Kontantin Beskov: The manager who succeeded behind the iron curtain

Credit: Marcel Antonisse / Anefo / Nationaal Archief / Naamsvermelding-Gelijk Delen 3.0 Nederland (CC BY-SA 3.0 NL)

Behind the curtain many players, great clubs and managers were left to be unknown. The great Dynamo Kiev sides of the seventies and eighties are the only sides that are commonly known, but that really misses the beauty of the Soviet game. Many cities in the world have great clubs, few have as many as Moscow who have won the top league at some point. Spartak, Dinamo, CSKA, Lokomotiv, and Torpedo have all done it. Strangely, Konstantin Beskov managed all of them. Who is he?

Credit: Rob Croes, Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Rijksfotoarchief: Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Fotopersbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989 – negatiefstroken zwart/wit, nummer toegang 2.24.01.05, bestanddeelnummer 933-4255

Outside of the Russian borders he isn’t that famous, he many tactical duels with Valeriy Lobanovskiy in the 1980s were legendary. Beskov also had three memorable stints as the manager of the Soviet National team. Konstantin Beskov was born in Moscow on November 18, 1920.  His playing days were spent in the great Dinamo teams that won the 1945 Soviet title ahead of CDKA Moscow, currently CSKA. Beskov was part of the legendary Dinamo tour of Great Britain in 1945. Two years later in 1947 Dinamo took another tour through Sweden where they beat all the big clubs in the country.

After scoring 104 goals in 231 games in the Soviet league  Beskov retired in 1954 at the age of 34 to become a coach. It didn’t take him long to latch on as a coach, in 1955 he became an assistant coach with the Soviet National team. In 1957 he became a coach in the training center of Luzhniki, where he stayed for three years and was able to meet some of the winners of the 1956 Olympics, and future Soviet leaders as Valeri Voronin and Viktor Shustikov.

Before going to the training center he spent a year as the manager at Torpedo, in 1960 he took over CSKA where he took them to fourth in the USSR Championship both of his years in charge. Beskov relied on the youth of the club despite what his superior officers wanted. Just like with any league, he moved onto Lokomotiv, then went home to Dinamo. 

While he was back at Dinamo he won two Soviet cups in 1967 and 1970, while becoming the first Soviet side to reach a European final in 1972. That year they made it to the UEFA Cup Winners Cup in Barcelona against Rangers losing 3-2. Beskov left shortly after, for Spartak. In 1976 Spartak found themselves in an unusual situation for the club, they were relegated from the top flight. Spartak are one of the stalwarts of the Soviet game, it’s like when Manchester United got relegated, or when Liverpool went down. To change their fortunes Beskov took over and had a spectacular 12 years in charge.

Beskov immediately went ahead to reshape the fortunes of the giants by bringing in young unknown players like goalkeeper Rinat Dasaev, Georgi Yartsev, Sergey Shablo, and Yuri Gavrilov. These signings had an immediate effect, returning Spartak back to the top level. He followed it up by finishing fifth in 1978, and winning the title in 1979. The championship lit the flames of the most intense rivalry in Soviet football history. Over the next eleven years Spartak would fight Dinamo Kyiv for the title. In 1987 Spartak won the league again, and they won 186 games. 

All great managers have a great managerial rival, Beskov’s great rival was Dinamo Kyiv’s Lobanovskiy. The Dinamo Kyiv manager was the equivalent of Jock Stein, a towering figure in the game.  Lobanovskiy preferred a physical game based on strict discipline, whereas Beskov opted for an offensive game based on short passes to develop the action. Lobanovskiy was based on Total-Football. Spartak was more free and allowed for spontaneity, the word freedom in the USSR wasn’t bandied about that much.

Despite Deskov’s best efforts, Dinamo Kyiv was the better club. Despite all of this, the fans of Spartak were loyal to their manager and the play on the field. After a disappointing 4th place finish in 1988 Beskov was fired while on holiday, but this wasn’t the end of his philosophy. His protege Oleg Romantsev continued with it, which led to Spartak dominating Russian football in the 1990s, winning eight Russian Championships. Beskov died on May 6, 2006.

Published by Stephen Brandt

Stephen Brandt is the host of the Subs Bench on Anchor.fm He has written many articles on the sport over the last 15 years. His first book Boca Juniors A History and Appreciation of Buenos Aires's Most Succesful Futbol Team is out in the fall. He currently lives in Buffalo New York, USA.

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