Back to basics – Russian logic wins the day

I uncovered a cassette when I was home last month that resulted in a search for a cassette player, luckily we had one so thanks to Panasonic on the double I was able to relive the heady summer of 1988.

Taping the US Top-40 countdown on pirate radio was a regular for me and from Glenn Medeiros to Cinderella, the sounds of a memorable year for Ireland rattled around the room they were originally recorded in.


I would love to talk about the odd moves put together by certain politicians on behalf of certain businessmen in order to secure radio licences which, in the process, removed the variety of Irish radio.

Treble TR listeners are unable to put those Stetsons back on and despite the flowering of Garth Brooks and Billy Ray Cyrus in the 1990s, even last year’s threat of a return to action by the man with friends in low places, left huge swathes of Ireland (and parts of Phibsboro) without much to live for.

And it was a Cinderella song, not the one recorded back in August ’88, that I hummed after getting off the phone with a delegate this morning after the latest Russian Football Union (RFS) Presidential Election.

Today I chose to do proper work in the office and not bother going to Sokolniki’s Holiday Inn where the great and greater of Russian football had convened to do what was predicted here months ago, Mutko lurking.

Standing unopposed Vitali “From my heart” Mutko was put back in as President of the RFS. He began by having former President Tolstykh isolated and ridiculed, then the Gazprom man moved quickly to get him to resign.

With enough time passed, and no doping offences at the World Athletics Championships, the former Zenit President was back in the chair he’d vacated in November 2009 to rescue the World Cup bid.

Mutko is the Minister for Sport and has overseen a pretty honest attempt to stamp down on doping in the country, an effort his assistant described to me as trying to put out a forest fire by “pissing on it”.

If we can judge the poor medal return from Beijing as the result of actively seeking to wipe out the scourge of doping, then he at least made a start. How he will combine his many roles remains to be seen.

From the off he has a lot to prove, beginning with the disjointed nature of Russian football and racist issues. Most delegates I spoke with said that the reason they are happy to have Vitali is that he will save the RFS from bankruptcy and he will ensure that there are no catastrophes coming down the line.

Stagnancy and inertia, the two Russian watchwords – while getting profit and success yesterday! Mutko, they honestly believe, will bring back the good times of 2008!

So apart from digging up the corpses of Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko, what else can Vitali do? He’s already begun by bringing in CSKA Moscow coach Leonid Slutsky to head up the National Team.

This crowd pleasing move got a little breathing room for the RFS ahead of the last four qualifiers for Euro 2016. Russia have, on paper, an easy run in after their showdown this Saturday with Sweden.

Matches with Liechtenstein, Moldova and Montenegro should yield nine points, despite the dearth of talent in Russia. Though his contract runs until November, Slutsky could find himself with the unenviable task of bearing a nation’s hopes on his shoulders in 2017 and 2018.

For the racism issue he has done little of a substantive nature to improve the lot of those who suffer from it. Mutko, privately, has expressed disquiet on how little leading clubs are doing to stamp down on the problem.

In a meeting at the RFS HQ in Taganka in 2008 he told me that this is an issue at odds with the Russian heart, having lived in various parts of the country and traveled widely, I agree with him.

However, now the most powerful man in Russian sport needs to do something more than hope or deflect. Whataboutery and bullshit excuses will not work as an apocalypse looms.

So that Cinderella song, “The more things change”, I found it on a Russian social network, a Facebook-knockoff known as Vkontakte, which operates outside the World copyright laws.

Vkontakte’s majority owner is that bastion of humanity and incorruptibility, Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov, the man who has a major say in the running of Russian football (and fencing) because the RFS owes so much money to him.

The next line in the song is very suited to the result of today’s non-election. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Stagnancy, inertia and add in fear and hatred – Russian football is back on track.

Update: A day into the job and Vitaly has delivered Norilsk Nickel as the main sponsor of the Russian Football Union. This is the same company who, in 2004, set up FC Moscow to get in good with the Kremlin, get tax breaks and run one of the most effective money-laundering operations outside of the English Premier League.

The FC Moscow project was fully backed by one of Norilsk’s shareholders, Mikhail Prokhorov, who now owns the Brooklyn Nets. Norilsk, one of the worst environmental polluters in a country not exactly known for controlling such issues, and one of the owners, Oleg Deripaska, is good buddies with Mr. George Osborne.

The international re-branding of the RFS is beginning an upward swing!

The Author

Alan Moore

Russian based sports journalist, commentator and consultant, working 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 commentated at the FIFA World Cup 2018 and 2019 Rugby World Cup.

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