The new plans introduced by Yury Morozov, who took over as Zenit’s coach at the end of the 1970s, weren’t always supported by Morozov’s players, and two years later Morozov came to the conclusion that he should raise a new generation of young Leningrad football players. The effect of this move exceeded all expectations. Zenit came in third place in the USSR Championship for the first time in its history. The third place winners were Alexander Tkachenko, Anatoly Davydov (team captain), Alexey Stepanov, Vladimir Golubyov, Sergey Bondarenko, Nikolay Larionov, Vladimir Dolgopolov, Vladimir Kazachyonok, Yury Zheludkov, Vyacheslav Melnikov, Yury Gerasimov, Igor Yakovlev, Vladimir Klementyev, Yury Timofeyev, and Sergey Shvetsov. Zenit made its debut in the UEFA Cup in the fall of 1981. The club`s first experience playing in Europe was not a successful one though, as Zenit lost to Dynamo Dresden (1:2; 1:4).

Pavel Fyodorovich Sadyrin took over as Zenit’s coach in the end of 1982. The young coach managed to liberate his players, thereby allowing the footballers to improvise more on the pitch. Zenit reached the final of the USSR Cup for the 3rd time in its history in 1984, but lost to Dynamo Moscow. The experience only brought the Zenit players closer together though. The team rose through the USSR Championship standings, and kept hold of first place. Zenit became champion of the USSR on November 21, 1984, beating Metallist Kharkov in the last match of the season 4:1. Zenit`s first-ever USSR Championship title was won by Mikhail Biryukov, Anatoly Davydov, Alexey Stepanov, Sergey Kuznetsov, Sergey Vedeneyev, Nikolay Larionov (team captain), Vladimir Dolgopolov, Yury Zheludkov, Boris Chukhov, Vyacheslav Melnikov, Vladimir Klementyev, Arkady Afanasiev, Valery Broshin, Sergey Dmitriev, and Dmitry Barannik. Four Zenit players were called up to the national team (Biryukov, Larionov, Dmitriev, and Klementyev) for the first time ever.