experience. He is a great example to all players and embodies Spartak's spirit."
Coach Valeri Karpin
"Tikhonov is demanding of himself and others. He is an honest, reliable person. We knew he would never say anything behind our backs. I wish him all the best in his coaching career. I think he has enough wisdom and experience."
Aleksei Meleshin, former Spartak team-mate
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