This season I’ve invested more in the Russian Premier League than in the last two years.
I’ve attended and watched more matches, done more media pieces and basically enjoyed seeing the beginning of the end for a couple of festering problems.
Spartak Moscow have done their usual self-destruction with club management and players continuing to pander to fans without actually engaging with them.
Dynamo Moscow are a couple of bad results away from being dragged into a relegation play-off at least.
Kuban Krasnodar are a laughing stock, having signed two Russian idols (Arshavin and Pavlyuchenko) at a time when current and ex-players were waiting for salaries for more than a year, then both men hit the headlines as they too weren’t being paid – with Arshavin heading off to Kazakhstan in search of a last payday.
Mordovia Saransk and Anzhi Makhachkala are headed back to the FNL where they belong (Kuban could be too), while Ufa were recipients of a very dubious goal against Terek Grozny in a 1-0 win which might have handed them a lifeline.
Amkar Perm came within a few poor penalties of getting rid of Zenit to make the Cup Final, though they should stay in the Division.
Low-scoring St. Patrick’s Athletic victims, Krylia Sovetov Samara, have used fitness and solid defensive tactics to overcome their talent deficit.
Sitting safely in mid-table they have bagged a miserly 16 goals in 25 league games and will hope ex-Belgian star and Anderlecht idol will stay on, having won the FNL last season, he’s stabilised the in the Russian Premier this.
He is two players short (a ball-winning midfielder and poacher) away from a top five team.
Rubin Kazan’s money troubles on the back of depressed oil prices, coupled with a civil war in Tatar politics, has left the club delighted to be mid-table.
Long gone are the glory days of Champions League football in Barcelona and the Europa League in Tallaght.
Ural Yekaterinaburg were a crisis in the making when Belarussian coaching starlet Victor Goncharenko left under a cloud in September last year.
His assistant, fellow Belarussian and BATE Borisov alum, Vadim Skripchenko had served under Victor in both BATE and Kuban Krasnodar, so it was expected he’d burn out quickly. However he’s done well to keep them out of trouble.
Ural could suffer next season though should rumours of Zambian International Chisamba Lungu moving to a top five European League prove true.
Terek Grozny have probably made many happy by messing up their own chances of qualifying in their own right for Europe.
They are five points off fifth place and under Rashid Rashimov have improved, however they are still very far from being annual top-five contenders.
While the Tajik head coach has helped bring through some young players, the club do need a quality foreign coach who will have (relatively) free rein to attract in the right type of player and settle down the locals.
With five games remaining the teams from third to fifth are tied on 46 points. They are all only five points off top spot at four off second (and a Champions League place), so the title and places in the UEFA Super League are very much in play.
Fifth placed Zenit were outstanding in Europe and also have a cup final to think of, outgoing boss Andre Villas-Boas is driven to deliver yet another trophy and would love to do it against CSKA in the Cup and against pundits and naysayers in the League.
He was never going to succeed in Zenit, despite the club officials and backers best efforts, as soon as fans and media mouthpieces were manipulated against him by disgruntled under-performing idols (Kerzhakov and Arshavin), he was a dead man walking.
Fourth placed Krasnodar continue to improve on and off the pitch. Their new stadium, coupled with the Joke Shop in Kuban, means they will be the sole Krasnodar team in the city.
A couple more seasons of European qualification will help ease the burden of owner Sergey Galitsky, though tremors are being felt in some quarters in the southern city with his increasing megalomaniac attitude towards the first team.
Add in the real opportunity, discussed by the Russian Football Union and FIFA the removal of host city rights from poor Saransk and Galitsky’s new stadium having some global days in the sun, and suddenly the man steps onto the world stage – which could tilt the balance from the west/north-west to south in a hurry.
That Krasnodar weren’t awarded matches in the first place is a scandal that was pure politics.
The enduring mess of the Gazprom Arena in St. Petersburg and that flying to Saransk Airport means a few decades of the rosary (and that’s if you manage a) to get a seat on the one-a-day flight there and b) find a taxi once you land) has left the well-connected and accommodating Krasnodar a great option. And in 2018 there will be a Krasnodar team in the Russian Premier League, unlike in Saransk.
Tim’s favourite Russian Premier League side Lokomotiv sit nicely in third and will regard this season as a success if they stay there.
They were good in Europe and are competitive in the league and should they win the derby with Spartak this Saturday, they will regard this year as delightful.
The most worrying point for them is poor recruitment after profiting on player sales, and their decreasing home support. Which is a shame as the match-day staff in Cherkizovo and supporters in general are amongst the best in Russia.
I’d predicted that CSKA would be awarded the title for King Leonid’s accession to the national team throne, as well as finishing the almost completed job of qualifying for the Euros in France.
He and the Army Club will regret a springtime slip up, though they have enough in them to finish on a high. With both League and Cup to play for, a double will see him leave the club in the summer to focus full-time on his country role.
That is, unless, he is snapped up by a foreign club. Since October last year he has been attending language lessons on his own coin, which might indicate a move from the Russian Premier is imminent.
And above them are the Leicester of Russian Premier League in every sense except the club have solid top level pedigree.
They’re the same as Leicester in regards to the source of finance, “nutrition” and “training” regimes and how many are trying to paint them as saviours of the game.
Guided by the man who led Rubin Kazan to enjoy nights out in the Nou Camp and Tallaght Community Stadium, Kurban Berdyev, they are a formidable outfit.
They’ve the best defence in the league, conceding the same as Samara have scored (16) and tick when midfielder Tsimafei Kalachou pulls the strings.
They seem to always have energy to burn, running better teams into the ground in a not too dissimilar way to Rubin Kazan did when they were winning titles in the last decade.
Last season they finished 14th and looked set to face another season of struggle and unpaid wages until money began to flow in, alongside Boris Rotenberg.
The Finnish International, who would standout for a League of Ireland Premier Division Team, has given the club that little bit extra.
The politics of Rostov winning the league would turn a nasty regional situation on its head.
Rostov is a nice, industrial city of over one million and best known for being the hunting ground for the Rostov Ripper Andrei Chikatilo.
It is also a flashpoint for ethnic tensions and has a large refugee population from both the Caucasus and Ukraine.
A league win would give the Kremlin a little breathing space as they run down the clock.
Should Rostov win it will leave the same unsatisfying taste in the mouth that we’d have should Claudio Ranieri bring home gold, or Team Sky win another Tour De France or Mo, Usain or any other questionable folk triumph in Rio.
While change is good, in the Russian Premier it shouldn’t have to be at all costs.