The return of coach Anatoli Baidachny has spelled good times ahead for FC Dinamo Minsk.
By Denis Orlov
When Bulgarian coach Georgy Gyurov was dismissed at FC Dinamo Minsk earlier this season following a 2-0 defeat by FC Torpedo-SKA Minsk, things could hardly have been worse for the Belarussian club. Six games into the new season, they were ninth in the table with seven points and any hope of challenging for the title seemed to have gone.
However, the return of Russian coach Anatoli Baidachny - the last man to lead the club to the Belarussian title in 1997 - has revitalised the capital city side. Eight wins in the last nine matches have put Dinamo back in contention - five points behind leaders FC Gomel with a game in hand - and there could yet be more excitement to come.
Under Gyurov, Dinamo won their first Belarussian Cup since 1994 in May, overcoming last season's champions FC BATE Borisov and Gomel along the way to a final win against neighbours FC Lokomotiv Minsk. It was some consolation for only finishing seventh in the league and their reward was a place in the qualifying round for this season's UEFA Cup.
Baidachny's side start their campaign against Denmark's Brøndby IF, and while they are not the powerhouse they were during the days of the former Soviet Union, when they reached the quarter-finals of the European Champion Clubs' Cup (1983/84), UEFA Cup (1984/85) and UEFA Cup Winners' Cup (1987/88) and won the Soviet title in 1982, hopes remain high.
"We have been set the task of advancing beyond the first two rounds of the UEFA Cup," said Baidachny. "If I was in charge of Dinamo in Soviet times, I would have said that the draw was good for us and we would beat the Danes.
In our current situation, each club is to be taken very seriously - although beating any of them is not impossible. That is why we are making serious signings."
Indeed, Baidachny has been ringing the changes. This summer Dinamo have made some intriguing additions to their squad including the Makovsky brothers from FC Dynamo Kyiv, FC Lokomotiv Moskva striker Armando Baba Adamu and Bulgarian midfielder Petar Zlatinov.
There have also been changes on the training ground, as defender Kirill Pavlyuchek said: "When Baidachny came, the training process was changed completely.
It is harder work now, but it is more fun as well. You can feel the master's touch in what he does."
Striker Sergei Kornilenko agreed, saying: "Our success is down to the new coach. His training methods are more intensive, different and interesting than those of any of our opponents. Plus the players, despite all of the new signings, feel closer to each other now."
Certainly, Baidachny's return has signalled the return of some kind of stability. During his six-year venture into Russian football, he coached at FC Zhemchuzhina Sochi, FC Rostov and FC Chernomorets Novorossyisk. In his absence, no fewer than nine coaches tried and failed to revive the winning form that saw Dinamo claim the first six Belarussian titles after independence.
The feeling is that Baidachny, and only Baidachny, is capable of putting Dinamo back on top in Belarus, and should he continue to exceed expectations at the club, he could be a very busy man. Having agreed with Dinamo chairman Yuri Chizh to stay at the club until the end of the season, there have been suggestions that the Belarus Football Federation would like to see him run the national team as well as Dinamo.