With the winter transfer window well upon Daniil, he wasn’t looking to make drastic changes to his squad. Hopeful of keeping his prized attacking talents, Daniil knew that he needed to add depth behind the front lines, depending on transfer activity.
Interest was heating up in defenders Sven Botman & Alexandr Silyanov, with CSKA lodging a pitiful offer of £1.5 million for the Russian full-back. Meanwhile, Cagliari tested the waters with a £5 million offer for Serbian Jakša Jevtović, but that was well short of both his release clause and Daniil’s valuation of the winger. Arsenal was monitoring Sayouba Bougouhi, but no offer materialised for the young Ivorian much to Daniil’s delight. However, Daniil did manage to play an ace from his sleeve.
Eduardo Camavinga was signed from Real Madrid for just over £10 million, with Real Madrid paying £155K of his wages until the summer. Bringing a player in with this sort of reputation was massive for Daniil, and perhaps the push needed in the middle of the park to drive the team forward. The French midfielder was already an upgrade on Daniil Utkin, and whilst Daniil Fomin was ageing, he still looked a better option over Ruslan Litvinov.
With the arrival of Camavinga, Daniil felt better prepared for the final 11 games of the season. And with Zenit and Dinamo leading the pack, along with Krasnodar closing in, it was going to be a massive push till the end of the season.
Russian Premier League
Daniil knew that the chances of Zenit and Dinamo both slipping up were going to be slim; both were domestic machines capable of churning out results when it mattered the most – exactly what Kazan had to strive towards. Daniil had one eye on his leaders’ fixtures to see where potential banana skins lay for the two clubs:
- Kazan still had Dinamo & Krasnodar to play
- Dinamo had still to play Zenit & Krasnodar on the final day of the season
- Zenit had to travel to Moscow for their reverse fixture with Dinamo.
With the chances looking so slim and having the harder run-in, Daniil was refusing to give up hope on the league title and would ensure that this would go to the death. One defeat somewhere could see nerves creep in for either Zenit and Dinamo, whereas Daniil knew that any slip-ups of his own, would see him out of the running for yet another year.
Yet that was out of his control. All Daniil could do at this point was continue to win games and keep their momentum going. March was emphatically dealt with. Dinamo travelled to the Kazan Arena with confidence behind their sails following the 5-3 victory earlier in the season. However, it was not to be that way this time around, as Daniil’s Kazan played a masterclass and swept aside the league chasers 5-2, before following up with a 5-0 and 3-0 victory over Orenburg and Yenisey to round off the month. 3 games down, 3 wins for Kazan. That Dinamo defeat gave Kazan the psychological advantage, and to make things sweeter in March, Dinamo defeated Zenit – just two points separated the top three teams.
Kazan continued their fine run into April as well, with a nervy victory in Kaliningrad to kick things off, soon followed by a sweeping of Akhmat (4-1) and Spartak Moscow (5-1). However, there was a massive result in April that may have seen the Zenit wheels begin to shake, but they managed to regain some composure and avoid any potential fallout. Kazan then went to end the month in the capital against CSKA Moscow, whilst Zenit took on Spartak Moscow the following day, and Dinamo travelled to Akhmat.
Daniil knew that this was a massive opportunity to pile on the pressure onto Zenit and Dinamo, as they played away to European chasers CSKA Moscow, but his young side couldn’t see the job over the line. Despite Velásquez giving Kazan the lead in the 7th minute, they were pegged back in the 83rd minute. Just as all hope looked lost, the young Colombian popped up with what seemed to be a 91st-minute winner; CSKA had other ideas and tied the game with the last kick of the game. 2-2. A real gut-wrenching feeling as Daniil slumped back into his seat on the dug-out. The CSKA fans chanting “it’s happened again”. It was the darkest moment of the season, and one of the darkest moments of Daniil’s managerial career.
Knowing that Zenit and Dinamo were expected to win their respective matches the following day, Daniil was avoiding his phone. He didn’t want to know that his rivals had cemented their places as the top two in Russia. However, in passing the canteen, the news team were reading out the results from that day.
Akhmat 0 Dinamo Moscow 1
Spartak Moscow 2 Zenit St Petersburg 2
Someone was looking out for Daniil on that day. Granted he had conceded ground to Dinamo, but knowing that his side was still in with a chance, a slim one at that, he was refusing to give up belief just yet.
It truly was the last dance come May. Daniil knew that he had used his last lifeline when Zenit dropped points, and although the odds were against Kazan and Zenit, there was a chance. Kazan was sitting 2 points behind the two teams, and as long as he could apply pressure, then he was doing his job.
Firstly, Daniil had to see off Lokomotiv Moscow, and following their shock 2-1 defeat in Moscow, it was a massive game. Thankfully for Daniil, the game was out of sight at half-time, as Kazan raced 3 goals ahead, and then rounded the game off with a 4th goal moments before the end of the game. Rubin Kazan 4 Lokomotiv Moscow 0. Zenit 2 Akhmat 1. Dinamo 2 CSKA 0. No ground slipped, Daniil moved onto the following week just as confident in his players’ abilities.
A tricky game away to Rostov who had an outside chance of a European spot, Daniil knew a result here would be massive. It wasn’t a pretty game, nor was it easy, but Velásquez grabbed the only goal of the game to ensure 3 points went back to Kazan. Lokomotiv 0 Dinamo 3. Zenit 1 CSKA 2.
A massive result was coming in from St Petersburg as Zenit fell apart in the second half to CSKA. A sole point behind Kazan now, it looked as though it was going to be an old-western style shootout between Kazan and Dinamo. Kazan had arguably the easier final two games; hosting Krasnodar before ending the season with Ural who just avoided the relegation playoff, Dinamo hosted Rostov, who narrowly missed out on Europe, and travelled to Krasnodar on the last day.
Daniil was playing down expectations to his players, much to the disappointment of a select few, but he knew that this was out of their hands. On Saturday, Zenit ran out 4-0 victors over Lokomotiv to give themselves the slightest of chances on the final day, whilst on Sunday, Dinamo slumped to a 1-0 defeat against Rostov in Moscow. There was a buzz around the Kazan Arena come the Monday evening for the game against Krasnodar, but there was uncertainty in the air due to the defeat earlier in the season. However, when it came to the game, Krasnodar was blown aside. 3-0 up inside an hour and a missed penalty. Daniil was delighted with the reaction of his boys following the earlier defeat to Krasnodar, but it wasn’t going to be plain sailing as Krasnodar flung everything at Kazan and grabbed a goal with time left on the clock. Thankfully, Botnar’ ensured he wouldn’t concede again and Kazan ran out 3-1 victors. The biggest result in Daniil’s career, as Kazan moved to the summit of the table by a point.
It came down to this.
Knowing that Kazan’s fate was in his own hands, Daniil elected to ask some players to play through the pain barrier. It had been a long season, and the players had given their all to get to this stage, Daniil felt guilty in asking this of them. But his key men all took it upon themselves to see this job out. And boy did his players rise to the occasion. Kazan were 2-0 up inside 15 minutes to signal the changing of the guard in Russia. Daniil had ended the dominance of the oil company and the bank. Kazan had their first title in 21 years.
The one competition that seemed to elude Daniil returned after the winter break, and Daniil was keen to tick this one off his list of wanted silverware. A tie away to Ural awaited Kazan following their 5-2 victory over Dinamo Moscow, and it wasn’t as plain sailing as Daniil thought it was going to be. Despite taking the lead twice, Ural found a way back, and with 20 minutes to go, Kazan couldn’t find the breakthrough for a third to avoid an unwanted penalty shootout. It was cagey, it was nervy, but Kazan did proceed to the next round 7-6 on penalties, where Zenit was waiting for them.
Yet to get the better of Zenit in his time as Kazan manager, Daniil knew that one-off games could go either way and was refusing to bite to the media’s attempts to get a headline. Home advantage was going to be crucial, and Kazan took full advantage of this in the second half, going 3-0 up with goes from Fomin, Gajović and Girón in the second half. Girón’s goal came with only 12 minutes left on the clock, and just as Daniil thought there was no way back for Zenit, they managed to grab two goals in two minutes to make Daniil have kittens for the final few moments, but his team held strong and progressed to the Semi-Finals; with one less favourite to worry about. It was a huge result for Kazan and a result that planted the seeds of doubt in Zenit’s mind.
Spartak Moscow was yet to get the better of Daniil this season, and with uncertainty following their manager’s future, Daniil knew that this was something to take advantage of. A quick-fire double from Gajović and Ramírez at the end of the first half gave Spartak a mountain to climb in the second half, and they were picked off as they chased the game, as Sergey Zaryadkin sealed the game. Another win since coming back from the winter break, and this one set up a mammoth final clash with Dinamo Moscow.
With the Russian Cup final being held at the Kazan Arena, Daniil was delighted to be in a familiar setting for such a big occasion; Kazan had won the last 3 home games against Dinamo, it could be the difference by the time the final whistle comes. However, there were a couple of factors to consider. Dinamo was coming on the back of heartbreak on the final day, and Kazan had to be ready for the backlash from Sandro Schwarz side. Velásquez and Girón would miss the final due to international commitments; both major talismans this season for Daniil.
Gajović gave Daniil the perfect start on 14 minutes, but top-scorer Luis Suárez hit back immediately to swing the momentum in favour of Dinamo. Kazan had to weather the storm for large parts of the half, and just as half-time approached, Alexey Babushkin gave Dinamo that second goal they were searching for to take control of the final.
A deafening silence fell upon the dressing room during the interval. To concede so close to half-time in a final was a big blow. It had been a long season and perhaps the celebrations the week previously went a bit further than initially planned. Daniil had to try and jeer his boys up, a goal changes this tie completely, it was a case of being bold on the ball and willing to take a bit more risk in the final third. Although the task seemed a bit daunting, it was not impossible in Daniil’s eyes.
Kazan piled on the pressure to the Dinamo defence, but they wouldn’t budge at all. No matter what Kazan flung at the league runners-up, they stood firm and happy enough to invite the pressure; a rookie mistake. Daniil decided that the game needed an injection of pace, and in sacrificing Renato Ramírez and Dragan Gajović for Jakša Jevotić and Matheus Eduardo respectively, it was really all or nothing.
With 20 minutes remaining on the clock, Kazan gave the game one last push, and eventually, the breakthrough came through with 5 minutes remaining. Tricky footwork from young Matheus Eduardo freed up 5 yards of space, and his final ball was inch-perfect into the path of Sergey Zaradkin. The young Russian striker didn’t need an invitation to hit that ball first-time and he thumped it past the goalkeeper to bring the game back level. A massive goal in the grand scheme of things, just when it looked like heartbreak was going to repeat itself again.
Neither team could create anything clear-cut with the final few minutes and the game went to penalties. A complete lottery at this point, Daniil was delighted that his young team managed to claw their way back into the game, but now felt the cup was there for the taking. Dinamo was taking the first penalty, which was a massive mental advantage, but the youthful Kazan shone through times of adversity and went on to win 4-3 in sudden death; Utkin missed the second penalty, whilst Đilas missed the deciding penalty before the shootout went to penalties. Camavinga then kept his cool following Ampadu missing the first sudden-death penalty, and Daniil couldn’t help but think this was a poetic moment in two ways. Camavinga was brought in to take the team to the next level and played a major role in two trophy presentations for Kazan. The final was decided on penalties following a 2-2 draw, much like Kazan’s first game in the cup this season.
Daniil retired back to his flat for a quiet couple of days. It had been a mad couple of weeks for himself and everyone connected to the club. The city of Kazan was finally rewarded for their loyal support over the years with a domestic double, and finally, put an end to the cup drought they were used to.
Daniil couldn’t go out in the public eye too often without being swarmed by the Kazan fans, and it was no wonder. He was a legend in many fans’ eyes. Since his appointment, Kazan had a team to be proud of once again, but Daniil was no stranger to the world of football. He knew that it was going to be difficult to keep a number of his players at the club during the summer, especially with it being the 2030 World Cup in Spain – should they perform on the international stage as well, teams were bound to come calling.
As the city of Kazan looks to wind down from domestic matters and focus on the World Cup, Daniil and his team were preparing for another 4 weeks of extensive work. Recruitment was going to be vital as Kazan would be competing in the Champions League once again and the Russian Super Cup is up for grabs; another trophy to tick off his list. The bar was set as to what the standards should be going forward, can Daniil get his players to replicate those standards?