Stability. A word that provides assurance and protection. A word that conveys a sense of continuity and success. A word that can hardly be placed alongside the finances of Russian football. The recent plights of FC Saturn and Amkar Perm have pushed the issue of finances back to the top of the agenda and the Russian Premier League may be starting to heed the warnings of the past few years.
The problem facing Russian football lies in the fact that a significant percentage of clubs rely upon state funding to survive – in a division that suffers from a large polarity of financial extremes between the teams at the top and bottom. For those clubs who do not have the financial backing of a major energy corporation to entice exciting talents from across the globe then times can prove to be hard. It is common for Russian clubs to be primarily owned and run by regional governments who either hardly care about the well being of the institution or lack the financial might to take their clubs to the next level and beyond. State ownership means that clubs operate with their hands firmly behind their backs as they can often find that economic uncertainties mean that the bankrolling a football club is placed on the back burner as the concerns of the wider public are primarily focussed upon.
Such a form of ownership has placed Russian football under a significant level of strain – particularly since the boom years of the mid 2000’s where investment in football was at its highest since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Such strain in fact has meant that numerous clubs from Russia’s top flight have sunk to the depths of lower league football because of the weight of financial mismanagement. Torpedo Moscow, FC Moscow and FC Saturn have all fallen by the wayside as the situation shows no sign of letting up.
For years it has looked as though the Russian Football Union and the Russian Premier League would simply sweep the situation under the carpet and hope that it goes away. It is of course difficult for either organisation to force change upon the ownership of clubs simply due to the fact that initiating such vast levels of privatisation would require an even greater number of investors – which is not likely to happen in the current economic climate. Sergei Pryadkin – the President of the Russian Premier League – has recently stated his desire for clubs in Russia’s top flight to move away from state ownership and match the manner in which many European clubs are run.
Pryadkin has also expressed his desire to discuss the idea of opening up the accounts of each club in the Premier League in order to truly assess the constraints upon which some are currently running. Such transparency will make clubs think twice about spending beyond their means as the possibility of repercussions from the Premier League or RFU could well act as a deterrent. However the idea of the likes of Prydakin being permitted access to club’s accounts would go against the way in which other European leagues regulate finances and spending. However the scale of debt within Russian football means that relatively drastic actions need to be implemented in order to ensure the long term health of the nation’s most popular sport.
The Premier League President has also made clear his belief that clubs must be able to prove their sound financial footing before the beginning of a new season. Recent seasons have seen a number of clubs linked with financial collapse mid term – which is a situation that Pyradkin is keen to ensure does not occur. The likes of Krylya Sovetov and Tom Tomsk have been plagued by rumours of bankruptcy for a number of years and it is clubs such as these that the Premier League are keen to ensure are able to complete a full season of fixtures without the imposing pressure of potentially withdrawing from the tournament. By implementing a system whereby clubs are forced to prove their sustainability to the Premier League and RFU then the future of Russian football would be placed in a far stronger position. Such a system ensures the viability and reputation of one of Europe’s most reputable developing league systems while forcing clubs to adhere to the idea of stability.
The importance of the sustainability of Russian football has become increasingly important due to the World Cup in 2018. Pyradkin realises that the tournament can not only establish a legacy upon its completion but it can also have an effect on football at this very moment in time. The dream of seeing the development of the Russian Premier League into one of European football’s elite competitions is one that can over time come to fruition. The obstacles that currently blight the top flight are not immovable objects. The World Cup will bring a slew of potential investors to the nation whether from within Russian or far flung areas of the globe – with such investment potentially providing relief for the likes of Amkar Perm and Krylya Sovetov who presently sit in a rather precarious position. Sergei Pyradkin’s hopes for a greater level of transparency within the financial aspect of Russian football is a position that requires vast levels of discussion in order to ensure that Russian football can stand firmly on both feet.
The circumstances may seem bleak at the moment but there are hopes that Russian football can in time become more closely aligned with the term stability and all that that brings.