Hiddink may be gone and results may be poor but there is still time for Anzhi to improve
Anzhi fans will not be happy with their team’s performances so far this season. After spending the most money out of all of the Russian clubs this summer, they would have expected their side to be sitting on top of the table, even at this early stage. This is not the case, and now Hiddink has resigned for no apparent reason, other than retirement. (Barcelona have appointed Gerardo Martino as head coach on a two-year deal.) Meulensteen is not the most convincing replacement for the majority of fans. Anzhi supporters could be forgiven for panicking, but they shouldn’t for these reasons:
Poor starts to the season can happen to great sides
Poor starts to the season can happen to any side. Look at the Russian Premier League this season. Most of the supposed title challengers have made poor starts, already dropping points. Spartak Moscow are the only side to have a 100% record. No one would have expected Amkar Perm to be 2nd in the RPL, with Zenit 9th.
Hiddink, when he left, released a statement, saying: “This decision was not easy for me, but I’ve always said that my mission at Anzhi could end when the club is able to develop and continue to grow by itself, without my participation.” He continued: “Now that time has come. I am convinced that a great future awaits the club and I am happy that I was a part of this vast football project.” This shows his confidence in his former side, and the positive impression that Anzhi made on him. Hiddink believes that Anzhi can turn things around.
Anzhi still have a great squad, especially going forward
Anzhi are widely regarded as having the best squad in the RPL. I don’t know a person who would disagree with the statement that Anzhi have the best attack in the league. Kokorin not being guaranteed a starting place, after he returns from his ban, best demonstrates this. The results have been bad, but this can be explained by the squad needing time to integrate. Anzhi fans need to understand that having made 5 signings this window, ‘gelling’ time is vital for the squad. The arriving players need to learn a new ethos, and their teammates’ styles. Once the squad becomes more united, the team will play much better as each player will have a complete understanding of the squad’s chemistry.
The bad results can be explained by Hiddink’s departure
The players could have known that Hiddink was considering resigning. This can be used to explain the poor start. The uncertainty around the club would have created a poor atmosphere at Anzhi. Players’ morale would have dropped, mainly due to them wondering whether they would get a first-team place under the new manager. The focus on games from the players would also have decreased, with the footballers focusing more on Hiddink. The Dutchman was a popular figure with the players at Anzhi, and thus the players will miss him. The shock of hearing Hiddink was leaving must also have hurt the players, considering they expected him to fulfil his recently signed contract. Now that the players know what is going on, and can deal with the loss of Hiddink, their performances will improve.
Complacency and poor fitness can also cause bad results
Anzhi players may have been over confident. The two bad games will have told them not to be, bringing them back to reality. In the long term, this will be a good thing. Players are also not as fit as they could be, at this stage of the season. As players’ fitness improves, performances will, with players able to run quicker and for longer.
It is better to lose now than at the end of the season
Losing now, when other big teams are losing, has much less of an impact on a title challenge than losing at the end of the season. Losing games at the end of the season often has a worse effect, due to other big teams being in good form. All of the games at the end of the season need to be won, either to put pressure on teams who are higher up in the table, or to maintain/increase a lead at the very top.
Meulensteen will be a good replacement, if given time
Anzhi announced that Meulensteen would replace Hiddink as head coach. Meulensteen does have limited experience as a head coach, after leading Danish side Brøndby IF. His time there ended in non-spectacular fashion, rejoining Manchester United 7 months later. However, Meulensteen has grown since his time in Denmark, and should be able to cope at Anzhi. He called Brøndby IF “a very sick patient requiring immediate attention”, blaming major infrastructural issues. Brøndby IF has since flirted with bankruptcy on numerous occasions. Meulensteen can’t really be blamed for his poor spell at Brøndby IF, as the club clearly was in disarray.
Meulensteen is a brilliant coach, and has a good eye for new players, especially young talent. (Check out this article for more on Meulensteen.) Perhaps he will need to bring in another, experienced Dutch assistant to help him become a better coach. Meulensteen will need to learn more to work effectively in Hiddink’s role of controlling nearly all club affairs. He will need to be given time, as he may struggle towards the beginning. This might be an issue for Anzhi, as results may take a while to improve. However, the appointment of Meulensteen suggests that Hiddink recommended him to the Anzhi hierarchy. Surely this is the case; otherwise Anzhi would have appointed a better known coach.
Anzhi can still win the RPL
Anzhi are still among the favourites to win the title. The odds on them winning the title, according to oddschecker, is 9/2. CSKA Moscow are tops at 9/4. Anzhi’s poor form can be turned around, and Meulensteen is a very underrated footballing genius. The really good news for the Anzhi faithful is that there is no real crisis going on at their beloved club. If Anzhi fans stay patient, they may still see their first-ever RPL title arrive in Dagestan.