Crowning glory: Russian champions Spartak presented with 1st league trophy since 2001

Crowning glory: Russian champions Spartak presented with 1st league trophy since 2001
Spartak Moscow finally seized the elusive Russian Premier League (RPL) trophy when they were crowned 2016/17 champions after their game against Terek Grozny on Wednesday night, atoning for a 16-year wait for a Russian title.

Spartak were already champions before the match. Wednesday’s opponent Terek made Spartak’s 10-point league lead unassailable when they beat Zenit St. Petersburg on May 7 – meaning the only thing left was for Spartak to be ceremonially presented the trophy at their next home game.

Fans flocked to Otkrytie Arena in high spirits, eager to see Russia’s most successful club – who last became champions in 2001 when the iconic Oleg Romantsev led the Red-and-Whites to glory in the Russian Premier Division – finally end their title drought.

Perhaps they were drawn by the news that the club would allow fans onto the pitch upon the final whistle, granting them the opportunity to celebrate with their heroes. A capacity crowd of 43,602 created a carnival atmosphere inside the ground, where a feeling of relief and realization hung in the air.

Spartak fans raised two exquisitely made banners, for which they are famous, before the kickoff.

Behind one goal, Spartak’s “Fratria” ultras group raised a design of a grinning cartoon Spartak fan clutching the league title in front of a club crest mosaic. It was saluted at the other end by a portrait of deceased club founder Nikolai Starostin, above the words: “He sees everything.”

If Spartak’s fans’ words are true, Starostin would have seen a 3-0 home victory coming by virtue of two goals from captain Denis Glushakov and one from Dutch hitman Quincy Promes. The latter has scored 11 league goals this season.

When the news broke that Spartak had officially become champions, Glushakov filmed himself climbing a fence outside Otkrytie Arena clutching a guitar and a hefty carafe of mystery liquid that he described only as a “wonder-drink” from his hometown of Millerovo.

Perhaps he, the leader of the team, reveled most of all in the party atmosphere at the home of the new champions on Wednesday night. It was his hands that lifted the RPL trophy to end an arduous 16-year barren spell.

At half-time, Spartak fans revealed further banners. Where the face of Nikolai Starostin had been hoisted up now stood a mock-periodic table with the message: “The Periodic Table of Spartak’s Championship.”

Greeting it at the other end was manager Massimo Carrera mixing chemicals in a lab coat, where the initials for each player in Spartak’s starting eleven made the gold chemical symbol “AU,” with the words “The Formula of Success.”

The Italian has been less “mad professor” and more “genius” for Spartak since taking over as boss early this season. Carrera took charge when former player Dmitry Alenichev stepped down after Spartak crashed out of the Europa League qualifying stage to Cypriot minnows AEK Larnaca in August.

Since settling into Spartak’s white-hot hot seat, the charismatic and endearing Carrera has galvanized the team and guided the once struggling side and turned them into the best team in Russia.

Despite his job being one of the most high-pressure in Europe, it is perhaps not surprising that Carrera has carved a path to glory since Spartak. A former player with Juventus, Carrera cut his coaching teeth alongside one-time teammate Antonio Conte at his former club before the pair took charge of the Italian national team.

Carrera joined the Spartak setup last year when Conte took the reins of Chelsea, whom he took to English Premier League success this year.

Perhaps the mutual admiration between manager and player was demonstrated most explicitly when each Spartak player rushed over to celebrate Glushakov’s second goal with Carrera, who was mobbed by the team as he ran onto the pitch.

However, that gathering was dwarfed by the bedlam that ensued following the final whistle. Fans fully aware of the club statement to permit fans to enter the pitch gathered in anticipation behind both goals in the final seconds.

When the whistle was blown, a flood of red and white cascaded onto the playing area. The result meant joy bubbled over into disarray as both sets of goalposts were snapped into parts and carried off as trophies.

The ceremony itself was delayed significantly by fans overzealously attempting to get as close as possible to where their heroes would walk to collect the trophy, ignoring pleas from stadium management and even the leader of Fratria himself.

When the ceremony finally got under way, the Spartak players once again went onto the pitch draped in flags of their home nations and with megaphones, all assembling on the specially constructed stage in the middle of the pitch.

Then came Carrera to the wild roars of the crowd and soon after him the Premier League trophy. It was handed to captain Glushakov, who, in holding it aloft, broke the hoodoo of Spartak’s league drought and allayed the fears of those wondering if Spartak would win a title in their lifetime.

Queen’s “We are the Champions” serenaded the players off the pitch, leaving fans to enjoy fireworks in the cool Moscow air. Finally, their team were champions. Spartak were crowned exactly one month before the start of the FIFA 2017 Confederations Cup – which will be held in Russia from June 17 to July 2 – and in a stadium which will host the tournament’s Moscow matches.

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Those in attendance to watch Spartak’s enthroning as Russian rulers will be hoping the national team can achieve similar success there in the upcoming tournament. But for now, the capital and the crown belong to Spartak.