Having been sacked by Torpedo and moved up in the world to Dinamo Minsk, Vladimir Latunov’s young side had enjoyed a great start to the 2038 season. They sat top of the Belarussian Highest League, just one point clear of nearest challengers Dinamo Brest with 14 games remaining.
The Russian boss strengthened his rather threadbare squad with new additions when the transfer window opened in early July. The pick of them was Slovenian midfielder Igor Bole, who signed on a free transfer from Triglav. More midfield cover was provided by fellow Slovenian Robert Filipovic, along with promising Serbian winger Vaso Popov. Popov’s signing was crucial as current left-winger had been underperforming so Latunov flogged him to Brest for £190,000.
Maintaining a title challenge
The first match back was at fellow Minsk side Energetik. Dinamo started well as 16-year-old striker Vadim Perekhod teed up winger Lukas Kalman for the opener after six minutes. It stayed 1-0 until Bole hit a 25-yard screamer on debut to seal a lucky 2-0 win, considering goalkeeper Evgeny Arsentjev earned player of the match for 10 saves.
Another away day took them to relegation-threatened Smorgon, where Kalman opened the scoring again before Perekhod doubled the lead just before the half hour. Smorgon scored with their first shot straight after the break but the 16-year-old settled any nerves just after the hour before wrapping up his hat-trick late on. What a performance!
Perekhod was at it again up next as he scored the only goal at home to Rukh Brest. They picked up several injuries heading into a trip to Neman Grodno but Kalman, playing with a twisted knee, opened the scoring after eight minutes, created a second for centre-back Roman Polyarus and scored a late third to seal a 3-1 win. And the winning streak appeared to be ending at Slavia Mozyr until striker Dmitry Timoshenko came off the bench to grab an 89-minute winner.
An improved performance saw them defeat Shakhter 2-1 led by Perekhod’s first goal as a professional, having turned 17 the day before, and a first goal for Popov.
One month without a game saw them return at home to bottom of the league Gorodeya. And the lack of football showed in a shoddy display as they lost 1-0, with Gorodeya scoring their first and only shot. But luckily, Brest also lost 1-0 at home to Slutsk! They also conceded to the first shot they faced at home to Isloch but Kalman came big to create goals for Timoshenko and Popov. Timoshenko doubled his tally to eventually earn a comfortable 3-1 win.
At Slutsk it was Dinamo’s turn to score with their first shot as Kalman laid on two early goals for Polyarus and Timoshenko, who was finally showing the form of last season with Torpedo. Popov and a Dmitriy Smirnov double, which ended a 13-hour goal drought, wrapped up an emphatic 5-1 thumping.
Stupid European Conference nonsense
Dinamo’s title challenge was briefly interrupted by European Conference League playoff rounds, as the rest of Europe started their leagues at a normal time of year. Latunov decided to rest his first teamers and throw in the reserves for the first round against Ferencvaros. And they unsurprisingly got hammered 3-0 away but fought hard to earn a highly respectable 0-0 at home.
Tight title battle
Another strange three-week gap without a game wasn’t ideal for a potential title decider as Dinamo Minsk travelled to Dinamo Brest. The two sides had identical goals scored and conceded records and just one point separated them with five games remaining. However, Minsk also had to play BATE in their season run-in.
Game 1 – Dinamo Brest away: Minsk had the better of the first half at Brest and a defensive calamity gifted Smirnov the opener after half an hour but Brest came back into it and grabbed a deserved equaliser for a 1-1 draw that didn’t overly help either side.
Game 2 – BATE at home: BATE’s chances of a fourth successive title were done and dusted but they were unlikely to want fierce rivals Dinamo Minsk to take it from them! Brest drew at fourth-place Minsk to take some of the pressure off the BATE game. And Dinamo got off to a flyer as Smirnov hit a beauty from 25 yards after 50 seconds then raced through to tuck home a second on 35 minutes. BATE offered nothing and Timoshenko wrapped things up by making it three on 68 minutes. But Kalman was the inspiration for a massive 3-0 win with two more assists, which moved Dinamo three points clear with three games remaining.
Game 3 – Minsk at home: Another tough game saw city rivals Minsk visit on Halloween. And the visitors had a defensive horror show, conceding twice in a minute to goals from Timoshenko and Filipovic’s first for the club. Very little happened until Minsk got a goal out of nowhere from an indirect free-kick but Latunov went defensive to successfully nullify them. Brest’s little slip up continued as they drew 0-0 with sixth-place Vitebsk, which saw the lead grow to five points with two games remaining.
Game 4 – Vitebsk away: Belarussian Highest League positions are decided by results against other teams, which meant Dinamo just needed a point from their final two games. A dull first half saw them go in 0-0 at half-time while Torpedo were holding Brest 1-1. An equally dull second half saw Vitebsk finish the better with two decent chances but Dinamo held on for a 0-0 draw while Brest drew with Torpedo. And that was enough to lift the Belarussian title.
Dinamo Minsk were Champions of Belarus for the first time since 2004!!
Game 5 – Torpedo Zhodino at home: Fittingly, Latunov got to gloat about his title in front of his own fans against his former club! It also marked his 800th match as a manager. His former club looked to spoil the day with the opener but Perekhod bagged a brace either side of half-time to turn things around then wrapped up his hat-trick from the penalty spot.
Brest lost on the final day, which ensured they didn’t win any of their final five games! And that saw Dinamo win the league by eight points. They also had the best attack, scoring 62, and defence, conceding just 18 in 30. Smirnov finished as the joint-top scorer in the league with 14 goals in 30 games, but Perekhod was only one behind with 13 in 21! Not bad for a 17-year-old. Kalman got the most assists in the league with 17, which was a huge 8 more than anyone else, and the highest average rating of 7.51.
The team’s efforts saw striker Smirnov win the Anatoly Byshovets Prize, which is awarded to the best young Belarussian player. While the striker top-scored, the most impressive player has to be Perkhod, who scored 13 goals and became the youngest goalscorer in Dinamo history. But the catalyst for the league title has to be Kalman, who created 18 goals and scored 10, which earned him the fans’ player and young player of the season and signing of the season.
Back on the job hunt
Winning an 11th of 13 Eastern European leagues meant it was time to begin the hunt for the next two jobs. So Latunov decided to resign from Dinamo, only to end up in the boardroom being begged to stay at the club, to which he responded he was fully set on resigning.
Latunov now only had Bulgaria and Russia to tick off his list. Interestingly, big jobs were available in both as he wrapped up the title, with CSKA Sofia and Dinamo Moscow. He applied for the CSKA role then received an offer to speak to Dinamo before the Bulgarians also offered an interview. He also got an interview from cash-rich Russian side Krylja Sovetov.
Dinamo were first to come in with an offer, which Latunov delayed. That was because he was keen to leave his motherland to the final task on his Soviet Surge. And luckily, CSKA Sofia soon came calling and he signed a deal to move to Bulgaria.
Join us next time as Vladimir Latunov moves on to country 12 on his Soviet Surge!