“Vot ees dees ****?” – the structure of Russian football

Having watched St. Patrick’s Athletic throw away a glorious chance in the Europa League qualifiers on Thursday night, I had to hightail it to a radio studio to discuss football matters with a couple of local journos.

I arrived in cold, despite the night being warm, as I’d missed the latest catastrophe to befall Russian football. The title of this article is what the radio host asked me when we had a coffee before the broadcast began.


Ex-Zenit head man, former head of the RFS and now Sports Minister Vitali Mutko, got through his “Legionnaire” rule, before the end of this month he’ll be in position to run the National Team himself by getting rid of Fabio!

Now clubs in the Premier are limited in the number of foreigners they can field and more young Russians can play in the top flight – all is good with the world, crowds will flood back to the death traps and sponsors are already lining up at club offices around the country with man-bagfuls of cash to get behind their local sides. Life is great and getting better.

Foreign players are not an issue for Russian clubs, nor are young players getting game time. If I were a head coach for even an FNL team, I’d be very, very worried about promoting a young player into the first team as they are totally under prepared, not to mention physically, mentally and tactically light years away from such a chance. Which is why Capello cannot succeed!

Youth development in Russia remains a shambles with corruption lying at the heart of the problem. Talent cannot find a way when those who control the supply line demand signing contracts with their friends (agents) and insisting on cash payments before youngsters are signed to clubs or schools – it goes on even in RFPL club academies.

But aside from that, this ridiculous issue of foreign player limit is like demanding you put out the raging forest fire with thimbles of petrol. Each senseless move only adds little by little to the catastrophe we are supposed to fight.

“Vot ees dees ***?” he said to me a second time as we sat into the less than comfy studio chairs. The other guest writes for a glossy Russian football mag and was equally incredulous.

And then it happened. I brought up the senseless change with the backdrop of the overall need to reform the league system, financial organisation and ban on foreign players in the second and third divisions. I knew the host would be with me on at least two of those, however both men went even further than I.

I had proposed a development of the 2010 plan to have just 50 professional clubs in Russia, a salary cap and strict licencing in operation. To have 18 teams in the top division and four regional leagues of eight in the second tier. The third tier and below would be fully amateur, with reserve teams only allowed up to the fourth tier.

The radio host proposed that there would be no limit on foreigners in the RFPL, though each Premier side would have to have two senior and two under-21 Russians on the field at all times.


The other journo argued for an adoption of the MLS system, including a draft! We wandered onto academies and schools of football and we found agreement. The Konopylov method needed to be introduced across the board with an annual external test and audit of the practices of coaches and administrators.

The host told of his nephew, by all accounts a talented youngster, who was not offered a place at the higher age group in the Spartak Academy. The reason, his parents couldn’t afford to pay the coach the sum he requested – $6000.

The nephew was taken to the Dinamo Moscow Academy and after a successful trial was offered a place, though in a side room his Father was asked “for a gift” to make sure all went through. The princely sum of $10,000 was the cost of joining the circus.

The host’s brother, and family, emigrated to Germany where the youngster is now in his second season in a 2. Bundesliga club youth system.

The three of us related our personal tales and the show ended with agreement that playing to the masses and limiting foreigners in the starting 11 is a plaster on a decapitated mans neck, messy and pretty useless.

A second tier league with an uneven number of sides likewise, and bringing in the reserves of Zenit (one of the better run clubs in fairness) or a “Team Russia”, is not going to solve deeper and more destructive problems.

And unless the Kremlin do something worthwhile and progressive for football in the country, it will continue to die apace!

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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