Russian spring and the return of football

Ura! (Hooray in Russian), football is back, finally! After a long silly season the Russian leagues return with a sprinkling of changes throughout the three levels of professional football.

Soon to depart the FNL (second tier) are the oldest club in St. Petersburg, Dinamo, who died the death of a thousand cuts. Refounded in 2003, the club live in the shadow of Gazprom’s Zenit and typical of human nature, the bandwagon for Zenit is overflowing, yet Dinamo will soon go bust.

Ironically they are due to face former crisis club Anji in a week, so there may be hope of a re-formed club entering the regional amateur league next year.


The FNL is in danger of losing Sakhalin (an island in the very, very far east of Russia) and Khimik Dzerzhinsk. As with Dinamo, their players have been unpaid since November and funding is very slow in coming.

The arrest this week of Sakhalin Island’s Governor Alexander Khoroshavin does not bode well for the team. Accused of accepting more than $6million in bribes (in addition to fund misappropriation), the football club will not benefit from his largesse any further. Khoroshavin was appointed in 2007 after a massive earthquake in the region and despite overseeing decent reconstruction of the region, he is no longer relevant.

A survey of players in the FNL has found that of 18 clubs, seven are owed four to five months full wages (including the three named above) and players from 3 other clubs are owed up to 50% of wages. Below them and it is a savage fight for roubles. The Crimean clubs will get UEFA help to have their own competitions, but the remaining Russian clubs in the Second Division are in trouble.

Gone from Division 2 Centre are Metallurg Vyksa. The club, founded in 1923, lost support from the local metal factory and Nizhny Novgorod government and will reform at the amateur level. Debts are believed to be substantial.

Also in the same region FC Orel are in trouble. Reports of them selling matches has broken and will not help them stay in business. The club, whose players are unpaid since October, face serious consequences if allegations are proved truthful.

In the terribly weak D2 West “Solaris” and Kostroma have difficulties that could put them out of business. Clubs like Strogino, Saturn Ramenskoe and Khimki should all benefit as apart from Spartak Moscow and Zenit’s reserves, the region has little to offer.

In D2, Volga clubs are struggling but it is alone as one of the regions where salaries are up to date. In D2 East 6 of the 9 clubs have serious salary issues.

But nothing matters once the games actually take place on the field! The Premier League looks sewn up for Zenit. They were almost alone in holding onto their top players over the Winter and weakened Spartak by signing striker Artyem Dzyuba and sending him down to Rostov on loan.

The same Rostov whose players are more than six months without salary, though with the ex-Spartak man’s arrival, cash has been dispersed to his team mates and they are quiet, for now.

CSKA are looking weaker without Seydou Doumbia and will be battling with Dinamo and Krasnodar for the second Champions League spot. Behind Zenit it is tight, places two to nine are covered by just ten points. Terek Grozny are due a run of form and are points off a Europa League spot.

Spartak’s General Director gave up any hope of a League win and declared European qualification would be positive. Despite losing Dzyuba, Costa, Bocchetti and Shirokov, Murat Yakin’s more direct style of football could get them over the line, it all depends on the owner staying off social media and forums and letting the professionals do their jobs.

Lokomotiv’s sale of Dame N’Doye to Hull City may have made club President Smorodskaya and her son-in-law Sport Director substantially richer, but by further enriching themselves by buying a weak replacement in Serb Petar Skuletic, the club will do well to hang onto fifth place let alone go for Europe. Rubin Kazan and Kuban Krasnodar both have the ability to nip into fourth place, though it looks very unlikely.

The cup is down to the semi-final stage and sees Kuban at home to CSKA and FNL’s Gazovik Orenburg play Lokomotiv. The quarter-finals were perfect viewing for insomniacs (yes, I fell asleep during Loko-Rubin only to wake for the penos) with the four games yielding a depressing 0.75 goals per game, down from 3.0 per game in the preceding round.

We will hope for more action when the leagues get down to business.

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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