Fresh from wrapping up a 10th top tier title in Eastern Europe with Slovenian side NK Celje, Russian manager was back on the move in his Soviet Surge. His 12th club in 11 countries took him to Belarus with Torpedo Zhodino.
Who are Torpedo Zhodino?
Torpedo BelAZ Zhodino – nicknamed The BelAZs Mans – compete in the Belarussian Higher League, the top tier of football in Belarus. The club was founded in 1961 and has never won the national title, but has a Belarussian Cup win in 2016 and two First League titles in 2001 and 2026. It has a fierce rivalry with perennial champions BATE Borisov and minor rivalries with Dinamo Minsk and Smolevichi.
Torpedo Zhodino plays at the Torpedo stadium, which has a capacity of 6,522 and a synthetic pitch – which was a first for Latunov. It has average training and youth facilities and fairly basic youth recruitment. Like Celje before them, the Zhodino board wants Latunov to establish the club as the “best of the rest” by the end of the 2038 campaign. It has a bank balance of £2.3 million and wage budget of just £29,000.
Another first for Latunov saw him join the club mid-way through the ongoing 2037 season, in which the board wants a mid-table finish. However, the club sits 14th out of 16 teams just four points off the bottom, level on points with a team in the relegation playoffs but only three points off a mid-table finish and nine behind the European places. That said, the media expects them to finish eighth.
Meet the Torpedo Zhodino squad
The best player at the club is 22-year-old holding midfielder Artem Chayka, who arrived this season for £40,000. He’s closely followed by captain and centre-back Maxim Bykov, left-back Nikita Karpenya and centre-back/right-back Sergey Astakhov. So the defence looks in solid shape. In fact, the club’s ten best players are defenders and a goalkeeper, which was a concern.
The best attacking option is winger/striker Dmitry Timoshenko, who has good physicals. They also had zero youth prospects, which meant Latunov was working with limited options. As a result, he instantly believed this could be his biggest challenge yet.
The team seemed to be sorely lacking in midfielders and attackers but relatively strong at centre-back. That wasn’t helped by most of the team having an average rating of under 6.60 and the lack of attacking strength was proven by no player having scored more than twice after 16 games, which is utterly pathetic.
Latunov swiftly set about scouring the free agent market for reinforcements and brought in no fewer than 30 trialists! Of those, most were terrible but he did manage to bring in some Brazilian flair in midfielder Handerson, who strangely had only played 10 league games at the age of 26, and exciting Kosovo international Arben Bajrami, who instanlty became probably the best player at the club. He also strengthened the squad depth with striker Goran Lesnik, centre-back Zivojin Petric and young wing-back Dmitry Ivanov and right-back Vladislav Barbashov. And he lonaned in striker Sergey Kolyada from Shakhter Soligorsk. However, he had to be careful as any starting 11 is only allowed five non-Belarussian players.
With that business done, Latunov had a few different formations and approaches in mind. He started off with a standard 4-3-3, worked on a defensive 3-5-2 and a more unusual looking 3-4-3 / 5-2-3 approach. In other words, he didn’t really have a clue how to get the best out of the poor players at his disposal.
Straight into the thick of it
Latunov’s first match as Torpedo Zhodino manager came two days after he was hired. And it wasn’t exactly an easy start as they visited leaders Neman Grodno then hosted BATE.
Latunov was gifted a great start as a Neman defender went through the back of a striker and Karpenya slammed home the penalty. But the leaders were soon level from a goalmouth scramble after a corner and scored from their second shot on target, while Torpedo missed two clear chances. The second half was fairly equal until they scored from an indirect free-kick but out of nowhere Daniil Malakhov made it 3-2 with eight minutes remaining, then Torpedo failed to do anything else!
His first home game was a huge rivals clash with BATE, who’ve won the last two titles and 10 of the 17 during this save. But Torpedo applied themselves well and, despite BATE dominating them by 16 shots to two, only lost out to a dodgy first-half penalty before Valetko saved another penalty in the second half. So a 1-0 defeat to the champions and a narrow defeat to the leaders offered some sort of potential. But that marked the half-way point of the season with Torpedo in serious relegation trouble.
Latunov trialled the 3-4-3 formation for the first time in a cup match and it resulted in a 3-1 win with Timoshenko scoring twice to double his tally for the season. So he took it into the next league game at eighth-place Gorodeya. Torpedo had the better of a non-eventful first half but seized the initiative early in the second as Timoshenko headed home then Handerson teed up Gusev to strike from 20 yards and seal a huge 2-0 win that lifted them out of the relegation zone.
Another tough challenge followed at fourth-place Shakhter, in which the only highlight of the match was the hosts scoring from a free-kick. Then a big game saw 14th-plaec Belshina Bobruisk come to town. The visitors absolutely dominated with 11 first alf shots, only for Timashenko to score Torpedo’s only shot of the half. Left-back Mishin idiotically got sent off and Belshina predictably scored immediately to nick a win, but this game really showed Latunov the tough task on his hands as his team was shocking.
A change to a 4-3-2-1 saw them vastly improve at home to 12th-place Naftan. That man Timoshenko scored a header after 22 seconds then laid on a second for right-winger Evgeny Prudnikov just after the break. And that was enough for a big 2-0 win that saw Torpedo climb to 12th. A trip to leaders Dinamo Brest saw Torpedo get battered but only lost 2-0 – which saw Latunov dish out eight fines for poor performances – but a brilliant Prudnikov strike and a better defensive effort earned a 1-1 draw at eighth-place Slutsk.
Two big home games followed against teams also in the bottom half. First up was 11th-place Slavia Mozyr and an impressive first half saw them lead 2-0 with Bajrami’s first for the club and a Prudnikov goal on the counter. Karpenya scored from a free-kick before Slavia scored from a corner but left-winger Denis Kontsevoy sealed a huge 4-1 win. Next was bottom of the league Volna Pinsk and a Prudnikov screamer was enough for consecutive wins that lifted Torpedo to the heady heights of eight but still in a real relegation dogfight.
Battle for survival
With six league games remaining, Torpedo Zhodino sat four points above the relegation zone and anyone from eighth down to 15th could realistically be relegated!
Torpedo unsurprisingly lost 2-1 at title challengers Dinamo Minsk before a dreadful first half effort at home to Gomel. But a thrown water bottle woke the boys up and goals from Prudknikov and Timoshenko sealed a 2-1 turnaround. They were unlucky to lose to a late goal at Minsk before a tough trip to Energetik. But out of nowhere, Timoshenko scored a hat-trick in the first 13 minutes before Bajrami headed home a fourth just before half-time. The hosts came back into it but a 4-2 win realistically lifted Torpedo out of any potential danger with two games to go.
A 1-1 draw at home to Rukh Brest mathematically sealed survival before a great final day performance saw a Timoshenko goal edge fourth-place Neman 1-0.
A strong end to the season saw Torpedo climb all the way up to seventh place in the Belarussian Highest League, albeit just six points above the relegation playoff places. Timoshenko finished as the fifth-top scorer in the league with 10 goals – all but one of which were under Latunov.
Timoshenko was Torpedo’s star man, top scoring with 13 goals and getting five assists. Prudnikov popped up with six goals and five assists, Gusev got three goals and four assists but was largely disappointing and Handerson got four assists as he improved at the end of the campaign.
Latunov decided the end of the season would be a good time to have a cheeky peruse of the job market and spotted that of third-place Dinamo Minsk was available after their boss left for Russian side Arsenal Tula. So he decided to throw his name in the hat – only for the Torpedo board to turn around and sack him on the spot!!
Having been sacked for the first time in his career, Latunov suddenly found himself back on the job hunt. He applied for a couple of jobs in Bulharia, which saw Lokomotov Sofia offer an interview and the job, which he delayed twice. Minsk eventually offered an interview so he walked away from Lokomotiva in the hope of an offer, which eventually arrived.
Join us next time to discover the situation that awaits Vladimir Latunov as he joins his second Belarussian club Dinamo Minsk.