Zenit St Petersburg yesterday named former Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur boss Andre Villas-Boas as their new manager, as the Russian side seek to break through into the top ranks of European soccer.
The club said in a statement that the 36-year-old Portuguese, who first made his name with Primeira Liga side Porto, will officially sign for Zenit tomorrow, taking over from Italian Luciano Spalletti, who was sacked last week.
Villas-Boas is to start his new job just a day after Zenit play Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League last-16, with the Russian club needing to overturn a 2-4 first-leg deficit. Caretaker manager Sergei Semak will head the team for that game.
Zenit’s owner, state-run Russian gas giant Gazprom, is looking beyond this season in signing Villas-Boas, as it seeks club glory on the European stage.
Spalletti achieved domestic success with Zenit, leading the St Petersburg side to two Russian league titles and delivering their first Russian Cup win in 11 years.
However, Gazprom lost patience with Spalletti’s failure to make a breakthrough in the Champions League after several big money signings.
The purchase of Brazilian star Hulk and Belgium’s Axel Witsel for a reported 100 million euros (US$139.25 million) — the biggest transfer buys ever in Russian soccer — has yet to transform the side into world beaters.
Villas-Boas will be looking to redeem himself at Zenit after his stints at Chelsea and Tottenham ended with him being fired, eroding his reputation as one of the world’s most promising young managers.
The Portuguese, a protege of Chelsea manager and compatriot Jose Mourinho, led Porto to an undefeated season in Liga Primeira, a Portuguese Cup and a UEFA Europa League title in his first season in charge. By doing so, Villas-Boas became the youngest manager ever to win a European competition at the age of 33.
The presence at Zenit of a strong Portuguese-speaking contingent may have been one of the reasons behind taking on Villas-Boas, who is expected to have common ground with compatriot players such as defender Luis Neto and midfielder Miguel Danny.
Hulk, who was one of the top players at Porto when Villas-Boas was at the helm, will also be able to communicate with the new boss in his native tongue.