Two years ago Ivelin Popov scored in Kuban Krasnodar’s last game of the season against third place Anzhi to secure a fourth place finish. This was a tremendous achievement for the Krasnodar club – it was their highest ever finish in the Russian top flight and it meant they were going to be playing in Europe for the first time in their history. Kuban’s past shows them to be a yo-yo club, constantly moving up and down the leagues, but with this huge accomplishment you sensed things had changed for the better.
Sadly for one of the best supported clubs in the country they haven’t kicked on from that moment. They did enjoy some success in the Europa league with a victory over Scotland’s Motherwell and a major upset in defeating Dutch side Feyenoord on their way to qualifying for the group stages. Despite being drawn against some tough sides Kuban played their part in an entertaining group, and although they were eliminated, it was a pleasing effort. The highlights were holding English Premier League side Swansea to a 1-1 draw twice, and then travelling to Spain to repeat the feat against Valencia. Their only victory in the group came against Swiss side St. Gallen, who had knocked out Spartak Moscow in qualifying, but proved no trouble for Kuban as they ran out 4-0 winners.
The long European journeys had an effect on Kuban and they could only manage an eighth place finish, which they achieved by the skin of their teeth as they finished above Rubin Kazan and Amkar Perm’ with all three on thirty-eight points. Suddenly the future didn’t look as bright, and to add insult to injury their young rivals FC Krasnodar matched their achievement by qualifying for the Europa League.
During that season Viktor Goncharenko took charge and managed to do well enough, but it wasn’t a great achievement considering they were tenth when he took over. This season however he proved how good a head coach he was; after a pre-season with the team and a few new signings Kuban started the season brilliantly. They were unbeaten for their first nine matches with the first defeat coming at the hands of CSKA Moscow, and it was a big defeat at that as the Army Men blew Kuban away to win 6-0. They responded with two draws and a victory, the win coming against his future employers Ural, but it was the end of Goncharenko’s time in charge, much to the shock of the fans. A lack of discipline seemed to be the reason for the sacking.
Despite the sacking Goncharenko said he would take the job again if it was offered to him. The fans as stated before were shocked; Goncharenko had won them over after meeting with them in November to say thanks, which they reciprocated for the job he did at the club. Days later, the fans showed their frustration when they met with the club and ordered Leonid Kuchuk not to wear the club’s branded clothes. Kuchuk wasn’t the most popular guy in Krasnodar having left the club to join Lokomotiv Moscow.
Going into the winter break Kuban failed to win in the four games after Goncharenko’s sacking, suffering defeats to Zenit and CSKA , while drawing with struggling Torpedo Moscow and rivals FC Krasnodar. Things continued to worsen after the winter break as the team only managed to win twice in the thirteen remaining games. The first win came in March against Terek Grozny and the second came in the last game of the season when they defeated Arsenal Tula 5-1. In the second half of the season Kuban managed four draws and seven losses. Kuban’s season certainly fell off the rails and a promising season quickly turned into a disaster.
Despite the largely disappointing season Kuban did manage a great Cup campaign. They knocked out FNL sides Baltika and Tosno before overcoming Mordovia Saransk and CSKA Moscow to make the final where they would face Lokomotiv Moscow. It was roles reversed for FC Krasnodar; having reached the Europa League the season after Kuban, this time it was Kuban that mirrored their rivals by reaching the cup final a season after. Sadly for Kuban and their fans the outcome was the same as their rivals as they tasted defeat. Kuban took the lead before the half hour mark thanks to Vladislav Ignatyev’s goal, however Lokomotiv equalised with just over fifteen minutes remaining through Baye Oumar Niasse and his team finished extra time as champions after goals from Mbark Boussoufa and Aleksey Miranchuk.
Now the season is over Kuban have to rebuild on and off the pitch. On it, they’ll have to replace the outstanding Ivelin Popov who has left for the capital to play for Spartak Moscow. Not only that, they may have to replace Charles Kaboré, who has said he wants to leave and so far the club have already rejected a bid from Lokomotiv Moscow.
Due to the poor run of form in the second half of the season and defeat in the cup final Leonid Kuchuk resigned as head coach, with assistant Andrei Sosnitski holding the fort for the last two games of the season. The new man in charge has recently been announced as Dmitri Khokhlov, with the young coach set to take on his first challenge in his management career after a long spell at Dynamo Moscow as the reserves coach. Khokhlov has been given a two year deal and the club will now have to give him time to stop the run of coaches flying through the club.
For most of the season Kuban have been in the spotlight due to their financial troubles, which first appeared at the back end of the previous season and soon edged their way into this season. The club however have denied their troubles and slammed reports in December that said the club were going to be no more after the season. Oleg Mkrtchyan owns half of the shares in the club and for sometime hasn’t been financing the team, which has meant players and staff not being paid. Due to this the regional administration are now looking to buy the shares and own all of the club.
They have however admitted to some late payments to players due to the fall of the rouble and the rise of the dollar. They feel they’re in a good position and that they are better off than other teams in the league. In the fans’ eyes and probably some parts of the media, the club may have to show that in the transfer window, something they must do with a new coach and big losses.
Kuban have also been regularly featured in the news due to the chance of them being moved to nearby Sochi and into the tremendous Olympic stadium which was built for the 2014 Winter Olympics. However, with the event now becoming a distant memory, there’s pressure to have a professional football team in the city. Despite their history, fanbase and being the reason football has thrived in the region, Kuban’s money troubles have increased the likeliness of a move. I for one don’t want this to happen due to their history, and provided Kuban sort their affairs out soon, their rivalry with FC Krasnodar could be a tasty one with the lack of one-city derbies outside Moscow.
Another disappointment this season was the postponement of the club’s new stadium. It was going to be a forty-five thousand capacity stadium and was originally going to be finished by 2016, unfortunately nothing has happened and it has now been put back till mid-2016. Kuban Stadium has seen better days, and with FC Krasnodar not too far away to finishing their impressive stadium, perhaps they may return the favour and allow Kuban to play their home games there, especially after a few rumours of the club looking to reconstruct the Kuban Stadium.
It has been a frustrating time for the club and it’s now time to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and go again. A couple of seasons ago they surprised everyone to grab a European place, which should’ve been the start of a bright future. Sadly that wasn’t the case and it may be some time before they taste European nights again. They have to rethink, they have to rebuild and they have to make sure they don’t drop further and stay in the spotlight for the right reasons. 2015/2016 is a hugely important season for the club as they’ll look to re-establish themselves as a top half team fighting for Europe and regain the trust of the fans.
This is an article for RussianFootballNews.com.