Jan 9, 2021
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Cargo-cult of Larionov. Why the defeat of the Russian national team is a pattern

The fact that the Russian youth hockey team in the decisive matches of the 2021 World Cup failed with a deafening crash is quite logical. Modern attempts to create the so-called “Red Machine” have one serious flaw.

Stew from the sky

After the Second World War, the inhabitants of the Pacific Islands began to build copies of runways, control towers and similar technical structures from bamboo and other scrap materials. Even the headphones were made from coconut halves. The natives believed that in this way you can get a lot of valuable things and products that were from the military who set up temporary bases on the islands during the hostilities.

Local residents then got a part of canned food, clothing and other things intended for soldiers. The naive aborigines were convinced that the gods sent parachutes with weights, and it was only necessary to repeat the actions that the military performed, and material benefits would fall on them from the sky.

Such beliefs have received the common name of “cargo-cult” among scientists.

In modern domestic hockey, a stable “cargo-cult of the Red Machine” has formed. Functionaries and coaches, uttering loud words and repeating, as it seems to them, the actions of their great predecessors, are trying to return the victorious era of Soviet hockey. And the result is zilch.

“We don’t want to see boring hockey”

Speaking about the results of the World Cup, head coach of the Russian national team Igor Larionov stated: “Young guys make mistakes, but we still want to play hockey that is nice to watch. We don’t want to see boring hockey. In some games it worked, in some it didn’t. Our team, our young generation of players, are still trying to bring back this style of play when the game is fun and enjoyable. “

Larionov is one of the most titled players in world hockey. Two-time Olympic champion, four-time world champion, winner of the Canada Cup, three-time Stanley Cup winner, 8-time champion of the USSR.

The center-forward, nicknamed “The Professor”, retained outstanding skill until the most advanced, by sporting standards, years – in 2002, at the age of 41, he won the bronze medal of the 2002 Olympics with the Russian team and the third Stanley Cup in his career with Detroit.

So the logic behind the appointment of Larionov as the head coach of the Russian youth team is understandable at first glance. But by the age of 60, Igor Nikolaevich, in fact, does not have serious experience in coaching.

For comparison – the coaching career of the great Anatoly Tarasova ended de facto by the age of 55. Victor Tikhonov by the age of 60, he twice led the USSR national team to victories at the Olympics, won the Challenge Cup and the Canada Cup, and led the team to gold in the world championships 8 times. It’s not even worth talking about the victories of Tikhonov’s CSKA – this club in its era ate the best NHL teams for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“I took the liberty of saying that you haven’t come up with anything new in the style of leadership of the CSKA team and the national team”

Larionov may well be addressing the words of one of the heroines of the film “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears”: “You’re starting too late!”

But this is not the main problem. There is a feeling that the “Professor” generally vaguely understands the nature of Soviet successes in hockey.

When, in the late 1980s, members of the great “First Five”, eager for the material benefits of the alluring NHL, branded the coach-dictator Tikhonov with shame, Larionov went further than others.

In an open letter to Tikhonov in the Ogonyok magazine in 1988, Larionov wrote: “Apparently, a hockey player is just a player for you. A functioning unit, which is assigned not only a professional (goalkeeper, defender, striker), but also a social role. If you can’t cope with it – get out on all four sides! Look how many guys dream of getting into the national team – just whistle! No one is irreplaceable! Isn’t it? … One gets the impression that you are simply not interested in the team consisting of bright individuals. That it’s easier for you to have middle three or four links, a kind of Riga “Dynamo” of 1974 model … Such a team is easier to keep under the yoke of the most severe discipline, in an atmosphere of constant fear for the future in an atmosphere when denunciations become profitable … I took the liberty of saying that in the style of leadership of the CSKA team and the national team you have not come up with anything new. After all, if you look closely, the climate that you have created for hockey players is very reminiscent of the atmosphere of the cult of personality, only the cult of a bloodless, quiet, cult in miniature, where the “collectivist spirit” means soldierism, where democracy is replaced by unquestioning obedience, where the game of hockey we all love put at the service of you, our coach … Life itself shows, proves that your coaching style, which may have given positive results in the past, reveals failures, ceases to justify itself, bursts at all seams, like the administrative-command system itself, which has developed in the country”.

A little later Larionov will publish a book in which almost every page will prove that he, Igor Nikolaevich Larionov, is a self-sufficient figure, who would become outstanding in the Resurrection Chemist, and to whom, of course, the dictator Tikhonov was only a hindrance.

Way to success

To challenge the greatness of Larionov as a hockey player is stupid. But there are very serious doubts that he would have become what he became, without the very five, which was completely the creation of Tikhonov.

At one time, the unknown coach Tikhonov in the modest Riga “Dynamo” revolutionized world hockey by inventing a game of four fives. They laughed at this until Dynamo, from the very bottom of the second league, reached 4th place in the USSR championship.

Tikhonov was drafted to CSKA and the USSR national team in times of severe turbulence, when in the 1970s, after a great era Chernysheva and Tarasov, Soviet hockey lost strength and stability. And it was thanks to Tikhonov that the great era of the 1980s began.

It all started with a tremendous failure – after the first successes at the World Championships and the Challenge Cup, the USSR national team lost the Olympics to the USA team. Americans still make up legends about that triumph.

But for Tikhonov, failure was a signal for a generational change in the national team. And his new team in 1981 destroyed the hosts in the Canada Cup final with a score of 8: 1. But these were only the first steps of the legendary “First Five”.

Seven years later, crowned with titles, Larionov, in fact, will declare – like Tikhonov, anyone can.

Patience and work

More than thirty years have passed since then. And suddenly it became clear that no one can. It’s not about achieving individual successes. No one can create a system of upbringing and training a team that can turn nouns into winners.

And Tikhonov in 1992, after the stars left abroad, with the national team without a flag and anthem, with the players who were called “Kindergarten” in the West, won the third Olympics in his career.

And who is capable of doing something like this today?

Yes, Tikhonov demanded complete self-denial from those who worked with him. But he himself was a fan of the case, to which he devoted his whole life.

Do Tikhonov’s methods work today? And who of the modern coaches analyzed them at all? Those close to Viktor Vasilyevich said that his numerous notes remained unclaimed – they were not needed by the modern geniuses of the domestic coaching workshop.

Well, that’s right, why – after all, we are already crushing Canadians and Americans, wiping our feet on the Swedes and Finns, isn’t it?

Tikhonov did not call his team “Red Car” – this phrase was invented by those whom this unique device swept from its path. For him, words generally had little meaning, everything determined the matter.

Each player had to know his own maneuver, understand what is required of him in the next second of the game. The success was the result of colossal, titanic work.


A distinctive feature of Soviet hockey was a collective game, excellent possession of the passing technique, the ability to find a partner anywhere on the field. And Larionov’s youth team seemed to be trying to play just this kind of hockey.

But there is a fundamental difference – all the intricacies of combinations of the original “Red Car” were built for the goal of a goal against the opponent, and there was nothing superfluous in this game.

And Larionov’s team demonstrated pure hockey “cargo cult” – players rush around the field and play pass without real advancement and threats to the opponent’s goal, demonstrating figure skating with a puck that pleases the eye. It was only at a meeting with the Canadian team that the “counterfeit” was exposed in a matter of minutes. It turned out that Russian hockey intricacies cost a penny on a market day, and it is unrealistic to declass a principal rival with their help.

Larionov enjoyed life in North America for many years, becoming, as they say, a very good winemaker. Only now this lesson has nothing to do with the art of coaching.

Let’s return Tretyak to the gate and win?

It seems that the “Professor” still did not understand that then, in the late 1980s, he behaved like a complete layman. He is not alone, of course – many in the country have imagined that anyone can build airplanes, missiles, build cities, create medicine, education, etc.

The result of this “rebellion of intellectuals” was the total devastation of the 1990s, the consequences of which are still felt and will be felt for a long time to come.

In order to really recreate Soviet hockey in its best manifestations, it is necessary to study the experience of its predecessors, transferring it to modern times, and abandon the pursuit of brands and big names.

Larionov, after losing to Finland in the match for 3rd place, asked not to humiliate the team. Nobody is going to. What is the demand from the boys? There are questions for the functionaries responsible for personnel decisions.

What are the prospects of 60-year-old Larionov in terms of training youth? Why is the country’s second most important team given to a person who does not have serious coaching experience? Isn’t this just another humiliation of the coaching profession, which in recent decades in our country, through the efforts of Larionov himself, has been lowered below the plinth?

If we took up the imitation of the “Red Car”, then at the next adult world championship we can put a 68-year-old Tretyak, in the attack of 60-year-old Larionov, and in defense of 62-year-old Fetisova… There is a chance that such a spectacle will lead the Canadians into a state of deep stupor, with the help of which we will win.

This method is no worse than the imitation of Soviet hockey, demonstrated by the youth team of Igor Larionov.

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