Spalletti confident despite European woes
Zenit St Petersburg coach Luciano Spalletti is confident that the Russian champions can bounce back from European disappointment, amid calls for him to go and rumours that club bosses are looking for a replacement.
The Italian, however, has said he has not considered stepping down and hoped that the 2-1 aggregate defeat to Swiss club Basel in the Europa League on Thursday night could kick-start their faltering domestic campaign.
"This match should become a new starting point for us," he told a news conference after the match, which the Russian side won 1-0.
"I believe in the upcoming matches we should play even better than we did today showing the same fighting spirit and desire for the win. I'm confident that Zenit will continue progressing. I don't see any reasons for us to step back."
As well as elimination from the Champions League and Europa League, Zenit have faltered in the Russian Premier League and currently lie third, eight points behind leaders CSKA Moscow with 10 matches to go.
How long Spalletti can last has been the source of renewed speculation, amid unconfirmed reports that club bosses have contacted Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini and current Dynamo Moscow coach Dan Petrescu about taking over.
Former Zenit and Russia international striker Alexander Panov said in a recent interview that there had been widespread criticism of the reigning Russian champions' performances in recent games.
"The club has made no further progress this season. The majority of players are acting inexpressively and unemotionally. And it's their coach's fault in the first place," he added.
"Spalletti looks as if he is played out. Unlike previous seasons he currently looks lacklustre on the sidelines. The club bosses should start seeking a new manager for Zenit."
The arrival earlier this season of two big-money purchases -- Brazilian forward Hulk and Belgium international defender Axel Witsel -- soured the atmosphere in the dressing room.
Discontent over the two players' salaries prompted Russia captain Igor Denisov to walk out for a month in protest, backed by other home-grown players.
But although the dispute has been resolved, there is still lingering tension, exacerbated by the perceived poor performances of Portuguese full-back Luis Neto and Serbian defender Milan Rodic since their arrival during the Russian winter break.
Some experts have blamed the lack of progress on the complicated management structure at Zenit, which has been transformed into the country's wealthiest side thanks to investment from Russian energy giant Gazprom.
"The general manager Maxim Mitrofanov runs the club in Saint Petersburg, the club president Alexander Dyukov represents Zenit in Moscow but only (Gazprom chief Alexei) Miller has the final and the deciding vote," said former Dynamo coach Mark Rubin.
"And without the detailed knowledge about their relationships it's absolutely impossible to draw any conclusions concerning the club policy."
Rubin, however, said that he expected the club to give more time to Spalletti, who joined the club in 2009, despite the lack of European success.
"Of course thay're unhappy with early exit from the Champions and Europa leagues. But I expect that they will give Spalletti at least another year to work in the club," he added.
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