After 20 years of football management, Vladimir Latunov had successfully collected national titles in Poland, Turkey, Hungary, Czech Republic, Croatia, Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia, Serbia, Slovenia, Belarus and, most recently, Bulgaria. All that meant just one country remained on his Soviet Surge. The Motherland. Russia.
So in the summer of 2040, Latunov departed CSKA-Sofia on a high and headed back home with Ural Yekaterinburg.
Who are Ural?
FC Ural Yekaterinburg, founded in 1930, is the most eastern-located team in the Russian Premier League and, by that same logic, Europe. It plays its games in the city of Yekaterinburg, east of the Ural mountains, which is 1,800 kilometres east of Moscow and is located directly north of Uzbekistan and Pakistan.
Despite the media predicting Ural will finish third in the upcoming 2040/41 campaign, it’s never won the national title and its highest-ever finish was fourth in 2038/39. However, it has claimed two Russian Cups in 2037 and last season (2040). Ural play at the 35,000 capacity Ekatrinburg Arena, which was built in 1957 so it’s probably pretty decrepit! They have great training facilities, superb youth facilities but only average youth recruitment.
Latunov is expected to qualify for Europe, develop and sign young players and work towards developing the best youth system in the world in the next five years. Which seems a little ambitious given the lack of infrastructure! The Ural board also handed him a £39.5 million transfer kitty to work with.
Meet the Ural squad
The best player at the club is striker Petr Janousek, who looks very good but only scored 11 goals in his first season at the club. He’s followed by exciting homegrown winger Viktor Gavrilin and two more wingers in Pavel Fedotov and Mikhail Barinov, who is all pace and nothing else. The best defensive option is Uruguayan centre-back Ignacio Sánchez, along with fellow centre-back Dragisa Stevanovic, holding midfielder José Marcelo and South African left-back Mosa Konco.
However, Latunov noticed a considerable lack of decent quality goalkeeper, full-backs and centre midfielders and a lack of depth in general with just 19 players in the first-team squad and a total lack of prospects. So winning the Russian league with Ural would likely be one of his toughest tasks yet, if not the toughest.
Much-need summer strengthening
By the time Latunov flogged some of the deadwood, the Ural squad was reduced to just 17 players. He immediately snapped up two players he’d been tracking for a while in Ludogorets winger Yanislav Vasev for £4 million and FCSB centre-back Silviu Codreanu for £6.25 million.
A major issue was the squad was limited to just eight non-Russian players. So Latunov was forced into the market for Russians to bolster the squad strength, of which the pick were exciting full-backs Mihail Kuznetsov and Shamil Kravchenko. With the domestic players snapped up, he went back to his former club CSKA to snap up wonderkid midfielder Yordan Syurdzhiev for £5 million. He also loaned in a Russian from another former club as midfielder Rustam Semenov arrived from Rijeka. The summer spending spree ended with the £5 million signing of Croatian striker Enes Vrbnjak.
Getting started in Russia
Latunov’s first match in his motherland was the Russian Super Cup against Zenit. It came a week after he took charge, he had 15 players available and he had no idea what formation he was going to play. But they played OK and were unlucky to lose 1-0. For perspective, Zenit have won the last four Russian titles and have shared every title since 2024 with CSKA Moscow.
His first league game, on 14 July, was also tough at home to last season’s runners up Krasnodar, who scored early and won a penalty from a ridiculous Codreanu challenge to nick a 2-1 win. Ural were absolutely terrible bar a Janousek goal.
But they were much improved in a trip to Dinamo Moscow, who are listed as Latunov’s favoured club in Russia. Vasev got his first goal for the club before Dinamo equalised. But two brilliant team moves after the break were finished off by new left-winger Valery Tereschenko and Vasev for Latunov’s first win in Russia.
Both the new wingers scored again alongside a thunderbolt from fellow new signing Syurdzhiev in another 3-1 win at home to Baltik and again in a 2-0 win over Rostov. The winning streak ended with a 2-2 draw at Volgar, a lucky 1-1 draw with Spartak and a hard-earned 0-0 at title favourites Krylja Sovetov.
Vrbnjak finally got his first Ural goal after five appearances to equalise at home to Yenisey. His strike partner Janousek put them ahead before Gavrilin scored his first of the season for a first win in four games. But more draws were quickly incoming as they got lucky 2-2 draws with Lokomotiv and CSKA Moscow. Another looked to be incoming as they struggled to score at home to Arsenal Tula but right-back Kuznetsov stepped up to score a 25-yarder to nick it with his first senior goal.
Ural then had three away league games on the bounce, which began with an unlucky 1-0 loss at Rubin before a 3-2 win at Anzi with only 15 fit players then a terrible performance in a 3-1 defeat at leaders Krasnodar. Another dire 0-0 with Dinamo Moscow was followed by just about nicking a 2-1 win at bottom side Baltika thanks to Barinov’s late goal.
The final game of 2040 saw Ural host Volgar in very snowy conditions. Ural had the better of the game and scored just after the break only concede the visitors’ first shot from a long hoof downfield. But they again had substitute Barinov to thank for his 94th-minute winner.
That sent Ural into a three-month winter break sitting seventh in the Russian Premier League. Despite only losing three times, a lack of ability to put chances away had seen them struggle a little to six draws. They were only one point behind the European places, which was all the board expected, but a huge 13 points off the top of the table with 12 games remaining.
Latunov had his first taste of European football for a while as Ural entered the Europa League group stage with Trabzonspor, Villarreal and St. Gallen. It didn’t begin well with a 1-0 loss in Turkey before a cruel late defeat at St. Gallen, who beat Villarreal 5-0 in the opener! So Latunov threw the towel in and rested players for the remaining European fixtures and they unsurprisingly got battered, conceding 18 and scoring just four times.
Despite being on the edge of European qualification places in a tight league, Ural’s poor showing in Europe had far from amused the board. They requested a meeting upon being knocked out of the group stage and Latunov was forced to promise things would improve in the next few months.
Join us next time to discover if Vladimir Latunov can improve Ural’s fortunes and push them into the higher reaches of the Russian Premier League.