The story of Anzhi and their recent troubles should fire a warning across the bows of Russian clubs at all levels. The raucous delight of fans and media at the clubs difficulties drowns out the real fears of every other club in the country. If Gazprom decide to turn off the gas, Zenit and certain other clubs fold.
Should the Lukoil spigots seize up, Spartak run out of juice. And on and on.
If city, republic and region governments were really interested in promoting health and well being amongst the citizens, the tens of millions wasted on professional football each year would be properly recorded and the money show a proper return on investment.
There is no way to fully analyze where the finances go wrong without a club by club, kopek by kopek investigation. Agents tell their clients to head to Russia as for paydays few other leagues can match it for a mediocre International who doesn’t qualify for a UK work visa. Ambitious players stick it out for a season or two then go on to a more career developing competition.
Yet there are talents arriving who are capable of immediate impact at higher rated leagues. Aiden McGeady has been impressive in Russia and currently has offers from 2 English Premier League sides. Samuel Eto’o would walk into most sides in the Bundesliga, Seydou Doumbia has the talent to tear apart even the most miserly Serie A defences, Keisuke Honda has talent enough to attract Milan. Yet these and many other high price foreigners plying their trade in Russia don’t do what is expected.
In Malta, I worked alongside a very clever president. He did things right, abhorred cheating and told our players, coaches and staff to play fair. He was also very clear about what was expected of each person, though he lacked the consistency to make sure everyone did what they were told. At the time, Maltese Premier sides were restricted to just 3 foreigners on the pitch and most clubs just carried the 3. The reasons was simple – finance.
Foreigners were paid more (almost always) than locals, you could only have 3 on the pitch at a time and there was no sense in carrying spare. As a result foreign players had to be far better than the locals on and off the field. The Maltese FA failed (and continue to do so) in using the quality foreign players to lift the standard of the league and game, though when the clubs themselves possess only short term views, and they elect the officials, it is to be expected.
For Russia there is no benefit to clubs, their development or football from the silly money wasted on foreign players. Of course there is black or grey financial sense in getting large amounts of cash moving, though the quality of the league and domestic players have not improved. Local players have grown more resentful of less than impressive foreign players turning up and earning multiples of their own take home pay.
In one leading Premier club, one recent foreign import earns only €1,000 less per month than the 7 highest paid Russian players he lines out with. Spartak, heading the league, are on a major spending splurge with owner Leonid Fedun convinced that this will be their year, though with a budget now matching Zenit’s and only a fraction of the expected sponsor revenue coming in, if Spartak fail to win the league this year, tax efficiency or no, Fedun will look for other ways to earn more money.
So let others scoff while they can, for they know just below the surface that it could be them next. Better to get a laugh in now before it’s too late. Russian fans have never been so divided as when Rubin broke the title deadlock (of course this was down to Putin and a command to let the Tatar’s win something to placate militant Islam) and clubs whose followers are described as “blacks” by that pioneer of democracy Alexander Navalny, began to threaten the traditional position of the Moscow clubs and Zenit in the pecking order.
With Mr. Consistency (as in consistently bad) Lothar Mattheus arriving to coach resurgent Mordovia Saransk in the FNL, we learn all we need to about Russian football. Image, glamour and make sure we’re bigger than the neighbours. It hasn’t done Shamrock Rovers any good and they will survive for a lot longer than any Russian Premier club. Let’s hope the Anzhi wobble creates a new way for Russian football.