Russian football in crisis – part 1

It was a typically Russian response, one that anybody who has worked here, or done business, with Russian companies will have experienced.

Payday arrives, confidently you head out that evening and decide to remove some cash from the drinklink and you begin to boil. What was in your account the day before, hasn’t changed.

It’s eight o’clock, so no good calling your boss or someone who can offer an explanation, worse, it’s a Friday and it dawns on you that your fridge is going to remain empty for another couple of days, at least.

This is just the beginning. The end will be far more frustrating and depressing.

You sit across the table from your Lord and Master, the person who has to sign the document to release your payment. Over a month’s work has been done yet you are without a rouble to show. He picks holes in everything you’ve done.

You’ve not reached this KPI (in non-idiot language – target) or that number was not fulfilled. The urge to gasp and ask if they had gone some time at birth without oxygen is dampened down by your need for cash. Eventually you accept that you are a bad person, that you will have to work harder, do more, do the impossible, for less.

If you are lucky, you escape with your wages intact. There is an unspoken agreement that going to court would only leave you broke and unemployable, so you shut up and suffer. You smile, shake hands, doff your cap and leave.

Eamon Dunphy tells a story of when he went to confront Matt Busby, he marched through the door demanding a pay increase for him and the team, he left under the door and returned to tell his team mates they were taking a pay cut. I could never tell it as well as Eamon, but it is a daily occurrence in Russia and getting worse.

On St. Stephen’s Day I met a former client in Moscow. Back in 2006 he’d been in Croatia for rehab (ankle) and after retiring as a player in 2009 he went into coaching. He works at a strong youth football school which acts as a feeder to Dinamo Moscow. His salary is 90,000 Roubles a month (c. 1200 Euros), he owns a nice apartment, his wife works as a nurse (salary 15,000 Roubles a month – c. 200 Euros) and his two kids are in kindergarden.

He is an excellent coach; since 2010, three of his players have appeared in the Premier League, twice that in the National Championship. As we were hugging goodbye he seemed a bit, awkward. Then he asked if he could he borrow some money, until the New Year. I remembered when I had to borrow money from him in Croatia to pay for petrol as I’d forgotten to take the company credit card and had no cash. I gave him a loan, no questions asked.

At midday on December 30th, the last proper day of work until January 12th, he called to say he’d just been made redundant. The school had used a clever loophole in the Russian law and ensured that he had no recourse to the legal system (a complaint had to be filed within 14 days, but nobody would receive it in time). His last salary had been in September, some of his colleagues were unpaid for more than a year. I told him not to worry, something would turn up. I knew he’d not go to court as doing so would mean no more work in football, here or abroad.

With the two-way sanctions, increasing anti-Russian rhetoric abroad and anti-foreign sentiment at home, rouble and oil price nosediving and the outflow of capital, Russia is suffering far more than the crisis in 2008-09.

Lay-offs are the only way the brains trusts who head up many local companies see as being the way forward. Firing masses of workers without legal recourse or proper assessment of capabilities, is corroding Russian business from within, football clubs are doing the same.

It is hard to swallow that a club who gathered substantial revenue from a European adventure (their first) and who sit eighth at the winter break, could leave their players without salary for the best part of a year.

When the Governor of Krasnodar Kray and Mayor of Krasnodar both lined up to praise the exploits of FC Kuban, did they know the players had not been paid in months? There is no players union and under labour law athletes can be treated the same as any other class of worker in the country, which closes the circle neatly. In a country where many workers have a “black” and “white” payment, nobody knows what they are entitled to, football follows suit. At all levels players have “contract” salary and “dirty/black” salary. Usually 50-50. It’s all about tax avoidance and everybody plays the game.

Fabio Capello, or Trap Light as he was described on RTE, has been unpaid since the World Cup. Despite topping the qualification group for Brazil (ahead of Portugal) and with only four losses in 29 games, not to mention a far better than expected showing in the World Cup, he is not good enough to be paid.

The usual ignorant and hurler on the ditch comments flowed when the head coach began the current qualifying campaign with less than full enthusiasm. A good draw in Sweden was deemed the end of the world by those who had an agenda.

Apparently Russia can only do well under a Russian coach (according to Russian coaches looking for work). A foreign coach doesn’t understand the players, doesn’t respect them and doesn’t have the tools to motivate them. Sound familiar Irish fans?

The best comment came from the non-existent Andrei Arshavin (still smarting from losing his Pepsi endorsements) who declared that it was right that the Union don’t pay him as he has done nothing for Russian football. The herd bleated loudly as the year of the Sheep dawned.

He is correct, apart from bringing one of the weakest collections of Russian players in years to a World Cup for the first time in a decade and having the team with a shout of qualifying for the second round going into the last match, what has he done? Stuck with their man, the Union haven’t the money to sack or pay him, and have far more pressing problems to deal with.

Part 2 – When is a Russian club not a Russian club? Will the Russian Football Union disobey a direct Kremlin order? Out later this week.

Author Details

Alan Moore

A Russia-based Sports Journalist and Consultant, worked with major sports clubs including:- Spartak Moscow, Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt. Boxed Internationally, played semi-pro football and worked full-time in sports management/consultancy from 2003-13. First published professionally on football in 1990, first Russian league match in 1991, now hosting Capital Sports on Capital FM, Moscow and the Capital Sports Stadium Shows at the RZD Arena and writing the odd article. Director of the Russian State Social University College in Moscow. And to make things more fun, he produces and hosts #ChampTalks for UNESCO, Moscow's Tolerance Centre and Capital FM.

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