Under new coach Artur Jorge, PFC CSKA Moskva's ambitions are extending far beyond Russia.
By Eduard Nisenboim
Back in November 1992, PFC CSKA Moskva sent a stern warning to the rest of Europe with a 4-3 aggregate win against FC Barcelona in the second round of the European Champion Clubs' Cup.
It seemed for a moment that the Army Men might be the big footballing force in post-Soviet Russia. That, however, was to be the last noteworthy thing the club achieved in well over a decade - save perhaps a solitary Russian Cup win in 2001/02.
Winning the Russian title in 2003 marked the Army Men's return to the big stage as, buoyed by a transfer budget that dwarfed that of their opponents and a relentlessly physical style perfected by coach Valeri Gazzaev, they steamrolled their opponents in the Russian Premier-Liga.
It was a surprise, then, that at the moment when they were seemingly on the crest of a wave, the club chose to ditch Gazzaev and replace him with Portuguese coach Artur Jorge. However, it was not such a shock to those in the know.
The celebrations that greeted CSKA's first Russian title win were tempered by their failure to progress in the 2003/04 UEFA Champions League, where they succumbed to a humiliating defeat against FK Vardar of F.Y.R. Macedonia in the second qualifying round.
Business as usual
According to most sources, it was following this result that CSKA's bosses made contact with Jorge. However, now that the new coach has taken charge, it is virtually business as usual for the club.
For a start, there has been a €15m spending spree as CSKA lured Sergei Ignashevitch and Eugeni Aldonin from FC Lokomotiv Moskva and FC Rotor Volgograd respectively, Nigerian Chidi Odiah from Moldova's FC Sheriff and, from further afield, Brazilian Dani Carvalho and Argentinian Osmar Ferreira.
Carvalho became the most expensive player in Russian football, but his team-mates Ivica Olic, Ferreira and Jirí Jarosík also required a significant outlay. It is little surprise, then, that Jorge has started the new campaign with a side which, by general consent, is streets ahead of any of CSKA's rivals.
The coach is preparing his side for a long season, with squad rotations characterising the first two games of CSKA's campaign. "I am always going to have to answer the question about somebody left out of the team," sighed Jorge. "We have 25 great players and it's natural that when one starts the game another misses out."
CSKA won their first competitive game of 2004, the Russian Super Cup against FC Spartak Moskva, 3-1, but a goalless draw against FC Torpedo-Metallurg Moskva in their opening league game was less impressive. A sign, along with a 9-1 mauling in a pre-season friendly game against 1. FC Köln in Spain, that the new-look CSKA still have a thing or two to learn.
However, it may well be that supporters will have more affection for Jorge's game than the tactics favoured by Gazzaev. A 4-4-1-1 formation has been introduced, with captain Sergei Semak playing behind a lone striker in attack, and the niggling fouls that characterised CSKA last season are all but gone.
It will be on results, though, that Jorge will be judged. CSKA's owners have paid good money for their squad and a good run in Europe will be expected. Success in the league and the Russian Cup would be a bonus, but as Gazzaev learned to his cost, Russia is not necessarily big enough for CSKA.