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Zenit St Petersburg lay off Spalletti

12 March 2014, 07:25

Moscow - Zenit St Petersburg, owned by state-controlled gas giant Gazprom, have sacked their Italian manager Luciano Spalletti, the Russian club confirmed on Tuesday.

Spalletti achieved domestic success with the three-time national champions but their hugely ambitious owners have lost patience with his failure to make a breakthrough in the Champions League after several big money signings.

"The club governing body have decided to sack Spalletti," Zenit said in a statement. "The head coach's assistant Sergei Semak will serve as the club interim manager."

Spalletti arrived from Italy's Serie A giants Roma in December 2009 and led the Saint Petersburg outfit to two Russian league titles, having also delivered a first Russian Cup in 11 years soon after his appointment.

Spalletti initiated a series of purchases of expensive Russian and foreign players who failed to make Zenit a serious threat in Europe.

Meanwhile, the purchase of Brazilian star Hulk and Belgium's Axel Witsel for a reported 100 million euros -- the biggest transfer buys in Russian football history -- provoked anger among the club's home-grown stars who complained of being underpaid.

Russian international skipper Igor Denisov, who was the mouthpiece of the local players' dissatisfaction, walked out in protest at the club's policy and soon left Zenit.

Another veteran Roman Shirokov, who was one of the most creative players in the Zenit midfield, went on loan to rivals FC Krasnodar after falling out with Spalletti.

Zenit's owners Gazprom were eager for far more than just domestic success but this season's Champions League campaign raised questions about Spalletti's capability to lift the club to the new European heights.

Zenit finished second in their group with just six points, 10 behind group winners Atletico Madrid.

They advanced into the round of 16 thanks to a very poor performance by Portuguese giants Porto.

But Zenit suffered a 4-2 home defeat at the hands of Borussia Dortmund in a first leg tie, which left them with only a slim mathematical chance of advancing into the quarter-finals.

A humiliating 0-0 home draw in the domestic league at the weekend to lowly Tomsk in Siberia sealed Spalletti's fate.

"It is clear to me that a coach will be asked questions in the absence of proper performances and results -- that is fair enough," said Spalletti after the draw cost his side top spot in the Russian Premiership.

Sacking the 55-year-old manager leaves Russia's most financially powerful club without a leader just ahead of the crucial stage in the battle for domestic success.

This season, the title fight is extremely tough with four clubs in with a chance to win.

Zenit are second two points behind Lokomotiv Moscow.

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