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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gazzayev Basks in Glory of Cup Win

ReutersGazzayev is basking in his success.
Winning the UEFA Cup has quickly transformed CSKA Moscow coach Valery Gazzayev from villain to hero at home.

Gazzayev has been the toast of the town since leading the Army club to a 3-1 win over Portugal's Sporting in Lisbon a week ago, making CSKA the first Russian side to lift a European trophy.

Since returning home to Moscow, Gazzayev has been hailed a hero, a savior and even a saint by the overjoyed Russian media.

The win earned him praise from President Vladimir Putin, who lauded the coach for his leadership qualities, while politicians in his native Caucasus region are planning to name a street after him.

Life was not always so good for Gazzayev.

In September 1993, he quit as coach of Dynamo Moscow following a humiliating 6-0 home thrashing by Germany's Eintracht Frankfurt in a UEFA Cup first-round tie.

Three years later, under Gazzayev's guidance, Alania Vladikavkaz suffered a similar beating at the hands of Scotland's Rangers, going down 7-2 on aggregate in a Champions League qualifier.

The two results still rank as the worst defeats by Russian clubs in European competition. If they seem like distant memories now, Gazzayev's critics quickly point to his more recent failures both as CSKA's and Russia's national team coach.

His tenure as Russia manager lasted less than 12 months before he stormed out of the players' dressing room following a lackluster 2-1 home defeat by Israel in a friendly in August 2003.

That outburst came only a week after Gazzayev was savaged by the same Russian media that now hail him as "the greatest" after CSKA lost to modest Macedonian side Vardar Skopje in a Champions League qualifier despite spending millions of dollars on players.

"Gazzayev's coaching ideas burst like a soap bubble as [CSKA boss] Yevgeny Giner's millions of dollars were thrown away," said one headline in the local press.

Others read "Russian football has been given a slap in the face" and "Gazzayev is persona non grata," as the media called for his head.

The coach survived but was sacked a few months later despite leading CSKA to its first league title in more than a decade.

In November 2003, he was replaced by former Portugal manager Artur Jorge but was given another chance midway through the 2004 season when the Portuguese coach failed to inspire the team.

Gazzayev took his second chance well, steering CSKA to a runner-up spot in Russia last year and making a credible showing in his and the club's first Champions League appearances.

The Russians finished third in their first-round group behind Chelsea and then European champions Porto, which allowed them to enter the UEFA Cup.

The rest is history.

The 50-year-old coach says success has not changed him.

"It's hard to change at my age," he said.

Gazzayev admits, however, that he learned a great deal from his defeats and the criticism he received from the media.

"This [UEFA Cup] win means a lot to me," he said.

"I think I've proved my critics wrong, all those who doubted my ability to be a top coach," said the former Soviet striker, twiddling his beloved moustache.

"When you win almost all the honors at home you need a new challenge to keep you going. So this is definitely a new plateau in my career as a coach."

The Vladikavkaz-born Gazzayev had a respectable playing career that began in 1970 in his home town, then called Ordzhonikidze after a famous Georgian revolutionary.

After a three-year spell with a local side, the speedy forward moved to Rostov, then to Moscow where he played for Lokomotiv and Dynamo before taking up coaching. He retired with eight caps for the Soviet national team.

Gazzayev said it was symbolic that CSKA's victory came on the 30th anniversary of the country's first triumph in European club competition when Dynamo Kiev, led by the late Valery Lobanovsky, won the now defunct Cup Winners Cup in 1975.

"I felt it was very symbolic that Lobanovsky's widow called to congratulate me on our victory," Gazzayev said.

"It made me feel very proud indeed, proud of what we have achieved not only for this club but for Russian football."

He stopped short of comparing himself to Lobanovsky, widely regarded as the most successful coach in the former Soviet Union, who died in 2002 aged 63 after suffering a stroke during a Ukrainian league match.

The Ukrainian-born Lobanovsky won his second Cup Winners Cup with Dynamo Kiev in 1986 and led the team to the Champions League semifinals in 1999.

"Lobanovsky has been a legend for many generations of our players and coaches so there's still a long way to go to match his achievements," Gazzayev said.

"I just hope that winning the UEFA Cup will give fresh impetus to future generations of our youth to take up the game and be proud of their Russian football heritage."