Red Review: The curse of Dynamo strikes again

One of Russian football’s most recognisable names is that of Dynamo Moscow, the country’s oldest football club. The side was initially set up in 1897 as OKS Moscow for Muscovite factory workers but following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 were renamed Dynamo and placed under the authority of the Interior Ministry and the Soviet secret police force.

In the immediate years before and after the Second World War, Dynamo were the Soviet’s outstanding team, winning the first two Soviet Championships in 1936 and 1937 and earning scores more throughout the 1940s and ‘50s. The quality of that side was exploited as a propaganda tool of Soviet revival following the war, and they were dispatched on a trip to Britain in 1945 to play Glasgow Rangers, Cardiff City, Chelsea and Arsenal. With the Cold War just getting warm, the tour was internationally scrutinised and attracted a combined attendance of over a quarter of a million spectators. Dynamo returned home unbeaten, to a hero’s reception. However, since those halcyon days the ‘Policemen’ have enjoyed far fewer successes. The 1976 title was their eleventh and last, and although they have never been relegated from the top flight, the club have endured decades of bad form and worse luck, regularly spectacularly underachieving against high expectation. The prolonged absence of a title only fuels this desperation to end that drought – desperation that invariably turns to humiliation, as amongst the Russian footballing fraternity, the cub are a parodied figure, a source of amusement and mockery.

In an attempt to end the post-perestroika dominance of city rivals CSKA and Spartak, Dynamo were bought in 2005 by billionaire oligarch Alexei Fedorychev, who promptly pumped in over £100m to elevate Dynamo to the top of the domestic game. The side were repeatedly referred to as the ‘Russian Chelsea’ as Fedorychev’s generous funding lured a host of top players to the capital. In 2005 no fewer than nine Portuguese players arrived in Moscow, including Costinha, Maniche and Derlei – fresh from winning the Champions League with Porto. A Brazilian coach, Ivo Wortman, was also hired to break the language barrier, but unsurprisingly this masterplan backfired, the team finished eighth and the Portuguese contingent jumped ship. The season later, Russian internationals Alexei Smertin and Sergei Ovchinnikov were purchased along with former national coach Yuri Syomin, but things got worse as they crawled home a couple of spots above relegation. Syomin was sacked and departed the club with an ominous warning, saying: “an evil fate hangs over this club.

Far from being a bitter parting shot, it is a widespread belief in this superstitious land that the club are actually cursed, their poor fortunes a repayment from the dark side for past sins, or more accurately, those of the clubs former overlord, Laverenty Beria – head of the notorious Cheka, forerunner to the KGB. During Dynamo’s glory days, Beria regularly abused his power to rig games, ordering players and referees to succumb to Dynamo, even imprisoning those audacious enough not to obey his commands. Beria was known to have a penchant for rape and murder – local legend has it Dynamo’s executive boxes were used as torture chambers and that many anti-soviet dissidents were killed at the Dynamo Stadium. When Beria’s former home in Moscow was being renovated recently, body parts were found under the floors, in walls, chambers and gardens. Following Joseph Stalin’s death, Beria launched a campaign to become head of the state but was defeated by Nikita Khrushchev, who then executed him for a host of misdemeanours.

Cynical observers may suggest that Dynamo’s failings have more to do with serial mismanagement and a haphazard transfer approach than a spiritual comeuppance for the actions of Beria, but nonetheless, once again this term the team are already way off the title pacesetters, languishing in fourteenth. Indeed, all had started promisingly. For once, the club took an astute recruitment policy, raiding the now defunct FC Moscow to sign four of their best players and added ex-Liverpool striker Andriy Voronin and national midfielder Igor Semshov to their ranks. An opening day win at Spartak and a credible draw away at CSKA in the first two matches once again harboured hope this could be ‘their year’, but things have gone familiarly awry since, picking up just one point in the last three rounds – that, a bore draw last week at home to Siberian outfit Tom Tomsk.

Surprise package Spartak Nalchik still head the table after earning a point at Champions Rubin, whilst CSKA and Zenit are climbing ominously up the ladder, sitting in third and fourth respectively, having played a game less than everyone else when their cash was called off in the wake of the Moscow bombings. Crisis club Krylya Sovetov – playing despite huge unpaid debts which have decimated their squad – recorded their first win over Saturn, who are yet to pick up three points. Stranded at the bottom of the pile are Sibir Novosibirsk who were hammered once again, this time by Anzhi Makhachkala. This weekend’s key fixture was yet another Moscow derby, CSKA versus Lokomotiv – the game finished 1-1, a late Oleg Kuzman goal rescuing a point for the visitors.

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