A funny thing happened on the way to a forum, I saw sense and ran away. Last weekend in the refurbished Sokolniki Park saw the “Football – two countries, one passion” event that was to “herald the way forward for Russian football”. What was almost added was, “into the 20 th century”. I seriously expected a very competent and productive showing as the media blurb in advance of it had it at a pretty high level.
It was to be all about showing the Russians the right way to do things, after all, weren’t two German clubs in the Champions and Runners up, third and fourth place (in some leagues) League final, sponsored by a beer company who cannot be named. Sure weren’t both of the clubs in the final after winning it before, one of them even went bust since. And that same one was responsible for selling replica kits that were not fit for being placed on the human body. It was all the past, everything was the past.
Sponsors rolled out, like Continental tyres, and German stadium services and building companies hovered around declaring how German technology was superior and that unless the locals took it on board the 2018 World Cup was doomed to failure. I couldn’t help but smile when I heard one comment from a young father as he shook his head at the malfunctioning “Robo Keeper” stall where people lined up to take penalty shots. “German technology didn’t help in Stalingrad.” I wanted to say that NKVD pistols at the back of Soviet soldiers necks probably balanced it and weight of numbers, weather and home support swung it the way of the Red Army, but I was trying to keep from smiling.
The apex of the event was the promotion of the best way to build a club, presented by – TSG 1899 Hoffenheim! Now before anyone might ask if this is the same guy from Baywatch, they’re a village team who did a Roy of the Rovers turnabout and rose up from the fifth tier of German football to make a run at the title a couple of years back. In six days from now they’ll know if they are still a top flight side when they face off against another “dream” club, Kaiserslautern, in the relegation-promotion playoff. What goes up, must come down and Hoffenheim have shown that when it goes bad, it goes very bad.
Once SAP founder Dietmar Hopp poured millions into the club to push them up the leagues, there have been many snooting their noses at the “village” side who have no tradition, though this is very interesting coming from teams whose history enjoyed more restarts than a 30 year old Lada. Promotion and consolidation under the steady hand of Ralph Rangnick was impressive with a likely cast of characters push the club to the top of the table and last eight of the cup. With Demba Ba, Vedad Ibisevic and Luiz Gustavo turning in quality performances weekly, the club looked like being genuine contenders, especially with the club ensconced in the newly built Rhein-Neckar-Stadium. Then it went bang.
Rangnick left over the sale of Gustavo, Ibisevic got injured and was sold, Demba Ba went. Since January 2011 the club have had six head coaches (including two caretakers) and the unity and stability that got them to the top had all but vanished as they slid from top five contention towards the trapdoor. Yet in Moscow they were wheeling out the miracle of Hoffenheim and how they would be the model for Russian clubs to follow – until it was pointed out to their spokesman that there was indeed a model in Russia of this type, in fact many models, with most long out of business including FC Moscow as the biggest casualty. While the event was meant to promote the German way of doing business, there are existing good models of club development here in Russia that would be far better looked at and used as a base model. Nothing is perfect, though buying into a failed philosophy is one sure way to disaster.
So what club(s) here could be looked at and learned from? FC Krasnodar is one that has turned out good youth players, stayed competitive and keeping itself moving –so long as the owner learns to stop tweeting every bad decision of a referee or the RFS or FIFA. Over the border in Belarus FC BATE Borisov have shown how clever investment and continual stability can reap big profits on and off the pitch. While Rubin Kazan have built on national unity, clever marketing and community development to challenge at the top table. Too often the prophets are ignored in their homeland, so it remains in Russia with wolves in Adidas clothing sniffing around for business.