Why everything points to Zenit coach Spalletti landing Chelsea job
Russia's RT sports anchor Kate Partridge reveals how the local media is buzzing with talk of Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti making the move to Chelsea.
There has been widespread coverage in the Russian media about the Spalletti link, picking up on Italian reports claiming he's on owner Roman Abramovich's list of candidates to succeed interim manager, Rafael Benitez.
At the beginning of December, the Russia media again picked up on a story in Italy, where Spalletti reportedly said: "I don't think about how I can get back to working at home in Italy. I have a contract with Zenit, whose president loves the club and the city. Though I can say for sure that, in the future, I would like to work in the Premier League. But, for now, I'm only thinking about Zenit".
But it must be mentioned that Spalletti does not speak English, a fact that has not traditionally been well received in England.
Spalletti is also unable to speak Russian, though this has not stopped him from winning two consecutive Russian championships. And when talking Chelsea and Abramovich, one ace up Spalletti's sleeve is the complete backing of Alexei Miller, the CEO of sponsors and gas giant, Gazprom. The mercurial and influential executive backed the Italian during the Igor Denisov pay row, and is the Italian's strongest ally.
Following the "surprise" record signings of Hulk and Axel Witsel, captain Denisov threatened to go on a pay strike. Indeed, Spalletti has had to manage a series controversies during his time at Zenit.
There was the matter of the "fake bomb" left for Hulk at Zenit's training ground, alleged bust-ups with Hulk and Witsel, and the uproar instigated by the "Selection 12" fans' letter apparently calling for no black and gay players at Zenit. There was also the fall-out after the club was handed a 3-0 technical defeat to Dynamo Moscow, and made to play three home games behind closed doors, after a flare thrown from the crowd injured Dynamo goalkeeper, Anton Shunin.
His tactics would suit the modern-day Premier League.
Spalletti's favoured formation is the 4-2-3-1 "Christmas Tree" system, using four defenders, two defensive midfielders, two wingers, one attacking midfielder, and one striker - or another attacking midfielder - hence lone forward Aleksandr Kerzhakov is currently league top scorer with 10, while the second-highest Zenit goal scorers are both midfielders with just four.
A few years ago, the physicality and standard 4-4-2 or similar systems in the English Premier League could either have man-marked or exhausted an isolated striker out of the game. However, now top teams such as Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal employ a similar system to Spalletti, though with two defenders playing deep to allow their full-backs to go forward.
There is no wide perception that Spalletti will leave Zenit this summer, though the Abramovich connection could make this a possibility.
Italian coaches have known particular success and are viewed with fondness at Chelsea. Gianluca Vialli won five trophies in three years at Stamford Bridge. Claudio Ranieri took the Blues to second in the league and the last four of the Champions League. Ancelotti won the double in his first season in charge. And Roberto di Matteo won the FA Cup and the Blues' first ever Champions League crown last season.
Should Spalletti succeed the increasingly unpopular Benitez this summer, he might well receive a warm if surprised reception.
Though I think it would be even warmer if he quickly improved his English.