With Valentine's Day recently out of the way and the end of February in sight it seemed an appropriate time to have a look back at the Anton Zingarevich era. An Affair to Remember or a case of What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?
Raised as a lad on the terraces of Elm Park Anton was a local school kid who had a true affection for the club. More importantly his old man had a few quid as well! Sir John could not believe his luck and neither could we. The fact that Anton had recently looked into acquiring Everton and this had stalled for some reason along the way was something that was neither here nor there……
Now with the party over it seems sadly unsurprising that we are left looking for a new courtier. The only eye brow raiser was how early this came.
What did Anton get for his money? Quite a bit when you think about it: his hands on the league trophy and a decent strut round the pitch in front of the fans and press, a season in the limelight as part of the exclusive club of Premier League owners and a good return on his investment with the tens of millions that flowed in from television revenue. He even got to sack a manager – something you would imagine is practised with finger gun in the mirror on the first day as The Boss.
What did we get in return? A year in the Premier League sun. Top level Academy status. A new manager. A new playing style (ok let's not get carried away just yet). Writing out that list it is clear that his tenure was not without benefit. You do wonder however how much of this would have come our way if our paths had never crossed?
It is undeniable that McDermott's sacking came direct from Anton. It is equally undeniable that Sir John would have stuck with that manager. It is unfortunate that there is a valid argument as to whether this made any difference whatsoever to the club's league position as at the date of this post.
The club's academy is increasingly both the proudest and most significant investment that we (the Royal we) have made since the construction of the stadium. When you look at opponents this season – in particular QPR's team that were quite comfortably moved aside – we play with a significant number of first team academy players that crucially run through the spine of the side. The award of top level status for the Academy is a real coup for the Club and only recently have we been linked with our Premier league superiors as to a possible under 23 league. If Anton's wallet inspired this final push in terms of standards then that is a legacy that we can be thankful for. Is this though clear cut given that the Academy has been established for some time and the current graduates (both in our first team and across the leagues) originate well before his arrival?
The 2012/13 promotion? There is no doubt that our 360 turnaround in form in the New Year – the momentum of which did not stop until we were crowned Champions – coincided with Anton's arrival. Or more appropriately coincided with Jason Roberts arrival. His experience, strength and inspiration pulled the team up to the next level (Southampton away for example). Robert's contractual stalemate at Blackburn needed Anton's pound notes to be unlocked. And so did our automatic promotion prospects.
The Championship title is clearly a direct result of Anton's arrival and no fan will be ungrateful for that. The following season was ultimately unenjoyable and there will be a fair few less thankful for that memory and perhaps alarm bells should have started ringing when the deepness of the pockets was never tested. Rather than transfer fees there was a policy of bringing in experienced players on a free and in return paying presumably high wages. Pog and Guthrie arrived in the Summer and even into the Championship Bridge and Drenthe followed. Beyond the Our Big F'in Russian the return from these players has been disappointing given that we are seemingly well out of the automatic places this season and with Wigan and Brighton breathing down our necks we will have to establish some McDermottesque form over the next few months if we are to hold on to the play offs.
Unless a new owner comes in before the end of the season then we know that Sir John will revert to his established financial strategy of offloading high wage earners and cashing in on valuable players. As such all of Anton's players will leave and the footprints of Anton's ownership will be washed away. We will be able to look back on Championship winning memories and a couple of great come backs in the Premier League. However as Sir John steps up once more to steer the club onwards it may well be that Anton's real legacy will be to remind us how grateful we should be to have our chairman to fall back on.