Despite combining a strong looking roster at the start of last season, Žalgiris had a terrifying near-death experience throughout the year with game boycotts from the players, debts reaching all time highs (~ 26 million LTL) and a fairytale ending. Look at it this way, you’re driving a car into a wall at full speed and you haven’t got brakes – this just can’t end well. But it did. Though they lost all domestic titles to Lietuvos Rytas and came short of the Top 16 in Euroleague, they did survive. A knight on a white horse or rather Quasimodo – Vladimir Romanov that is – came to rescue at the last possible moment.
A bad reputation
Even though people don’t like him, Romanov did come as a savior this time and got a boost to his reputation. Romanov’s previous publicity stunts on TV such as the Lithuanian equivalent of ‘Dancing with the stars’ were worth a laugh. Being compared to Pinocchio, the fictional wooden character of Carlo Collodi – wood and grace don’t have much in common, do they? – he still won the competition, but most people felt it was a bit… what’s the word… oh – rigged. Or an attempt to run for presidency. I’m not joking, the guy really tried it, but he was not allowed because his parents weren’t Lithuanian.
Love for football
As you may well know, Romanov’s main love is football – he owns a number of clubs in Scotland, Belarus and Lithuania. He got in a row with the Lithuanian Football Federation (LFF) and decided that two clubs that depend on his money would drop out of A lyga. Not because of financial difficulties, but as a protest – both clubs are playing in the II lyga (third tier) now.
The love story of Romanov and Žalgiris
In May of 2009 the story of a bad guy began to change as Romanov rescued the legend of Kaunas, buying 75 percent of Žalgiris’ shares and in result getting control of the currently being built Kaunas arena in concession for 25 years. A nice bite for the businessman from Tver to say the least. This fact is sometimes overlooked, but you still have to take your hat off for his effort to save Žalgiris – investing 51 million LTL in the club is a big deal. Especially when you consider that there probably wouldn’t be anyone else who would have in such economic climate. The worth of the assets that Romanov’s group ŪBIG controls is 3,1 billion LTL, so Žalgiris – and the arena with it – was a bargain for the Russian born man.
Romanov is a good businessman, everyone admits it – he’s smart, intelligent and always has bright ideas in his mind. Days after coming into his new role in basketball, Romanov wasn’t shy to say he would need more experience in this field, but already had a vision on the club. Young, talented and Lithuanian – these three words were mentioned the most. The problem, according to Romanov, was that young Lithuanians signed contracts with agencies very early. And even though they were home grown in Kaunas, the club had to pay to the agents as well, when extending contracts. For what? He did not know.
And they happily lived after
Žalgiris has paid it’s debts to players for the last season already. Everyone is happy – the fans, the players and Romanov as well. The return of Euroleague’s all-time top scorer Marcus Brown shows just how much the situation has got better in Kaunas. After being set on loan to Maccabi Tel-Aviv last mid-season the guard decided that the best option for him was to come back to the club that didn’t pay for his hard work last year.