Rotor Volgograd in the RPL: Esipov’s masterful goalscoring records, Fayzulin’s long managerial story

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We have looked back at the previous RPL seasons of Rotor Volgograd, who will play in the top flight for the first time since 2004.

Twelve years at the top: from medal positions to last place

In the year of the USSR’s collapse, Rotor won the First League championship, after which they became regular participants in the top level of Russian football. The 1990s were the most successful period in the history of the Volgograd club as they finished runners up in 1993 and 1997, came third in 1996 and played in the Russian Cup final in 1995, when they lost to Dynamo Moscow on penalties. Since 1995 to 1997 they got the achievements under the same manager - Viktor Prokopenko.

Rotor became famous in European competitions. In the first round of the 1995/96 UEFA Cup they knocked out Manchester United on away goals after holding the 1993/94 English champions to a goalless draw in Volgograd, before drawing 2-2 at Old Trafford in the return leg. Rotor also reached the final of the Intertoto Cup in 1996, but this time were on the other side of the away goals rule as they were knocked out by French side Guingamp.

Closer to the first season of the RPL, the team fell back to the middle of the table with 11th and 10th place finishes in 2000 and 2001 with the same number of points (32). In 2002, Rotor improved and finished ninth, with most of their points - 26 out of 38 - coming at their Centralny Stadium. Their average home attendance then was about 12,500, but then the figure fell to seven or eight thousand because of the results.

In 2003, before the last matchday, Rotor were among the relegation candidates. Vladimir Fayzulin's team could have finished below Torpedo-Metallurg Moscow and Uralan Elista, but they beat Krylia Sovetov Samara 1-0 at home and took 12th place. However, in 2004, it was Krylia Sovetov who prematurely relegated Rotor to the second tier. Since the end of April, the Rotor were bottom, and it was after losing 1-0 to Krylia on the penultimate matchday that they lost their chance to stay in the RPL. Their top-flight story is not dissimilar to that of Khimki, who played in the league from 2007 to 2009 - finishing 9th, 14th and 16th place with strong home form - and now they have returned from the FNL together with Rotor.

Rotor played their last RPL match at the Centralny on 12 November 2004 against Zenit and lost 5-2. Almost 16 years later, the team from Saint Petersburg will be their first opponents after their return. This time though, not only the teams but also the venue have completely changed; the 45,000-seater Volgograd Arena was built on the site of the old stadium for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Thanks to the new facility, Rotor have been the FNL leaders for attendance for the past two seasons, with more than 18,000 spectators on average per game.

Most memorable RPL match: Rotor 2-2 Lokomotiv Moscow (24 April 2004)

For the match against Lokomotiv, Rotor were led by their third manager in eight matchdays - Valery Yaremchenko. Vladimir Fayzulin, who had started the season, left his post for health reasons, while Yury Marushkin only took charge of the away match against Rostov, a 4-1 defeat. After seven matches, Rotor had fallen into the relegation zone, and Yury Semin’s Lokomotiv were chasing the top three.

Rotor conceded a quick goal after a break by Dmitry Sychev, but in the first half they responded with a double by Valery Esipov. The hosts’ captain converted two free kicks, the first of them almost from the centre circle. However, his side agonisingly missed out on a famous win in the sixth minute of added time, when Sychev scored a second from Dmitry Loskov's assist.

This draw left Rotor bottom of the table, where they remained until the end of the season, and Lokomotiv finished the season as champions. But along with Rubin Kazan, Rotor were the only side who managed not to lose to the champions; in September, they won 1-0 in Cherkizovo - their only away win that season - thanks to a goal from Spartak Gogniev in added time.

Set piece master and future winners in Europe

Valery Esipov is a legend of Rotor’s Russian history. He played for the team from his debut in the Top League in 1992 to their last season in the RPL. In Russian championships, Rotor’s former captain is the club's leader in matches played (349), and is second only to Oleg Veretennikov in goals scored with 84 to the latter’s 141. In the Russian Premier Liga, the midfielder became the team's most productive player each season, scoring seven goals in 2002, 13 in 2003, and 10 in 2004. Esipov was their standout performer when it came to set pieces: out of his 30 RPL goals, nine were scored with direct free kicks, and another eight were penalties.

When Rotor were relegated, Esipov left for Saturn and ended his career there at the end of 2007. The ex-player returned to Rotor as a coach: he led the team in the summer of 2017 upon their return to the FNL, but left in October of the same year. In addition to Esipov, the core of the team in the RPL were defenders Nikolay Olenikov, Pavel Mogilevsky, Vladimir Radkevich and Roman Romanov, midfielders Vladimir Smirnov and Oleg Trifonov, striker Denis Zubko, and goalkeeping duo Andrey Chichkin and Sergey Pareiko - Chichkin spent 2003 on loan at Krylya Sovetov, but then returned to Volgograd.

Rotor was the first professional team in Evgeny Aldonin's career. After playing there for six years, the midfielder went to CSKA in 2004 and became a two-time Russian champion and UEFA Cup winner. Roman Pavlyuchenko also left Volgograd for Moscow: after scoring 14 goals in three seasons at Rotor, the striker signed a contract with Spartak at the end of 2002, made his way to the Russian national team with whom he finished third at Euro 2008, and then left for Tottenham in England.

Four coaching changes before relegation

Esipov is not the first person to give part of his playing and coaching career to Rotor. Vladimir Fayzulin played a total of 10 seasons in Volgograd, and when he became a coach he was relegated with them from the Top League in 1990, before becoming a Russian championship medalist as an assistant. From January 2003 he took full charge of the team in the RPL for the first season back in the league after assisting Vladimir Salkov, who in 1993 had led the Volgograd team to their runner up spots.

In April 2004, Fayzulin took sick leave after six matches, and Yuri Marushkin led the team for one match. Then Valery Yaremchenko worked with the players, but also for a short time; in early July, he left for Metalurh Zaporizhya. Marushkin again took over for three matches and then handed the post back to Fayzulin. After the relegation from the RPL, Fayzulin again returned to Volgograd: he coached the youth side from February to June 2010 in the First Division and Rotor-Volgograd-2 in the PFL from February to June 2018.

Liquidation and rebirth

During the almost 16-year absence from the RPL, Rotor were repeatedly disbanded and reformed. The first problems came soon after relegation: in February 2005, the PFL Council stripped the club of its professional status, and Volgograd was left with only Rotor-2 in the Second Division. A year later, the name of the team was removed from the second team, and the updated Rotor played in the same league, until it withdrew from the championship in July 2009.

Nevertheless, they returned to the First Division the following year, all thanks to FC Volgograd, which had been created in 2008. The city team took third place in the South zone of the second division and earned the right to play in the First Division after the demise of 11th-placed Podolsk Vityaz. FC Volgograd changed its name to Rotor, but stayed in the division for only a year, after being relegated in 17th place.

In the transitional 2011/12 season Rotor won the South zone and made their way to the FNL, but again did not last long there. In the summer of 2014, Rotor voluntarily left the championship and entered the second division, but there refused to continue in the spring of 2015 after the first stage of the competition. In April, the leaders of the Volgograd region liquidated the club, and later a new "Rotor-Volgograd" appeared in place of the local College of the Olympic reserve, and rose from the amateur leagues to the RPL.

In 2017, the team were promoted to the FNL, but at the end of the first season were due to go straight back down after finishing in 17th place-, but they were saved by the fact that the winner of the Central zone, Ararat, turned down promotion. The next season, Rotor were average and finished 11th, but in the recently finished campaign were title contenders, and before the winter break topped the table, ahead of Torpedo Moscow.

The team officially returned to the RPL under the leadership of former Dynamo Kyiv and Belarus national team coach Aleksandr Khatskevich, who only took charge of Rotor in December from Igor Menshikov. He managed to oversee two matches in the FNL, but it was enough to secure Rotor four points and leave them top of the table. After the early suspension of the tournament, they were declared champions, and Rotor claimed their long-awaited ticket back to the RPL.

Photo: Rotor


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