Saturday, August 29, 2009

Portugal and Belgium maintained position at the top of the middle group of championships – but nothing new there: Benfica and Anderlecht both made doubles, but Benfica was declining and Anderlecht did not emerged yet as strong club internationally. France remained the same too – pleasant football, nothing special… Olympique Marseille dominated the scene, winning both the championship and the cup. The Soviets? About the hidden bribery scandal you can read in the early posting. Thanks to it, Zarya (Voroshilovgrad) ended champions.
The clubs’s logo back in 1972. Today is different, as well as the country is different, the name of the club, and the name of their home town – it is Zorya (Lugansk, Ukraine). Back to Soviet days, though:
In his 2007 interview the coach German Zonin vigorously negated the bribery story – according to him, Zarya won the title fair and square. Zonin’s denial is understandable – there is no coach to admit bribery. Besides, this is the only title Zonin won in his long career. So, what is true? Small clubs, with good, even not outstanding squads, occasionally win titles. As a rule, such surprising winners never repeat their success, quickly sinking to familiar mediocrity. It is well traveled path: big clubs immediately snatch whatever talent emerged in the small club, and the winning team is shattered. From this standpoint, Zonin appears truthful… unless one reads between the lines. Zonin praised the Communist satrap of Voroshilovgrad at the time: the City’s Party Secretary ‘cared a lot for the sports’ and ‘supported the club with everything’. It is more than likely the Party boss went much wider in his support – making deals with other Party secretaries, who in turn ‘influenced’ the clubs in their domains to give a point or two. Money – or other things – went along. A coach did not have to be involved. He even did not have to know – such things were arranged on Party level, and were typical in Communist Eastern Europe. But there is another interesting detail: Zonin blamed Dynamo (Kiev) for the immediate decline of Zarya – they took two key players, Onishchenko and Vyacheslav Semenov. No real fuss over Onishchenko, for he was originally Dynamo player and going back was understandable. Semenov, according to Zonin, was another story – vastly talented, the coach claims, he was very important to Zarya. Dynamo not only did not need him, but actually ruined him during his short stay in Kiev. So far – the typical small club story… except: Kiev, as republican centre, ‘naturally’ takes the cream of the whole of Ukraine. No way for small club saving their good players – bigger and more powerful Communist bosses order the smaller fry and that’s was that. Dynamo took only two players from Zarya, one of them originally a Dynamo player anyway. The second – not needed and benched. This largely means Zarya did not really have interesting players – rather, run of the mill squad. Confirmed by other evidence: some players, Semenov included, briefly played for the national/Olympic Soviet squad. Very briefly and only at the time when Zonin himself was assistant coach of the Olympic team. Only Onishchenko became a real star and constant national player – but playing for Dynamo (Kiev). Nobody else impressed and lasted. Zarya players were not interesting for other clubs – no Moscow club wanted them, not Dynamo (Kiev), not even the second big Ukrainian club – Shakter (Donetzk). Apart from Onishchenko, only the goalkeeper Alexander Tkachenko built good reputation – eventually not only playing for many years, but moving to Zenith (Leningrad). Yet, even this transfer is suspect: it happened when Zonin coached Zenith, which was not at all big club at that time. Zarya were obviously good by the standards of small clubs; the squad had good chemistry, reaching their peak in 1972, but hardly superior team even then. Muddy the bribery story may be, as such stories ever go, but very likely. More than likely. Nevertheless, nothing was said at the time, the title stands. Which at the end makes briberies irrelevant – at least in terms of historic record and largely by the history of the club. Champions. Once. Once upon a time.