By Leo Linden
Spartak Moscow is the most decorated Russian team of all time, but in the past decade and a half. However, a strong youth movement within the club — balanced out by some veteran talent — now has the capital side surging in the early going of this season. Russia’s winter break is fast approaching, but if Spartak can hold their form for just two more fixtures, they will be in a great spot to capture their first title since 2001.
Spartak was founded in 1922 and had great importance to the people, as it was the side which represented the common man. It’s main rivals –– still to this day –– Dynamo Moscow and CSKA Moscow, each represented a faction of authority (the police and army, respectively) while Spartak took on the nickname the Narodnaya komanda, the people’s team.
A slow, humble start began with Spartak playing in the Russian regional leagues, but within a decade, the club’s leaders, a pair of Russian businessmen, began to invest heavily, and the returns were almost immediate. The club won the first of its record 21 league titles (combining Russian and Soviet stats) in the autumn of 1936 before taking home titles in 1936 and 1939 as well.
While a short drought ensued, the club stayed relevant by winning multiple Soviet Cups, a now-defunct competition which Spartak also holds the all-time record for most triumphs with 10. When the titles came again, they did so in bunches as the club took a trip to the winner’s circle five times between 1952 and 1962. Though they did win another title in 1969, that was the precursor to the worst period in Spartak’s history. A slow decline down the table eventually saw the Narodnaya komanda take the drop in 1976, still their only relegation to date.
They immediately bounced by winning the Soviet First League the following season, and after rebounding, head coach Konstantin Beskov revitalised the club with a wave of youth talent, which took them all the way to a title in 1979. It was a big upset, but what can only be described as a terribly frustrating period followed as the Narodnaya komanda finished in second or third for seven straight years before finally reaching the pinnacle again in 1987 and 1989.
But, eventually, internal issues brought the club off of cloud nine, and president Oleg Romantsev — who had led the club to the pinnacle for the decade — offloaded his stock in the company and left, which was the last straw for the empire. Spartak has come agonizingly close since, finishing runners-up in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2012 but have yet to make their way back to the top.
Now, however, there is a changing of the guard within the club, and Spartak have a serious chance to break their dry spell. Thanks to a recent run of four wins, which included a pair over last year's top two teams, Rostov and CSKA Moscow, Spartak have bolted to the top of the table and currently sit three points clear of Zenit. The winter break and the league's half way point, are just two matches away, but both with be massive for Spartak, who line up against sixth-place Amkar before travelling to third-place Terek Grozny. Though a loss at this point of the season is far from devastating, if Spartak can get at least four points out of the games, they will guranteed of first place and an edge over the rest of the league heading into the winter break.
Considering the way the club is coming together, as well, it has a great chance to do so. The main men up top are 25-year-old Cape Verdean Ze Luis and 24-year-old Dutchman Quincy Promes, who have each tallied five times in the league and combined for nine assists. They are supported in the midfield by another sub-25-year-old, Georgian Jano Ananidze, who adds to the depth of international diversity that Spartak has picked up.
There’s no doubt that Spartak Moscow are a long way from the title, but they have put themselves in one of the best positions at this point in recent history. The challengers will come, but the only Russian powerhouse near them at this point is Zenit, so the chance is certainly there to be taken. And, after already being knocked out of the Cup and not having European play, the focus is solely on the league, so don’t expect the Narodnaya komanda to be going anywhere anytime soon.