10.05.2016 03:38 h

Slutsky battles foes at home and abroad

Forced to give up playing football after falling from a tree rescuing a neighbour's cat, Leonid Slutsky is now the saviour of Russia's team heading to Euro 2016.

The burly 44-year-old stepped in last year after Russia dismissed the highly paid Italian Fabio Cappello.

Slutsky orchestrated a dramatic turnaround -- Russia won only two of their first six games then four on the trot under Slutsky -- that fired Russia to the European Championship finals.

They now face a tough Group B against England, Wales and Slovakia and Slutsky says he also faces a continual battle against "scepticism" at home.

The Russian worked his way up from the lowest leagues to win back-to-back titles with CSKA Moscow, who he still manages alongside the national team.

Slutsky's rise as a coach was built on early heartbreak. Born in 1971 in the southern Russian city of Volgograd he became a goalkeeper and signed with a local team on leaving school.

After only 13 games fate ended his career at the age of 19. A neighbour asked the teenager to get her cat down from a tree. He fell and shattered a knee.

"I spent a year in hospital. They told me it wouldn't bend at all again," Slutsky said in an interview with Sovetsky Sport daily.

"For a long time I worked hard to get better. I tried to return to playing football but it didn't work out."

Slutsky flung himself into football management, gaining a degree from a coaching academy and taking over a youth team where he immediately stamped the Slutsky style on his young charges.

"I put a lot of pressure on the footballers. There were very strict rules and draconian controls," Slutsky recalled.

"They had to get up, eat, sleep at a fixed time."

The team were promoted into the lowest professional league and Slutsky then became assistant coach at Premier League side Uralan Elista.

He was head coach at FC Moscow and Samara before his big break came in 2009 and he was made manager of CSKA Moscow. He took over from another big-paid foreign coach, ex-Real Madrid boss Juande Ramos, who had lasted just 47 days.

After just two games Slutsky led CSKA to a thrilling 3-3 Champions League draw with Alex Ferguson's Manchester United at Old Trafford.

CSKA won back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015.

With Russia struggling under Capello's direction, Slutsky's success brought the spotlight. Capello, reportedly the world's highest paid coach, was sacked when qualification for Euro 2016 looked at risk.

Slutsky -- the first Russian to coach the national team in almost 10 years -- reinvigorated the squad. The four win streak guaranteed an automatic ticket to France.

Despite the success, Slutsky says he still faces scepticism from fans and football experts because he was never a top player.

"There is a huge group, including the fans of CSKA, who are still convinced that my appointment at the club is an incredible error, and are waiting every day for my resignation," Slutsky told R-Sport earlier this year.

"When I was coaching kids, it was the same thing: scepticism and rejection.

"Maybe the reason is that my appearance, demeanour and way I communicate are not all according to the coaching manual.

"However hard I work, I have to keep proving something to someone."