The battle for control of Russian football

Sides are being taken in the war for the soul of Russian football. Many of the money men in Russia, from Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (VVP) to Spartak Moscow owner Leonid Fedun, seem to be experiencing midlife crises.

While Putin finally split with his long-suffering wife (who has literally disappeared) and Fedun struts around with his baseball cap trying to be Mister hip, trendy cool Dad, the ever worsening finances of the Russian Football Union and the game in general, are rupturing the community.

Fedun made the Kremlin backed play to put another Gazprom man back in the hot seat (Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko) and claimed that if this man was in charge, all would be well with Don Fabio’s wages, the debts owed to all and football (he didn’t mention football).


While a serving Minister cannot take on the Presidency, Fedun feels the man might just make the switch, completing one of the biggest about turns in Russian history since Khrushchev denounced his former mentor Stalin.

In an interview published last weekend, the Lukoil owner said that the RFU needs a strong leader and negotiator in Mutko, not a mouse like Tolstykh. Mutko, has form and was President of the Union from 2005-9, leaving the game in a mess it was not allowed to recover from under the next Gazprom man, Sergei Fursenko, who brought in the World Cup.

It would suit the gluttonous few at the top table to replace someone who is trying to effect change with one of their own. Ex-Zenit President Mutko, it will be remembered, delivered a hilariously funny speech “from his heart” to win the 2018 World Cup and while he has become more polished in his ways, he would be a giant backward leap.

When the current RFU President was voted in I wrote an article for BPF detailing the shenanigans on the day. En masse the rep’s from the Premier League fled once the result was known, all except for Valery Karpin.

Then with Spartak, the classy Mallorca coach waited with the rest of us to congratulate the victor, a simple, polite gesture that destroyed him in the eyes of the Premier owners, including his own boss.

More and more the Union home, in the Taganka district of Eastern Moscow, is becoming a fortress of doom. The report into corruption for the 2018 World Cup bid was painful reading for those of us who have had dealings with the rulers of Russian football.

Tolstykh had to explain that the computers used for the bid were returned and destroyed (true) after the bid was completed. The self-righteous and still bitter English media led a merry dance, looking to skewer Sepp Blatter and his minions for the World Cup not returning to the home of football.

When members of the English FA staggered out of their Ivory Tower to slam Sepp, FIFA and the Russians, the irony was lost on them that they had actually managed to kill any hope of getting rid of Blatter when they backed the Swiss supremo against opponent Lennart Johannson in order to get a World Cup (which they didn’t in any case).


The computers were, indeed, returned to a Moscow company after the bid was won and destroyed. This was at the behest of – no prizes for guessing – Mr. Mutko and Mr. Fursenko. It seems certain that as with all bids there was funny business, such as money, handbags, money in handbags, and whatever else you fancy.

Nobody played fair but we are told to believe that only the winners in this case are the bad guys. And now those same “bad guys” are looking to get back in control of the game to ensure they have their palms crossed with FIFA and football gold before 2018.

Tolstykh, as I noted last week, challenged the Kremlin by enforcing a UEFA ruling on clubs from the Crimea and this disobedience will cost him his job. With the Premier owners all lining up against him and the Kremlin money pipeline cut off, not to mention sponsor reductions, the day of reckoning is coming.

The President needs a Christmas miracle in February or a very sweet Cupid to fire an arrow of hope and love into the hearts of the baying media hounds.

With more scandals brewing and star foreigners like Doumbia (CSKA-Roma), Dame (Lokomotiv-Hull), Boccetti (Spartak-Milan) and Costa (Spartak-Genoa) fleeing a falling rouble, even attention craving, financially struggling club owners may have to sit down with the RFU President and discuss what can be done to rescue the game.

The chances of that are about as slim as VVP not being President in 2016.

Update: Today – 04.02.2015 – The man looking to take back control of and profit from Russian football, Vitali Mutko, effectively castrated the RFS President by overruling the proposed limit on foreign players as it is against Russian law, apparently.

According to the Minister for Sport, he is speaking words issued from the President – the real President! While this is a clear case of state interference in the governing body of football, does anybody think FIFA or UEFA are going to hit Russia with sanctions? RFS General Secretary Vorobyev replied by saying the RFS will look for compromise.

President of the Premier League, Sergey Pryadkin, couldn’t contain his joy in an interview right after Mutko’s pronouncement – he told that the Premier League didn’t recognise the RFS ruling as it was made by the ExCo of the RFS and now there would be discussion on what is best for the game. The smell of the English Premier League ripoff hangs in the air today!

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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