Book review and competition - Russian Winters: The Story of Andrei Kanchelskis

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This week on Gersnet, we're working with our friends at deCoubertin Books to promote Russian Winters: The Story of Andrei Kanchelskis which is a fascinating new autobiography from the former Rangers winger.

Yesterday we had an exclusive Q&A with Andrei and today JohnMc reviews the book whilst offering you a chance to win a copy for yourself!

Book review

There’s a curious tale in Andrei Kanchelskis’ new autobiography Russian Winters. It centres around his agent giving his then manager, Alex Ferguson, £40,000 in cash for reasons no one seems able to explain. Today that’s the kind of figure a Stoke City reserve gets a week but this happened in 1994, back when forty grand was still a lot of money in English football. The same season that Arsenal’s league winning manager, George Graham, had to leave after receiving ‘cash gifts’ from an agent. No one seems to know why Kanchelskis’ agent did this least of all Kanchelskis himself who pleads complete ignorance of the whole affair. This is just one of the tales from Russian Winters I’m left wanting to know more about.

Kanchelskis is a fascinating figure. Born in the Soviet Union at the end of the '60s and at the height of the Cold War he was an unlikely candidate to become a poster boy for Rupert Murdoch’s Sky fuelled takeover of English football, yet he’s undoubtedly best known for his period as a flying winger in the great Manchester United side of the early 1990s. His career also included spells with Dynamo Kiev, Shakhtar Donestsk, Everton, Manchester City, Southampton, Fiorentina, a number of lesser known Russian sides and, of course, Rangers.

This book’s greatest strength is helping simple supporters like me understand the motives, the pressures and the incentives that fuel football today, and be under no illusions, despite being born into poverty in a failing totalitarian state Kanchelskis embodies modern football as much as any player. His departure from Manchester United shows how agents make decisions for financial gain rather than career enhancement, how some footballers listen to bad advice from agents, and how quickly avaricious capitalism was embraced by former communist countries. His reasons for joining Rangers were equally enlightening; by returning to the UK he and his family would be eligible to apply for a British passport and dual citizenship, a huge incentive for someone who was unsure what country they actually belonged too then.

His time at Rangers is covered in two chapters and the main theme is his disillusionment with Dick Advocaat and, Artur Numan apart, Dutch footballers in general. The Rangers side Kanchelskis played in was one of the best I’ve ever seen, yet apparently it was riven with cliques and infighting, tensions that meant there was no fight left in the club when Celtic eventually did put up a challenge.

There are candid moments. Our suspicions regarding the diet of Scottish professional footballers is confirmed and I laughed out loud when Kanchelskis explained that the Rangers players called Celtic’s Eyal Berkovic ‘The Grasshopper’ because of the way he jumped out of tackles during derby matches. For me the most interesting insight into Rangers doesn’t come from his period at the club, rather when he was a young player at Dynamo Kiev. Apparently the visionary coach and managerial genius, Valery Lobanovsky, made his players watch a video of Rangers so they could learn the art of defending! Kanchelskis departure from Rangers doesn’t cover him in glory though and I imagine most supporters won’t have a great deal of sympathy with him regarding this.

I remember getting an excited call from a close friend to tell me Rangers had signed Andrei Kanchelskis. Brian Laudrup had just left the club and at that time Kanchelskis was as close to a replacement as seemed likely we could find. His arrival was eagerly anticipated yet, to me, his career at Rangers always felt like it could have delivered more. I feel that way about his autobiography too. I want to understand more about how Kanchelskis’ poverty stricken upbringing shaped him. Why he left Dynamo Kiev, one of Europe’s great clubs at the time, isn’t properly explored either. The culture shock he experienced on moving to Manchester is only touched upon. He does try to explain something that’s always puzzled me about Kanchelskis, his decision to represent Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, despite being born and raised in what is now Ukraine by a Lithuanian mother. Even this I felt deserved more exploration, particularly today when nationalism and identity are hot topics.

The book runs chronologically and is easy to follow. The ghost writing is more than competent and there’s something for supporters of all the clubs Kanchelskis played for. I still think there’s more to get from Kanchelskis, but perhaps that’s what everyone who managed him thought as well. Indeed maybe that’s exactly who Andrei Kanchelskis is.

Competition

More info on the book and how to order is available on the publisher's page here.

To win our copy, simply tell us who were Rangers playing when Andrei famously stood on the ball during a Scottish Cup semi-final? PM me on our forum or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. at with your answer and full mailing address.

The competition closes on Sunday at midnight and the lucky winner will be notified soon after with the book mailed out next week. The site administrator's decision is final.

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