On paper it may appear as if Russia have made the perfect start to their UEFA European Under-17 Championship campaign, topping Group B after an opening 3-0 win against Ukraine. However, coach Dmitri Khomukha has seen short-term glory fail to transfer into long-term success in the past, and is hoping to steer his charges clear of similar pitfalls in both this tournament and their careers.
"There is no euphoria in the squad – that is why the coaches are here as we need to explain to the guys that only the first step has been made," the former PFC CSKA Moskva player explained. "Our feet are still on the ground and we understand what opponents still lie ahead."
Khomukha's side are hoping to emulate the class of 2006, who lifted the trophy on Russia's only previous finals appearance. Nonetheless, victory did not guarantee progress to the senior level for large numbers of that side, and the coach is hoping more men from his 2013 vintage can graduate to the top level, win or lose in Slovakia.
"Only time will tell which of my boys will play at the highest level. We try to direct them and show the example of their older compatriots – that if one becomes less self-demanding after a big success, football will punish you immediately," he warned.
"First contracts, unrealistic expectations – all this prevents people making it. The opposition [the 2006 side] were facing are now the leaders of their respective senior teams. So we can use them as an example, despite our negative experience."
Recent improvements, however, are set to ensure more players successfully progress through the youth ranks. "If we compare today in Russia with 2006, there is a clear improvement," said the coach. "There are more youth academies. If the quantity grows, so will the quality."
Despite an understandable concern for his country's future, the immediate task at hand is to progress from a tough group, which also contains Italy and Croatia. He may be working with one hand tied behind his back after a number of late injuries hit the squad before the tourrnament, but the 43-year-old hopes a commitment to attacking football will nonetheless take his men far. "We try to combine different styles of football and follow those teams who play attractive football - Barcelona, Arsenal, Bayern, Borussia Dortmund. They show good football brings success.
"Before the tournament we lost our whole spine - a centre-back, two central midfielders and a centre-forward. So, we were left without the skeleton, but we found the resources to score three goals."
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