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Ventspils enjoy element of surprise

FK Ventspils' decision to change coach just eight days before their play-off against FC Zürich came as a shock, but president Yuri Bespalov insists it is all part of the Latvian champions' masterplan.

New Ventspils coach Nunzio Zavettieri
New Ventspils coach Nunzio Zavettieri ©Anatolij Popeluha

FK Ventspils' decision to change coach just eight days before their UEFA Champions League play-off against FC Zürich came as a shock, but their president Yuri Bespalov insists that it is all part of the Latvian champions' masterplan.

Shock news
Roman Grigorchuk had led the club to a hat-trick of titles between 2006 and 2008 and the Latvian champions were within touching distance of a place in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League after seeing off FC BATE Borisov in the third qualifying round. At the very least that success against BATE had earned Ventspils a place in the UEFA Europa League and ensured that, for the first time, a Latvian side would be playing European football until December. Then came the news: Grigorchuk had left the club and little-known Italian Nunzio Zavettieri had been named as his successor.

'New chapter'
Nonplussed, Ventspils fans needed answers. "The decision was planned; we made an agreement with Grigorchuk a long time ago," Bespalov told uefa.com. "We parted on good terms. Grigorchuk had had a task: to lead the team to the group stage of a UEFA tournament. After that we went our separate ways. The mission is completed, and I'm really thankful to Grigorchuk for that. Now we are starting a new chapter in the club's development."

'Historic games'

Grigorchuk himself insisted he did not "have any regrets" and that there "were no surprises", which is more than can be said of his replacement. Zavettieri, 42, comes to Riga after spells coaching the youth teams at AC Milan and FC Internazionale Milano as well as working as an assistant coach at Udinese Calcio. He has signed a two-year contract, but may not face two bigger matches than the pair coming up against Zürich in his first fortnight in the job. "I understand very well that these play-off matches are historic for Ventspils," he told uefa.com. "I think about the game in Riga all the time and really want us to win. It will be very hard, but we're not afraid of anyone."

'Skilled young players'
Zavettieri got off to a flying start with a 4-0 league win at FK Jūrmala on Saturday and insists that, while he may not be able to boast of Grigorchuk's local knowledge, he will not need long to settle. "I knew about the local league before I came here," he said. "I didn't have any doubt that there are skilful young players in Latvia and at Ventspils in particular. We have to work hard and I'm ready for that. I really want to help my new team become stronger."