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Who are Zenit?

By Tom Fordyce

You're clearly aware that they're playing Rangers in Wednesday night's Uefa Cup final - but there's a good chance you've also got a substantial Zenit-sized gap in your football knowledge.

Let us fill that hole without further ado.

THE EARLY YEARS

The name FC Zenit was first used in 1940, but the club had its roots in several earlier teams, including Murzinka and the Leningrad Metal Works team founded in 1925.

Zenit St Petersburg fans
Zenit fans in full voice after their Uefa Cup semi-final win
As FC Zenit Leningrad, they won their first honour in 1944 - the USSR Cup - after beating CDKA, but then went into a prolonged slump.

They failed to challenge for honours in the Soviet League and should have been relegated in 1967 when they finished bottom of the top division.

However, because that year marked the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution, which had begun in St Petersburg, they were spared relegation. The league simply extended the number of teams in the division instead.

The very first football match held in Russia was also staged in St Petersburg, between a local English team and local Russian side in 1897. The English team won 6-0.

THE GOOD TIMES

Zenit's luck began to change at the start of the 1980s. Owned by the company which makes Lomo cameras, they finished third in the league in 1980, won the USSR Championship in 1984 and won the Soviet Super Cup in 1985.

Renamed FC Zenit St Petersburg in 1991, they bounced back from relegation in 1992 and won the Russian Cup in 1999. They were league runners-up in 2003 and won the League Cup in the same season.

Their second league title came in 2007, which means they will play in the Champions League next season. It was the first time a team from outside Moscow had won the Russian championship since 1995.

THE WEALTHY BACKERS

"Wealthy" doesn't quite do Zenit's owners Gazprom justice. The company is the fourth largest in the world, with a market value of $354 billion (180 billion) in December 2007.

Gazprom is the largest extractor of natural gas in the world, and ranks behind only Saudi Arabia and Iran as the world's biggest owner of oil and oil equivalent in natural gas. If its chairman's predictions are accurate, it will be worth $1 trillion (510 billion) in 10 years time and be the world's largest corporation.

Gazprom has invested an estimated $100m (51m) in Zenit since taking a controlling stake in December 2005. Its enormous wealth also gives it huge political clout in Russia and large areas of Europe.

It also has an indirect connection to English football too - in September 2005 it paid Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and his business partner $13bn (6.5 billion) for their stake in the Sibneft oil company.

THE EXPERIENCED MANAGER

Dick Advocaat, a Dutch coaching itinerant like compatriots Louis van Gaal and Guus Hiddink, has managed 10 different teams in seven countries in his 27-year managerial career.

Dick Advocaat
Advocaat is one of the most experienced managers in world football

In two spells as Holland coach he led them to the quarter-finals of the 1994 World Cup and the semi-finals of the 2004 European Championships, and he coached South Korea at the last World Cup.

In his four-year spell as Rangers boss he won two league titles and three domestic cups, pleasing fans by introducing a silky style of passing football but angering others with his extravagant transfer dealings - not least in paying 12m for Tore Andre Flo.

As Zenit manager he became the first foreign coach to win the Russian championship, for which he was rewarded with a $4m a year contract extension. Unsurprisingly that led to him turning down a deal to manage Australia despite having previously agreed to join them.

He has gone on record as saying that his favourite singer is Michael Bolton.

THE GROUND

Zenit play their home matches at the 21,725-capacity Petrovsky stadium, which sits on a small island in the Malaya Neva river.

They used to played their home games at the Kirov Stadium until it was demolished last year to make way for their new 60,000-seater stadium, which is being bankrolled by owners Gazprom.

THE FANS

Zenit's most high-profile supporter is new Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, who trained as a lawyer in the city and was once an assistant professor at St Petersburg State University.

According to some historians, composer Dmitri Shostakovich was also a huge Zenit fan who attended games on a regular basis.

They also have an impressive 16,000 season-ticket holders, which is almost three-quarters of their stadium's capacity.

Unfortunately the club also have a hard core of racists among their supporters. Zenit are the only club in Russia never to have signed a black player, and their fans were accused of racist taunts during the Uefa Cup win over Marseille earlier this season.

Marseille defender Ronald Zubar said: "They threw a banana at us and made monkey sounds."

Manager Dick Advocaat has even admitted that the fans' attitude has affected his transfer policy.

"The problem is our fans," he says. "I would be happy to sign anyone but the fans don't like black players.

"I don't understand how they could pay so much attention to skin colour. For me, there's no difference between white, black or red.

"But the fans are the most important thing Zenit have. That's why, in future, I have to ask them outright how they'll react if we sign a dark-skinned player.

"If the fans don't agree with me, I won't do it. I won't buy a player who won't be accepted by the fans."

THE PLAYING STARS

Zenit's most exciting current player is Andrei Arshavin, a gifted playmaker who scored a brilliant goal in the quarter-final win over Bayer Leverkusen.

They also have the tournament's top scorer in Pavel Pogrebnyak, but the striker misses out on the final after picking up a third tournament booking in the second leg of the semi-final.

In his absence much will be expected of Turkish star Fatih Tekke and Alejandro Dominguez.

Under Advocaat, Zenit tend to line up with a 4-3-3 formation, and so far in Europe have relied upon a counter-attacking game to get them through.

Zenit's most famous former son is Oleg Salenko, the only player to have scored five goals in a World Cup finals match. Salenko also spent six months at Rangers in 1994.

Two ex-Zenit players have played in the Premier League this season - Liverpool's Slovakian defender Martin Skrtel, and Norwegian defender Erik Hagen for Wigan.




see also
Uefa Cup final tactics
14 May 08 |  Europe
Smith urging Rangers final push
13 May 08 |  Rangers
Zenit St Petersburg v Rangers
12 May 08 |  Europe
Zenit aim to rattle Gers defence
13 May 08 |  Rangers
Hateley backing Smith's approach
12 May 08 |  Rangers
Racism warning for Zenit support
12 May 08 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West
Rangers convoy hits road to final
13 May 08 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West
Rangers player profiles
13 May 08 |  Rangers
Advocaat's Rangers legacy
13 May 08 |  Rangers


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