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Mostovoi hails birthday boy Romantsev

Published: Saturday 4 January 2014, 11.31CET
As Oleg Romantsev turns 60, charts the life of a man who rose from humble beginnings to inspire a generation as coach of FC Spartak Moskva and Russia.
by Dmitri Rogovitski
from Moscow
Mostovoi hails birthday boy Romantsev
Oleg Romantsev looks on during Russia's 2002 World Cup game against Belgium ©Getty Images features

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Published: Saturday 4 January 2014, 11.31CET

Mostovoi hails birthday boy Romantsev

As Oleg Romantsev turns 60, charts the life of a man who rose from humble beginnings to inspire a generation as coach of FC Spartak Moskva and Russia.

As former FC Spartak Moskva and Russia coach Oleg Romantsev celebrates his 60th birthday, looks back at a coaching career spanning almost 30 years.

Born in Ryazan Oblast, 320km south-east of Moscow, Romantsev had no links to football until his family moved to Krasnoyarsk, where he joined FC Avtomobilist Krasnoyarsk following a humble beginning to working life. "After finishing sixth grade [aged 12], I went to work as a loader's assistant at a house building factory for a salary of 40 roubles," Romantsev explained. "They didn't allow me to lift a single plank over the three months I worked there. I mostly carried beer for the grown-up workers."

He joined Spartak in 1976 and, although they were relegated that year, they returned to the top flight the following season and clinched the title in 1979 under Romantsev's captaincy. The left-back became a firm favourite but was forced to retired aged 29 because of injury. He made a swift switch to coaching, taking his first job at third division outfit FC Krasnaya Presnya, where his paths crossed with a youthful Aleksandr Mostovoi.

"The beginning of his coaching career coincided with the start of my own career as a player," said Mostovoi, a playmaker who won 67 caps and played over 100 games for Spartak. "He brought me, a 16-year-old boy, to Krasnaya Presnya. He was a very inexperienced coach back then but we quickly forged a close relationship. He became my father in football, it was thanks to him that I grew into a serious player."

A short stint at FC Alania Vladikavkaz followed before Romantsev took the Spartak reins, replacing club favourite Konstantin Beskov. "His appointment was unexpected," Mostovoi recalls. "I was abroad with the youth international team and when we returned home for training, Beskov was gone and Romantsev was there in his place. I asked him without thinking, 'what are you doing here?' He said that he was our new coach."

Romantsev guided the club to the 1989 title in his first season in charge, the perfect start to a happy marriage that brought nine Russian championships and four Russian cups. Under his leadership, Spartak also reached the semi-finals of all three major European club competitions. He spent more than 14 years at Spartak, at different times combining the job with the roles of club president and Russia head coach.

On the international stage, Romantsev oversaw Russia's EURO '96 and 2002 FIFA World Cup campaigns. They were eliminated at the final tournament group stage on both occasions and his tenure ended after returning home from Japan/South Korea. By the following June his time at Spartak was over too after a third-placed finish in the league and a disappointing UEFA Champions League campaign when they lost all six group games, conceding 18 and scoring once in the process.

Brief spells at FC Saturn Moskovskaya Oblast and FC Dinamo Moskva followed before a return to Spartak in a consultancy capacity, but that failed to reignite past glory and concluded in 2012. "The examples of Josep Guardiola and André Villas-Boas show that experience is not always primary anymore," said Mostovoi. "However, I would not be surprised if Romantsev returned to coaching and to Spartak as well. I wish him good health; it is what matters the most at his age. The rest will just look after itself."

Indeed, Spartak have not won a trophy since Romantsev's era and the 60-year-old has a birthday wish of his own: "If a team choses the right path, like Spartak did, big victories in high-profile competitions will follow."

Last updated: 04/01/14 11.33CET

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