Russian football’s European performances suggest a new commitment to fitness foundations

The English-speaking football world shone its semi-interested light on Russian football last week, yet, as is the norm, the subjects scrutinised were narrow – “The Normal One”, “LVG and Roly Poly Rooney” and many other pressing subjects.

The question as to why a league like the RFPL should see its teams be competitive in Europe wasn’t brought up. Rather the Sky-BT-Insert Sponsor Name here League was studiously studied. Wiki searches for players with funny names were de rigeur for pundits.


Back to Russian performances. On Match day three alone, Russia can be pretty pleased with results, because they are a genuine mark of how the RFPL has shattered into pieces on two very simple grounds –

1. Fitness and Preparation
2. Psychological Preparation.

I’ve written before about the plain awful preparation by many Russian clubs and footballers (as well as many other sports here). The pure lack of knowledge of nutrition, control of and guidance for athletes has destroyed a full generation. However some change is in the air.

CSKA’s qualification for the Champions League was impressive in itself, yet they are proving that their domestic form can be maintained on a higher stage. Having taken a deserved league against a decent United side, they conceded late enough to give the home fans cause for worry.

Yet they held on comfortably to sit joint second, ahead of the return match at Old Trafford this week. Increased fitness levels, combined with good coaching and stability, will give CSKA a good chance of a long run in the Europa League knock out stages at least.

Zenit have been in imperious form thanks to Hulk and Co. The attempt by a Zenit and Gazprom to grab Jurgen Klopp and fully unseat AVB now looks as pathetic as it was at the time. Zenit are grinding out results, with some style, and it is increasingly obvious that their fitness levels are making the difference. In the grudge match this season with Spartak in Moscow, when Spartak’s finest began to tire, Zenit got stronger and at times brushed the men in red aside physically.

Having seen FC Krasnodar in the flesh this weekend there is a difference from last season. They are noticeably stronger, fitter and added a little steel to their play. In Europe they are up against Azeri’s Qabala, PAOK and Borussia Dortmund, yet have looked at home at this stage.

They will make the knock-out stages again and their domestic form will not suffer as it did last year. Preparation is paying off for Galitsky’s men.

And little FC Rubin Kazan, so lost at home – in the middle of a Tatar Civil War and suffering from decreased funding due to depressed oil prices

The former poster boys for club development are still capable of doing something decent in Europe because they are turning from paying mad fees and wages for players to getting an edge through fitness.

This is a club whose Reserve Team (Rubin II) playing in the Second Division had a pre-match meal of store-bought yogurt and mars bars before a match three years ago. Times they are a changing on the Volga.


And Lokomotiv, money and monopoly troubles aside, they are also unbeaten in Europe and with good form at home can get in the top four. Their wins over Sporting Clube de Portugal in Lisbon and  Albania’s Skenderbeu, added to a battling draw at home to Besiktas last time out, leave them in prime position to keep Europe alive in the New Year.

Last week’s scrap with the Turks showed the fitness levels that cost ‘the Railwaymen’ last season have been addressed.

And this first point leads to the 2nd, if you know you can keep going for 90-plus minutes, you are confident that you can not just close out a game, but go flat out for the whole time. The expected surrender of CSKA against better paid opposition last week didn’t transpire.

Standing at pitch side it was very apparent that the locals were not out of gas, and it was the same on Thursday. Loko had strong, experienced opponents, yet there was a feeling in Cherkizovo that the home side were always capable of getting that decider. Fitness breeds confidence.

Leaving Khimki on Wednesday night I remembered a tennis match I’d seen at the weekend’s Kremlin Cup qualifiers. A young Russian player, talented, clever and promoted above her current capability. She has a mother who made the decision that nothing exists without her input, including fitness and nutrition.

The youngster taking the court was far better skilled than her opponent; yet she played with fear. Fear of not being able to win in a 3rd set, fear because she had less experience than her opponent.

Her coaches and ‘team’ had prepared her to lose. She duly lost in two sets, but because she showed flashes of ability the establishment – her coach and her Mother – will believe she is on an upward learning curve. Yet within two years she’ll be injury prone and melting down on court. Ignorance breeds ignorance.

So here’s for another round of positive Russian results in Europe and credit to the clubs for their investment in fitness and nutrition. Other clubs are following suit in the RFPL – kudos must go to small budget Krylia Sovetov who are currently outperforming their budget and looking fitter.

Like it or not for local pundits, the injection of reality and demands by ‘Don Fabio’ for fitness and preparation are paying off, at home and abroad, for club and for country.

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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