It is a classic sporting rags to riches story.
Two years ago Rubin Kazan won the Russian championship, only the third non-Moscow team to do so, and the following year successfully defended their title.
In just 11 years they have made their way from a team fighting against relegation from the Russian third division to the very top of the national football league.
Now they are aiming for international fame. Two years in a row Rubin have played in the Champions League. The knock-out stages are out of reach this year, but that will be the target for next season.
Alexander Gusev, Rubin’s president, said: “This year we’ve done a good job on the transfer market. Unfortunately it did not have a significant impact on the team results as yet. We need more time.”
This summer Rubin lost several key players to their main national rivals, but tried to compensate by spending 43 million euros on the transfer market, thus becoming the fifth biggest spending European team.
Among others Italian international Salvatore Boccetti was bought from Genoa, Brazilian international Carlos Eduardo from Hoffenheim and Nigeria international Obafemi Martins from Wolfsburg.
“I was at the World Cup when they called me. And I said I’m interested. I watched them a couple of times when they played. And I only came here because they have a good team, good players. That’s the only reason why I came here,” says Martins.
Rubin will again play Barcelona on 7th December. The Kazans may have lost their chances of going into the last 16 of the competition, but a repeat of last year’s win at the Camp Nou will add to the team’s reputation. They have not lost in three outings against the Catalan giants.
Alexander Ryazantsev, who plays in the midfield said: “Maybe they really started to take us more seriously in Europe after last season, but to gain their respect we should play on a good level for at least several seasons”.
The only current Rubin player who was in the team while they were still playing in the second division is a veteran defender who is now the captain Roman Sharonov, who played his first game for Kazan more than 10 years ago.
For him the difference between then and now is enormous: “You can hardly even compare the Rubin when I started and the team where I am at now. Then the team played in the second division, now we are in the Champions League”.
Rubin has the sixth biggest budget in the Russian Premier League – way off the leaders Zenit – but competitive enough with the likes of Spartak, Dynamo, CSKA and Lokomotiv.
“You cannot possibly overestimate the significance of the team to the city and the whole of Tatarstan. Bearing this in mind we also – I’m not saying we forced ourselves on the club – we also decided to play our part in the development of sports in the republic of Tatarstan,” says one of the club’s two main sponsors, Albert Shigabutinov, boss of communications company TAIF.
Money, good players, state support – all these factors count heavily, but the main reason behind Rubin’s rise has a name – Kurban Berdyev.
“He is the team’s father… and mother,” says Sharanov.
Kurban Berdyev was named the team’s head coach in 2001. His team were promoted to the elite division the year after, and finished third in the league in 2003. Finally in 2008 they were crowned champions.
Many say that the team’s efficiency is a direct consequence of his status at the club, where, English-style, he is an all-mighty manager.
“Everything here, where we stand, is thanks to him. It was he who made this club. When I first arrived here there was hardly a half of what we have today,” says Ryazantsev.
Stability and gradual progress. That is how the team bosses approach the development of the club. This year the team took a minor step down, losing the Russian title to Zenit.
But next year they should again be among the main title contenders in the Russian championship and most likely will play the Champions League again, for the third consecutive time.
Who could have dreamt this in 1995, when the team missed relegation to the Russian fourth division by just one point?