Roman Abramovich link helps new Hull boss Leonid Slutsky make mark in England
Even before his appointment at Hull City, Leonid Slutsky had become a familiar face in English football: Since quitting CSKA Moscow in December 2016, he has been living in England as a guest of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.
"Mr Abramovich is my friend and he is helping me achieve my dream, it's a challenge for him also," Slutsky said in April. "He is like my agent, the best agent in the world."
According to ESPN FC sources, the 46-year-old has been in discussions for a several jobs, including the vacancy left by Walter Mazzarri at Watford. That was filled last week by Slutsky's predecessor at Hull, Marco Silva. Despite being in demand in his home country, where he won three league titles with CSKA and was considered the best manager of his generation, he has little desire to return to Russian football.
Since arriving in January, Slutsky has been taking intensive English lessons for up to eight hours a day, trying to avoid the linguistic problems that caused friction for Mazzarri at Watford. It follows the lead of Antonio Conte at Chelsea, who fully threw himself into his own studies last year.
By ordering Conte to do that, Abramovich was following the lessons learned from the disastrous six-month tenure of Luiz Felipe Scolari, who was sacked in February 2008 having learned little more than the perfunctory phrases with which he arrived from Brazil. Slutsky's English is already said to be more than passable.
In Chelsea's owner, Slutsky could hardly have a friend in a higher place and it is a relationship that may well benefit Hull. Chelsea loaned out 44 players last season and have a raft of talent that could aid attempts to climb back into the Premier League.
Huddersfield Town's presence in next season's top division owes much to manager David Wagner working with his contacts at elite clubs: Manchester City midfielder Aaron Mooy, Liverpool goalkeeper Danny Ward and Chelsea forward Izzy Brown all helped the Yorkshire club's playoff triumph. Slutsky may be given the use of Stamford Bridge youngsters by Abramovich.
"I have known Mr. Abramovich for 12 years because he had many football projects in Russia -- a special academy, he funded the national team, he built many artificial pitches, about 300, and we spoke with him about football and development," Slutsky said in April.
Abramovich is also a long-term friend of CSKA owner Yevgeny Giner. While keeping his job at the club, Slutsky coached Russia at Euro 2016, having performed a rescue job on a squad struggling to qualify under predecessor Fabio Capello. However, a mediocre, ageing pool of players struggled in France and a 3-0 group stage defeat by Wales in Toulouse sealed their exit and ended Slutsky's time in charge.
And after losing at Wembley in the Champions League to Tottenham in December, which ended CSKA's hopes of dropping into the Europa League, he quit after seven highly successful years in charge.
Hull owners the Allam family have made another left-field appointment to follow on from Silva, who fell short of a miracle escape from relegation having taken over a club bottom of the table in January. His near-miss pulled him into the frame for future Premier League vacancies, before Watford took him on.
After Steve Bruce resigned last July following a quarrel over transfer business and his former assistant Mike Phelan was sacked in January, the Allams, using agency contacts, have turned away from English bosses to seek foreign coaching talent. Slutsky certainly fits that category and a lack of Championship knowledge appears to have become little impediment to his hiring.
Last season's Championship top six contained three clubs managed by foreign rookies in the division: Rafa Benitez at Newcastle, Jaap Stam at Reading and Wagner. Meanwhile, Sheffield Wednesday's Carlos Carvalhal lost to Huddersfield in the playoff semifinals, having lost to Hull in the final in the previous season, his first in English football.
Making Slutsky the first Russian manager in English football represents a significant risk, even though he is a worldly character, known back home for his charisma and a deadpan, dry sense of humour. He had no playing career to speak of, with his hopes of becoming a goalkeeper ended at 18 when he fell from a tree while trying to rescue a neighbour's cat.
The shattered kneecap he suffered sent him on a different path; dedication and a gift for education took him on his way through the Russian game. Now, with Abramovich as an ally, he now gets to test his mettle in English football.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.