Welcome to Krasnodar, one of the oldest teams in Russian football, founded in 1928 under the name Dynamo. Since then they’ve acquired a further four different names with the latest change in 1963 seeing them return to the name Kuban, which they previously held from 1958 to 1960.
The Krasnodar outfit have been the perennial yo-yo side, spending most of their time between the Soviet Second Division and the Soviet First Division, but always keeping an eye on one day playing in the Soviet Top League.
Kuban finally achieved their aim of playing top flight football after earning promotion from the First Division in 1979 as they finished in second place, three points ahead of Pamir Dushambe and eight behind eventual winners Karpaty Lviv from Ukraine.
The excitement ahead of the new season was wholly palpable and to prepare themselves for the increased fan support the club added a second tier to the Kuban Stadium. The Kazaki (Cossacks) were ready for their maiden voyage to the pinnacle of the Soviet game, a notable power in the eighties. The stadiums capacity was increased by 20,000 thanks to the new tier and they further installed floodlights before the new season kicked off.
Despite the notable effort, Kuban’s stay in the top flight was short lived. The club from the west coast showed signs of improvement each season but they were ultimately relegated in 1982 amid financial difficulty and inconsistent performances in defence.
They mustered up a 15th place finish in their maiden season; their second season saw them finish in 13th place and their third season, collapse. The side were in sixth place as the first half of the season came to a close but as we see regularly around the world, their form fell off when it came to the business end of the calendar. Notably their performances against the teams around them was below-par.
The self-implosion during second half of the season saw the yellow and greens finish in 17th place. Despite having the same amount of points as Neftchi Baku it was their more illustrious neighbours from the historical city in what is now Azerbaijan who remained in the top flight courtesy of games won.
1982, sadly for the fans of the Black Sea club, would be the last time Kuban played in the Soviet Top League.
After the relegation back into the First Division, Kuban struggled. Their first season outside the Top League saw them finish in eight place, a comprehensive fifteen points away from second. In 1984 they finished six points off promotion, sharing third spot with SKA Karpaty Lvov; remarkably both teams had the same number of wins, draws, losses, goal difference and points.
They were promising signs for Kuban but the next season would bring new perspective on the development of the Kazaki as they ended up finishing at the other end of the table in 18th. Things continued to get worse for the club as they were relegated after finishing in 20th place in ’86.
Kuban were quick to respond after the relegation, recruiting a number of the best players from the Soviet Second Division, and they returned to the First Division immediately after finishing first. The yo-yo theme continued as the club flitted between both divisions, unable to settle on a management structure and playing style.
Change was needed and the collapse of the USSR was to provide the club with a new lease of life.
When the Soviet Championship collapsed in 1991, the Russian Premier League was born. Kuban found themselves competing in this competition, however their stay in the league was over as quickly as it started. The league structure was set out so there were two groups of ten; Kuban were unceremoniously placed in Group B.
The Toads – affectionately termed by their fans – finished second from bottom in the group, therefore qualifying for the relegation round. Kuban along with others had to battle it out for a place between 9th and 20th with 16th to 20th relegated to the First League. Sadly for Kuban they finished 18th, picking up 14 points in 22 games and continuing their inconsistent performances post-Soviet space.
By 1998, relegation to the Second Division brought about long overdue change to the club. Under new management the club decided to restructure the team and this steered Kuban in the right direction.
Kuban’s instability and yo-yo nature makes them one of football’s truly unpredictable clubs. Over their long history there have been plenty of ownership changes, moving up and down the leagues and there haven’t been too many managers that have lasted more than a couple of years at the helm.
Most in fact, have only lasted the odd season in charge, some have managed two seasons, and others just a matter of months. The longest serving manager of Kuban was back when the club was first formed. Andrew Agueyev was one of the founders of Kuban and he was the first man to coach the club, staying in charge between 1928 to 1942. In 1948 he returned for a year and he guided the team to their first success, as they became RSFSR League champions.
In 2001 the club were taken over by the Krasnodar Krai and they haven’t looked back since. Managers still come and go – nothing has changed in that regard – but one man that will always be remembered is current Dynamo Moscow boss and Romanian legend Dan Petrescu.
He was in charge from December 2009-August 2012. Following the clubs relegation from the Premier League in 2009, Petrescu managed to guide the team straight back into Russia’s top flight. Furthermore, he set about building the framework of success and creating the methods needed for Kuban to qualify for Europe.
The westerners managed to surprise everyone in their first season back in the Premier League. Kuban brought in a couple of signings before the season; the best of those was Lacina Traoré, who played 35 games over the course of the season and scored 18 goals in the process.
With the help of those goals Kuban finished the first stage of the season in sixth place with notable success against the traditional powers in the Russian game. Kuban could also boast that they achieved the joint biggest win of the season when they demolished Volga 5-0.
Thanks to finishing the first half in sixth, Kuban laid the foundation to challenge for Europe in the second half of the season. Consistency would now be the key.
Most impressive was their home record during the second stage; 14 games unbeaten at the Kuban Stadium helped the club finish a more than respectable eighth.
Prior to the new season commencing, Kuban lost their top scorer Lacina Traoré to Anzhi for a fee of €18 million. While a big loss, they reinvested their money well, bringing in the likes of Ángel Dealbert from Valencia, Ibrahima Baldé from Osasuna, Ivelin Popov from Gaziantepspor and Aras Özbiliz from Ajax.
While Petrescu left for the bright lights of Moscow, Yuri Krasnozhan made the journey from Dagestan to work on the coast. Despite impressing and improving the team’s style of football, almost five months after taking the job, he was controversially sacked after falling out with one of the main investors in the boardroom.
Leonid Kuchuk was brought in and he drove Kuban forward through the rest of the season. In the remaining eleven games Kuban failed to taste defeat under the Minsk-born boss and once again surprised many by achieving a mightily impressive fifth place, setting a new highest finish for the club and qualifying for the Europa League for the first time.
Kuchuk was subsequently offered a three-year contract, however he turned it down and took over at Lokomotiv Moscow. Dorinel Munteanu replaced him but problems with his previous contract at Mordovia delayed his arrival. It meant Kuban had to appoint youth team coach Igor Osinkin as caretaker manager, with the unknown coach taking charge of the first three games.
Munteanu only spent nine games in charge of Kuban, failing to deliver improved results and he was dismissed with Kuban in tenth place and bottom of their Europa League group.
Next up in the hot seat would be Viktor Goncharenko, former BATE Borisov manager who took over in October 2013. Goncharenko didn’t have the best of welcomes to the Russian Premier League as Kuban were turned over 3-1 by former manager Dan Petrescu’s Dynamo Moscow.
Since then they’ve gone on to win three on the bounce and currently sit in eighth place. The Belarusian boss has also overseen an upturn in form in the Europa League with two 1-1 draws against the much-fancied Swansea City.
Kuban Krasnodar have taken the Russian Premier League by storm in the last two seasons, firmly establishing themselves as a top flight outfit and spreading their name beyond Russia thanks to their various European outings.
High profile signings have also bolstered the squad with Djibril Cissé, Charles Kaboré, Lorenzo Melgarejo, Mohammed Rabiu and Gonzalo Bueno proving shrewd additions. Unlike the carefree Anzhi model that has unravelled in recent months, Kuban’s spending has been intelligent and financially viable.
Despite the number of managerial changes since Petrescu’s departure, Kuban have managed to maintain their league form; testament to the work the Romanian conducted while in charge of the club and management structure implemented by the Krasnodar Krai.
Things may not be going their way in the Europa League but experience is crucial in Europe. The 3-0 aggregate win over Motherwell, holding Swansea to two draws and perhaps their best result to date, a 3-1 aggregate win over Feyenoord demonstrates that the club is slowly growing and beginning to believe that they genuinely belong on the continental scene.
Only time will tell if Kuban can continue to challenge for Europe and stay in the top half of the league. As their history depicts, you never really know what will happen down line in Krasnodar, but their faithful supporters will surely stay for the ride and pick up yet more memories along the way.
Article for thesefootballtimes.net