FC BATE Borisov's progress to the UEFA Champions League group stage is all the more remarkable given that coach Viktor Goncharenko, the former defender who oversees a "partial dictatorship", is only 31 years old.
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FC BATE Borisov's progress to the UEFA Champions League group stage is all the more remarkable as coach Viktor Goncharenko is just 31 years old. Even so, the former defender's "partial dictatorship" is giving the Belarussian side a competitive edge.
BATE's qualification for the competition proper remains perhaps the biggest story of the UEFA Champions League to date. Their club coefficient of 1.760 is the lowest of any group-stage contender, making their arrival at Europe's top table even more surprising than that of FC Artmedia Petržalka, who played in the 2005/06 tournament with a then lowest ever coefficient of 4.850.
The Belarussian team's tale is a remarkable one in many ways. Founded only in 1996, their squad's average age is under 24 while coach Goncharenko celebrated his 31st birthday on Wednesday. First a defender with the club he joined in 1998, he was forced to retire at 25 after damaging cruciate ligaments but stayed on to become a crucial element in the BATE coaching system.
Initially reserve-team coach, Goncharenko graduated to assistant coach before taking over as the boss in 2007. Working his way through the ranks helped him learn about the club from every angle and he now epitomises the BATE work ethic, with its values of honesty, reliability and consistency. "We are trying to work honestly and never kid ourselves," said owner Anatoliy Kapskiy.
Goncharenko is an eager student of football, avidly studying new trends, and he has learned from his predecessors' successes and failures. "If our former coach Igor Kriushenko was a democrat, I came in to establish a partial dictatorship," said Goncharenko. "You can call me the democrat with dictatorial touches. Above all I want to see discipline. That is one of the main keys to success."
BATE's blossoming also owes much to careful management. Nurturing local players from the industrial city of Borisov as well as scouring Belarus for talented youngsters has been crucial. Of the current side, Pavel Nekhaychik, Maksim Zhavnerchik, Mikhail Sivakov, Aleksandr Gutor and Borisov-born Igor Stasevich all played under Goncharenko in the reserve side, while no-frills overseas signings have kept the annual budget down to €4m.
Cheap and cheerful
A notable recent acquisition has been 21-year-old Russian defender Vladimir Rzhevski, who scored BATE's third qualifying round winner at PFC Levski Sofia. Having represented tiny FC Master-Saturn Egoryevsk in his home country, Rzhevski was plying his trade in the third division last term but will now compete against Real Madrid CF, Juventus and FC Zenit St. Petersburg in Group H.
Regardless of how they fare among such exalted company, BATE's progress to this point will make a big difference at home. "We have a wonderful training base with two pitches and a recreational centre," explained Kapskiy. "But after our entry to the UEFA Champions League our budget will be doubled or raised even higher." If Goncharenko has got this far with €4m, what could he achieve with that?