Back to basics for Russian football

The threat of US armed support for Ukraine’s government was probably the greatest assist to the just completed peace talks in Minsk.

The Moscow Times newspaper (who are traditionally arch critics of the Kremlin and all things corrupted in Russia) published a list of five “interventions” by the USA, the latest being Syria. We can guess that Messrs Putin, Poroshenko, Hollande and Mrs. Merkel were all very aware of US “help”, even though it would never materialise.

So with the latest round of rabid anti-Russian exortations complete, the media roll onto the EU “threats” regarding sanctions should Russia not comply, oddly Ukranian non-compliance merits not a word. But this is the world we live in, with a much needed boogey man in VVP and his cronies to prop up media outlets across the world.

Personally I want the ridiculous sanctions lifted (from all sides). Since Vlad and his buddies blocked Kerrygold Cheese from being the only edible cheese-type food product in Russia, my pleasant Saturday afternoon cheese roll, with a cup of Lyons tea while listening to sports radio from Ireland (or when the BBC don’t block 5live) has been soulless.

Yes, weekends without local football can be THAT interesting!

So once quality meat (you cannot get decent beef for love nor money – don’t ask), Irish dairy products and proper vegetables are let back into Russia, life will return to normal.

The build up to 2018 will resume and with spring fast approaching, football will be back with us. Yet one man is not happy.


Vitali Mutko, our white knight in Gazprom armour, tells us that preparation for 2018 is for nought when our players are sitting on the bench week in, week out. He blames, though understands, Club Presidents (owners) for allowing this develop.

In his interview with Sports Express newspaper he says (rightly) the blame lies in the youth system and academies.

Of course the derision greeting his latest “come and get me” plea to Russian football was deafening. Who can believe a man who turned Zenit into the gluttonous beast that it is (currently acquiring the always unhappy Artem “Big Daddy” Dzuba from Spartak) and who ensured that forward thinking academies and centres like the Konopylov in Togliatti were gutted and destroyed by government and professional clubs?

However, he is correct the our youth development system has failed and everybody acknowledges this. For sure he is not able to right the situation, though at least he is speaking about it, as have the RFS on many occasions. But we need actions, not words.

Credit to Mutko for his fortright statements on doping in sports schools, credit to him for inviting WADA into the country to test 3,000 athletes, and three cheers for forcing the doyen of Russian and World Athletics Valentin Balakhnichev out of office.

He has let loose the dogs of war on Russian sports to combat drug cheating, with long distance swimmer Vladimir Dyatchin the latest to get hit.

He also made an aside to reporters after Russia’s recent Fed Cup win in regard to tennis players doping up (for once no Little Miss “Panic Room” Serena Williams involved in this one). Which was an unveiled shot at embattled tennis chiefs in Russia for their own lax regime.

But what about football? What is going to be done to prepare the team for 2018? The “Gazprom Globetrotters” idea was worryingly nodded at by some in football and the sports media.

Entering an All-Star team in the Premier League does seem like the least intelligent option, which means it could happen with the egos involved. Getting the academy structures and youth football in Russia right will have no effect on 2018 whatsoever, though it will for 2020, 2022, 2024, 2026 and for UEFA club competitions from 2020 onwards.

Establishing, enforcing and monitoring (and tweaking) proper guidelines for on and off the field youth development would maximise the effect of the system and provide clubs with abundant talent.

Add to this the simple business facts that a proper youth development system would bring – connecting and marketing in the community = more interest from locals = more people at matches = more opportunities for merchandising and concession sales = more revenue = social lift and growth.

The structures are in place to make this happen, the knowledge is still floating around the system and the financial support is there. However the will is lacking. Anything beyond one season is too long for the vast majority of clubs and their backers, and indeed fans.

So long as basic diet and nutrition are not taught and monitored in Russian academies. So long as education is not a central hub of academies. So long as ambition to improve is not bred into coaches by their Directors. So long as things remain the same, nothing will change.

All the visits to foreign academies, the visits of foreign experts to local academies, result in more of the same, photo opp’s and back slapping. Yet a slap on the back, as the saying goes, is only a few inches from a kick up the backside.

Despite the fine words of our Sports Minister, Football Union and well meaning others, the future of Russian football relies on going back to basics now.

The Author

Alan Moore

Russian-based sports journalist, commentator, radio host & consultant. Worked with major clubs including Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt, Lokomotiv and Spartak Moscow. Current host of Capital Sports 3.0, former international boxer and semi-professional footballer and FIFA World Cup commentator.

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