Last call for Russian football – Part 2

With three games left in the Premier League the title, a place in the Champions League Group stage is Zenit’s. Odds on for the spot in the third qualifying round of the same competition are Krasnodar, the surprise package for this year.

CSKA look good for third a the Europa league while the final European spot will go down to the wire between Dinamo and Rubin. Kuban or Lokomotiv will qualify for the Europa League also depending on their Cup Final result.

 

While previously Lokomotiv held an advantage, after the inexplicable sacking of another head coach (second of the season), Miodrag Bozovic, the idiotic ruling Lokomotiv could see them lose out on much-needed European football.

The laughable events at Cherkizovo (home of Lokomotiv) over the holiday weekend were entirely predictable as Club President, Olga Smorodskaya, made eyes at former Spartak Coach Valery Karpin in the hope that he’d land in Eastern Moscow after his pain in Spain.

Her and her son-in-laws attempts to make as much profit out of the club before being turfed out, look to be going according to plan. If Jose Mourinho pitched up with his agent in tow tomorrow, they’d both be gone within a season for trying to make the team and club a success, and cut the President and her group out of commissions.

And this comedy or terrors are what has the professional game in Russia minutes from switching off the life support. I make a joke on this theme as it is something I experienced in my own life two years ago.

I was on the way into the Spartak-Zenit game (the first after Unai Emery’s sacking for not being immediately good enough) when I got a call from home that my Dad had taken ill.

It turned out he’d had a heart attack and spent the next three months on life support. He pulled through but it was something that made lots of things relevant, including having to make a decision of pulling the plug or not.

Three years out from the biggest football event to ever be staged in Europe and the biggest ever in Russia, or ever to be staged in Russia for at least another 12 years, the professional game has run its course.

The RFS are bankrupt, not a single club operates without an unstable single sponsor or local government support (or a heady mix of both) and year on year clubs are building up debts that can never be repaid.

Since clubs cannot be trusted to handle this matter themselves, it needs to be taken on by a joint RFS-Government task force, without mercy!

Back in 2009/10, a proposal was brought forward to Congress to realign the professional leagues and enforce a salary cap. It came from a Presidential candidate and in return for pulling out of the second round of voting, his proposal for change was to have been taken on by the Gazprom stooge Fursenko.

He won but went on to “do a Mutko”, i.e. nothing. It is only Vitali Mutko who can now make this era-defining project a reality and give Russian professional football a real boost.

In short, the plan envisioned the following:

  • Only the top two tiers would be fully professional
  • Premier Division – 18 teams (four relegated). Teams play 34 games per season.
  • First Division – Regionalised into four Sections of eight teams each, the top four finishers in each section play off (two leg knock out) for promotion spot, the bottom four play off for two relegation spots. Teams play 28 regular season games, with a minimum of two post-season.
  • Second Division clubs all amateur.
  • Second Division – Regionalised into sections of eight teams each. The top four play off for promotion spot, the bottom four play off for two relegation spots.
  • Reserve teams could only play until the Third Division.
  • Newly formed clubs had to enter at the lowest regional level.
  • Club licencing was to be fully reformed and no “sale” of licences or piggybacking could take place.
  • Salary caps to be introduced and enforced by an external body.

It was the Premier League that killed this proposal (according to Fursenko), as they did not want to cede any power to the RFS.

Second Division clubs were in favour, while many First Division clubs wanted it accepted as it meant (ironically) a greater chance of promotion to the Premier with less expenses.

Fabio Capello appealed to clubs, last year, to bring more players through and that while winning was important, clubs needed to ensure that co-ordination within clubs in terms of coaching, long-term planning and supporting the head coach, would take hold.

He said that this would feed into player and coach development, engagement with the fans and bringing through more players for the National teams.

Many greeted this, as expected, with the “Who does he think he is?” response that sadly pervades soccer everywhere. His was not an attack on Russian football, or Russia, but in a country rampant with paranoia and fear, it was seen that way.

The proposed realignment of the professional leagues, was to increase competition, decrease costs, improve the quality of football and bring football back to the community. However there still remained the obvious bear in the room – money.

The Author

Alan Moore

Russian based sports journalist and consultant, working with major clubs including Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt, Lokomotiv and Spartak Moscow. Current host of Capital Sports FM in Moscow, former international boxer and semi-professional footballer and commentated at the FIFA World Cup 2018.

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