Grozny and Africa – An Unlikely Partnership

Since the Soviet Union’s collapse Russian football clubs have become ever reliant on foreign talent – who have flooded the nation’s league infrastructure in a manner that has forced quota systems to be implemented in order to protect home grown players. However increased funding within Russian football has meant that the prospect of profitability and untapped talent has become too over powering and as such there is a desire to purchase young talent before Europe’s other major powers dig their claws into them first.

Terek Grozny’s rise to prominence has seen Ruud Gullit take the reigns of the team while the Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov looks to formulate a club capable of bringing Chechnya sporting success in the most unlikely of scenarios. As the club has begun to look to the future – one heavily influenced by foreign thinkers – there has been a growing sense that as well as purchasing established talent Terek will need to dip their toes into the burgeoning market of youth. But with the length and breadth of Europe having already established strong links with clubs across the globe many Russian clubs face a deepening battle in order to establish themselves as viable options.

Feeder clubs have therefore become an increasingly important facet for Russian clubs to be able to navigate their way through the congested transfer market. Terek Grozny have been keen to exploit the growing trend and as such have seen fit to associate themselves with clubs throughout the world – and none more so than Cameroonian side Lotus-Terek Yaoundé.

There are presently various footballers who attempt to delve back to their roots in an attempt to offer young people the opportunity to access the life that they themselves have forged from very little. Didier Drogba is one of the many high profile talents to have created foundations which look to offer football as a basis of progressing through the issues of poverty and abuse. In the case of Cameroonian international and Terek Grozny midfielder Guy Essame there is a sense of giving back by offering young African players the chance to make the leap to the Russian Premier League – with the assistance of Terek Grozny.

Lotus-Terek Yaoundé were formed in 2009 as the brainchild of Essame who was looking to formulate a means of giving back to the community he left behind to pursuit a career in football. The prominence of Essame within the Russian game – and specifically Terek Grozny – meant that by September 2010 links between Essame’s professional club and the side that he created were strong enough to become an official partnership. The adoption of the Terek name was seemingly confirmation of the unity between the two clubs but while the link may have been one of convenience for both parties it could potentially be an important facet for Terek Grozny’s progression.

The eyes of Russian football scouts when looking away from the European stage are firmly cast upon South America. Eastern European football has become inundated with a steady stream of young – occasionally high profile – talents who often see the move as a window to the prestigious leagues of the west. However while South American imports are often the primary targets – the influx of African players to the Premier League has also been noticeable. The likes of Lacina Traore and Musawengosi Mguni have recently made moves to the division while Obafemi Martins and Peter Odemwingie have previously featured in Russia’s top flight. Over the past decade the door to Russian football has gradually opened up to African professionals – however it is still a door that is yet to be fully a jar.

The key point that can be made about African footballers in Russia is the fact that they often arrive in the nation after spending time in other European nations. Ibra Kebe and Jerry-Christian Tchiusse – and a handful of others – may have been exceptions to this rule however the proportions of players who moved directly to Russia remains significantly lower. The lack of direct access that Russian clubs presently have to the African market means that there are vast opportunities for clubs willing to take the gamble of investing time and effort into unearthing the diamonds of the future. Therefore Terek Grozny’s usage of Guy Essame and Lotus-Terek means that they are able to closely monitor the development of Cameroonian talent in a manner that few other Russian teams are capable of. However it remains to be seen whether the underlying social issues that persist in Russian society will hinder the club from properly exploiting potential talents.

The sheer scale of racism within Russian football makes it difficult to integrate African players into the nation’s way of life. Reputations can be difficult to break down at the best of times however with the persistent allegations made against Russian fans it is easy to see why some black players do not see Russia – and eastern Europe – as a viable option for their career. For a young player moving away from everything they have ever known integrating into a new society and lifestyle can be a hugely taxing issue. Seeing as respected a figure as Roberto Carlos being goaded with a banana by Zenit St Petersburg fans makes one wonder what difficulties an unknown player faces in such difficult circumstances.

Terek Grozny’s association with Lotus-Terek could potentially see them reap the rewards of such foresight. With Russian clubs having to compete with some of European football’s most significant institutions for young talent it is little surprise to see the nation’s clubs put in some groundwork and create affiliations in an attempt to attract players before other sides are able to express their interest. Should Terek Grozny unearth an African superstar of the future then it will be testament to their long term planning – in an age of knee jerk decisions – that they have done so.

The Author

Aarony Zade

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