With the vital Russia v Austria Euro 2016 qualifier lost in disappointing circumstances, the Russian season eased to a finish with pretty much everyone and everything where we expected them.
The Russian Football Union (RFS) hasn’t the money to pay off their expensive Italian (a crowdfunding gimmick was launched to do just that) and President of the RFS Nikolai Tolstykh was slaughtered by the Sports Minister’s allies.
Gazprom (a.k.a FC Zenit Saint Petersburg) won the Premier League, Rosneft finished second after a photo finish with Magnit Supermarkets. Back in fourth were daddy and baby Rotenberg, while Russian Railways won the Cup. Five clubs went into UEFA competition, 17 points between places one to four and Kuban Krasnodar announced they’ve paid off 12 months of back wages to players and staff.
More clubs hope to follow suit. Sadly Dinamo have been excluded from the Europa League and are currently trying to get their FFP measures in place – the words ‘horse’, ‘door’ and ‘bolted’ spring to mind.
Crisis clubs Torpedo Moscow and Arsenal Tula went down and, for the once notable Torpedo, out of business entirely. Ural Ekaterinaburg and FC Rostov stayed up by beating Tom Tomsk and FC Tosno respectively.
Siberians Tom will be up at the top of the FNL next season and should get back to the Premier for 2016-17 in order to be relegated again in 2017-18. Tosno will do well to see out the coming FNL season with their property developer backer beginning to sense all might go as planned. Playing Football Manager was never as tough as this. The new FNL season will have 18 clubs instead of the expected 20 with Zenit-2 missing out on making up even numbers.
Former St. Patrick’s Athletic victims, Krylia Sovetov Samara, will struggle to survive in next years Premier with historic and new debts hanging around their neck. Oligarch’s plaything, Anzhi Makhachkala, are back up, though survival next season is key. Don’t expect to see any major signings landing at the club’s Moscow base.
Gone from the FNL are the poor Dynamo St. Petersburg (the dig out from Dynamo Moscow’s owner Boris Rotenburg didn’t seem to help much), Khimik Dzershinsk and the unfortunate Sakhalin Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the most distant team from Moscow in professional football. It was an achievement for all three teams to fulfil their fixtures, next season will be easier for them with less distance to travel and fewer players to pay.
Jumping feet first into the graveyard are Spartak-2 Moscow Reserves (West Champions), Fakel Voronezh (Central), Torpedo Armavir (South), Kamaz Naberezhny Chelny (Ural-Volga) and Baikal Irkutsk (East). In former incarnations all but Spartak-2 and Torpedo have been at this level or higher.
Fakel will no doubt bring in the crowds, once they are competitive, while little Armavir will be hoping for others going bang to keep them up. Kamaz have enough finance to stay up, while Baikal will just hope to last the season. Most at risk of going bang before the end of the season are Torpedo Moscow, Baikal, Tosno and possibly Arsenal Tula.
The make up of the FNL shows how little the governing body cares about football development in the vast country. Seven of 20 teams are east of the Urals and there is a huge untapped market of sustainable and solvent clubs sitting in the 2nd Division who can step into a Conference style 2nd tier, though that would mean the RFS had an interest in developing a sustainable professional game in the country.
Gone from the Second Divisions are Znamya Truda (West), Arsenal Tula-2 (Centre), FC Sochi (South), Spartak Yoshkar Ola (Ural-Volga) and Tom Tomsk-2 (East). It is a pity Znamya are gone from pro football, their eponymous stadium is one of the most attractive in Russia, designed and built along early-20th century British concepts it is largely unchanged and the three visits I’ve made there had me thinking I was at the old Lansdowne or RDS. It needs a good scrub but the history is there. However they may well be back up if rumours that other Second Division West clubs are going to fold over the Summer.
The big talking points, apart from the Capello saga and RFS carry-on, were other unimportant issues in the survival of professional football in Russia. Dmitri Alenichev’s move from Arsenal Tula to Spartak Moscow is a tasty case of frying pan and fire, though the man who is acknowledged as one of the worst foreign imports in Serie A will offer more theatre at the club. Fedun (owner) and Askhabdze (General Director) have both stepped aside, though as noted previously, Fedun not only owns Spartak, he owns the stadium they play in. So we can expect lots of giggles at a one powerful club’s expense again next year.
More important is the complete lack of vision or intelligence shown by footballing authorities in the continued destruction of professional football (less said about amateur and youth, the better). The issues of a) having too many professional clubs in Russia, without a single one capable of ever being self-sustainable, b) devastatingly structured league systems, c) poorly enforced licencing standards, d) poorly planned matchdays, e) no consistent or intelligent direction; all add up to a depressing equation.
How can a professional club survive when kick off times are 2pm on a Monday? How can a professional club survive when 99.85% of its funding comes from a single sponsor and local government (of which the sponsor is a member)? How can a professional club survive when they don’t sell tickets, advertise matches or have an announcer?
While the shouting heads focus on Don Fabio, Premier League and Torpedo’s latest implosion, Russian Football slides into a deeper and deeper state of turmoil. Budget cutbacks for and threats to remove the 2018 World Cup, intrigues in the RFS, inadequate Premier League leadership, Kremlin interference. All these are excuses to avoid the woolly mammoth in the room, that Russian football, overall, is in severe crisis and the professional side of matters has no future.