In 1954, at the Ryazan Oblast, almost 120 miles southwest from Moscow, the most brilliant Russian head coach of all time was born.
As a boy Oleg Romantsev experienced some rough times living with just his mother, his brother and sister after his father abandoned them. However, that young boy, who was passionate about trains and railways, found the escape to counter those hard times in football, thus becoming the most successful Russian head coach ever.
After an interesting career as a footballer, where he spearheaded, among others, the Spartak Moscow team for four years, Romantsev hung up his boots in 1983 and in the following year he started to work as a head coach at FC Krasnaya Presnya, a club that was intimately connected with the roots of Spartak Moscow. After a short spell at Alania Vladikavkaz, formerly known as Spartak Ordzhonikidze, in 1989 Romantsev arrived at the club that he would transform into one of the most impressive European teams during the early 1990s.
Oleg Romantsev has an impressive curriculum at the helm of the Moscow club. He won one Soviet League, eight Russian Leagues, one Soviet Cup, three Russian Cups, several CIS Cups and he reached the semi-finals of the European Champions Clubs’ Cup (or the European Cup – both former names of the UEFA Champions League), of the UEFA Cup and of the Cup Winners’ Cup.
Probably his major international achievement was reaching the European Cup semi-finals in 1990-91. Spartak Moscow was defeated by the then super strong Marseille after losing both matches against the French team, first at the Central Lenin Stadium and two weeks after at the Stade Vélodrome. However, being defeated in the semi-final by Marseille did not decrease the greatness of what Spartak Moscow achieved in that competition.
The Russian team literally thrashed Real Madrid CF at Santiago Bernabéu (1-3) with two goals from the iconic Russian forward Dmitri Radchenko and another one from Valeri Shmarov. In the second round of that year’s competition, Spartak had also defeated Diego Maradona’s Napoli on penalty shootout.
It was a brilliant campaign from Spartak Moscow and despite the fact of having a quality team of young and experienced Russian footballers (such as Alexander Mostovoi, Igor Shalimov, Dmitri Radchenko, Valery Karpin, and Valeri Shmarov) the man responsible for that unexpected and sudden success was undoubtedly Oleg Romantsev. His short passing and quick thinking football style, quite similar to the tiki-taka style that people today venerate, astonished Europe and a team composed by unknown footballers to the Western world proved that when you combine the talent of the players with the mastership of a hard-working head coach, almost no one can stop a team.
The charismatic Russian head coach stayed with Spartak Moscow until 2003 and since then the Narodnaya komanda (The People’s Team) have failed to win a single domestic competition. Romantsev’s returned to Spartak in 2009 to work as Valeri Karpin’s advisor/consultant after two uninteresting and unsuccessful stints as Dynamo Moscow’s and Saturn Ramenskoye’s head coach, but he left Spartak again when they appointed Unai Emery as head coach.
Oleg Romantsev’s contribution to the so-called modern football was enormous but his commitment toward work and the constant effort he put in everything caused him some behavioural and alcohol problems that eventually forced him to abandon his head coach career.
Currently, Romantsev seems to be recovered from the problems that have affected him several years ago and despite not being officially linked to Spartak Moscow, he keeps “advising” one of his former favourite boys and the current team’s manager, Valery Karpin.
When we talk about the great master minds behind football, the name Oleg Romantsev probably does not mean anything to a great deal of fans around the World, but he was definitely one of the most brilliant minds in football and his contribution to the game was indescribable.