Category Archives: Russia

Consequences of funding a modern day Russian Revolution

FC Anzhi Makhachkala are currently one side that are never too far away from the gaze of the European media. With it’s well known funding it has managed to raise the profile of Russian football and dispel nonsense myths, especially in Western Europe, that the standard of football in Russia is sub-standard. The side in recent years have lured the likes of highly respected manager Guus Hiddink and Roberto Carlos as a player before he took up the role of Sporting Director at the club. Samuel Eto’o, Christopher Samba, Yuri Zhirkov and Brazilian centre back Ewerton are just some of the names Anzhi fans have the pleasure of watching. And now, there may be much, much more on the way.

Not content with capturing another stellar name Lassana Diarra on loan from Real Madrid, Anzhi have swooped down ambitiously on a shell-shocked Benfica with a big bag of money- €90 million’s worth to be precise according to numerous media outlets. Axel Witsel, Rodrigo and Nicolas Gaitan are reportedly the three players targeted by the raid. Perhaps the move is a well planned one by the club who are possibly answering Hiddink’s claims that his side are “lacking depth”.

This splurge of spending begs the question: what will the consequences be for Russian football at large?

On the positive side Anzhi have managed to qualify for their first ever Europa League group after finishing 5th last season in the Russian Premier League and negotiating a number of tricky qualifying ties. Such is the rise of the Russian club that the fans, players and board members will all be looking to push on and make a statement against the more established sides Liverpool, Udinese and the tricky Swiss outfit Young Boys. Anzhi are defiantly a highly talented side capable of emulating former winners CSKA Moscow and Zenit Saint Petersburg in 2005 and 2008 respectively. Such competitiveness reflects very well on the league as a whole and might persuade a few more household names across Europe and beyond to take the plunge into what is very much an underrated and difficult league.

Everybody knows money doesn’t guarantee immediate success. Certainly Anzhi’s 5th place finish last season is testament to this claim. Samuel Eto’o has been critical of the side asking the question why his fellow team-mates aren’t targeting top spot in the league despite Anzhi being “recently a modest club”. Anzhi in the years ahead will no doubt be pushing the likes of Zenit St. Petersburg and the big Moscow club’s for a league title. This will only serve to make compulsive viewing and give the league an air of unpredictability that is so obviously lacking from the two biggest European football leagues. A football fan need look no further than the thrilling manner in which another super rich side Manchester City returned their investment last season.

There are those that allay their fears that such grotesque spending will result in Anzhi walking to the league title season after season. I for one do not subscribe to this view. In Ligue 1 last season a modest Montpellier side with a modest budget secured the league title over Goliath proportion spending PSG.

Money is not in short supply in the Russian Premier League either it has to be remembered. A total of six clubs qualify for European competitions, ensuring an even distribution of money. In fact Anzhi might worry the big Russian clubs enough to spend their money and lure more talented footballers to the league which certainly benefits the average fan. This rise in talent will then be brought onto the European stage, just as Anzhi will be hoping to do in the Europa League this season. Financial fair play might hope to put a stop to such spending but it’s potential effectiveness is completely unknown at this moment in time.

With two Russian representatives in the UEFA Champions League group stages this season in the shape of Zenit and Spartak Moscow, Anzhi will certainly have a difficult task on their hands to usurp these much bigger clubs with a more established structure and history in domestic terms. This is a far cry from those fears that Anzhi will buy out the league each season. The league should embrace the challenge to fend off a potential super-power in the making. Sometimes a new challenger to the crown is much needed as it can freshen up the field and raise the bar for everyone to follow.

If nothing else the money will allow a previously small club to enjoy the high life of challenging for silverware and give those Anzhi fans European ties and memories they will always cherish.
Suleyman Kerimov will certainly be looking to drag the club up to new heights and by doing so he just might be unwittingly dragging the rest of the league alongside him.

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Hulk and Witsel propel Zenit to European contenders

The transfer window may have closed for much of Western Europe, however the tremors that have been felt across the continent over the past day or so have stemmed firmly from the East, as Russian football became placed firmly in the eye of the storm. However, alluding to Zenit St Petersburg’s latest forays in the transfer market as having the devastating power of an earthquake is perhaps a disservice, as they have placed themselves at the fore of European football at such a pivotal moment.

This was the flexing of monetary muscle, on a scale that Eastern European football has never before seen. People can rightfully point to the spending of Anzhi Makhachkala in conveying a lack of surprise that Russian football has brought forth the transfer story of the summer. However this is on an entirely different scale altogether.

Samuel Eto’o’s transfer to the North Caucasus, via Moscow, was a deal that brought a player in the tail end of his career to a club looking for wider recognition, while scouring the continent for one final bumper pay cheque. In the case of Zenit’s new signings, Brazilian forward Hulk and former Benfica midfielder Axel Witsel, the Russian game is welcoming two players in the peak of their careers. It’s proof that Russian football is not merely a stomping ground for aging stars on overly inflated wages – it is now a viable alternative for the world’s best players.

It seems as though many individuals have taken to social media websites and forums lambasting the ambition of both Hulk and Witsel. The general consensus seems to revolve around the perception that the move hindered solely upon the vastly improved wages that both players would acquire. To proclaim such sentiments are, however, expressions of pure ignorance. The Russian Premier League may not yet garner the same level of prestige as the competition’s counterparts in Spain, England or Germany however it is undoubtedly one of the most competitive top flights in Europe.

The likes of CSKA, Spartak, Lokomotiv and Dinamo – all, of course, heralding from Moscow – are joined by Rubin Kazan and Anzhi in holding genuine hopes of competing for a Champions League berth. This does not even include the nouveau riche clubs in the mould of FK Krasnodar and Terek Grozny who harbour ambitions of eventually gate crashing the European places. It is true that toward the rear of the table sit the weak and the poor of Russian football however such a situation is the norm in many top divisions across the wider reaches of Europe.

It is worth noting that had it been Anzhi Makhachkala who were involved in these monumental moves in the transfer market, then there would perhaps be valid grounds for arguing that financial reasons – as opposed to sporting ones – were key to the transfer. However this is Zenit St Petersburg whom we are discussing. Zenit have become perennial league title contenders, they have established themselves as a strong outfit in Europe and already possess outstanding footballing talent. Let’s not forget that the club are guided by one of European football’s finest coaches, in Luciano Spalletti. This is not merely a club who have sprouted from the depths of nowhere. Zenit have, in recent years, won the UEFA Cup, Super Cup, Russian Cup and Premier League and thus the prospect of moving to Zenit St Petersburg is potentially an enticing one for any individual who plies their trade away from the established elite.

One of the defining, and most interesting, aspects of the transfer of Hulk and Witsel to Zenit lies in the role of the club’s key benefactor, Gazprom. This has been a summer whereby the major oil company have attempted to impact themselves upon the wider reaches of European football. Gazprom are already seen on the strips of Schalke and Red Star Belgrade, however their deals with Chelsea and UEFA have served to further promote the Gazprom brand to regions where exposure would have previously been limited.

Gazprom’s sponsorship of UEFA’s Champions League and Europa League tournaments has seen the company ‘cement their involvement with Europe’s most prestigious club football competition through exclusive services and products’. Such a deal has seen the company aligned with UEFA’s fellow exclusive partners – including the likes of Heineken, Ford and Mastercard – in a deal that brings forth a new realm of possibilities for Gazprom.

There can be little denying the potential exposure that partnering with the Champions League, in particular, can gain and as such you would imagine that such a level of prominence will only serve to aid Gazprom’s desire to become a key player in European business and football. Meanwhile, many will have recently noticed Chelsea’s advertising hoardings prominently carrying the name ‘Gazprom’ during the club’s early league fixtures at Stamford Bridge. Such is the nature of the sponsorship between the European champions and Gazprom that this will likely be the case for the duration of the 3 year deal.

It was widely thought that Gazprom had previously been attempting to ensure that Zenit could become a somewhat more self sufficient football club over the past 18 months or so. Luciano Spalletti had cut a frustrated figure for much of the summer as the club seemingly refused to be tempted into the transfer market, despite possessing a squad somewhat lacking in numbers. However the purchase of Hulk and Witsel will undoubtedly appease a hugely popular coach who has been persistently linked with a return to Italy since arriving in Russia.

Both Hulk and Witsel will provide further power and ability to a team already brimming with talent. The prospect of seeing a midfield of Igor Denisov, Roman Shirokov and Axel Witsel is practically mouth watering, while the attacking partnership of Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Danny and Hulk is hugely intimidating. There are few sides in European football who can now match the attacking capabilities of the Russian champions, and you would expect that the club’s potential to impact upon this year’s Champions League has significantly risen.

This summer’s transfer window, in Russia, had long been considered to be a major disappointment however Zenit’s forays have served to provide a fresh perspective on proceedings. There can be little doubt that Zenit’s ambition stems from the desire of Gazprom to achieve sporting prominence, however the transfer of Hulk and Witsel also serves to benefit Russia’s top flight on the whole. The Premier League can now rightfully be considered as a respectable home for exciting football talent, and not merely over rated mercenaries looking for a sizable pay cheque.

Vyachelsav Malafeev, His Wife, His Children and Quitting the National Team

Football, as all encompassing at it may sometimes appear, is just a game. The wider national, cultural and social contexts that many excellent commentators and books have put the game in can often detach us from the fact that it is, essentially, 22 men kicking a ball around a field. There are, though, always instances that offer us biting reminders. In England last season we had the Fabrice Muamba incident, in Spain there was the less happy ending of Antonio Puerta and in Russia, slightly differently, we had the case of Vyacheslav Malafeev’s wife.

Malafeev, Zenit’s goalkeeper for the past twelve years and a one-club man, suffered terrible personal tragedy on the 17th of March 2011 as his wife died in a car crash in the city they call home, St Petersburg. Marina Malafeev, who was head of the family’s business, Malafeev Productions, had two children with Vyacheslav, daughter Xenia (born in 2003) and son Max (born in 2006). It is here that the story brings us to today’s (27th of August’s) news that Malafeev has chosen to ‘temporarily suspend’ his involvement with the Russian national team.

Making his debut in the 1-0 victory over Wales in 2003, Malafeev has gone on to make twenty-nine appearances for the national side, gaining a bronze medal as Igor Akinfeev’s understudy at Euro 2008 and starting all three games at Euro 2012 in Akinfeev’s absence. This is why, with Malafeev still dominating the Zenit number one shirt, the decision came as quite a surprise on Monday the 27th with the Leningrader posting on his personal website, ‘my decision not to play for Russia was a hard one both humanly and professionally. But currently I think it’s best for my family’. The thinking, therefore, is clear: Malafeev wants to spend more time with Xenia and Max in the absence of Maria, something even the most disappointed of Russia fans will no doubt accept.

Malafeev’s last appearance for Russia was as a substitute in Fabio Capello’s first match in charge of the national team, against the Ivory Coast, and was included in the Italians first named squad for 2014 World Cup qualifying rounds. However, despite the terminology of ‘temporarily suspend’ used, questions have been raised as to whether the 33-year-old will actually ever represent Russia again. This point has been raised by former Russia ‘keeper Ruslan Nigmatullin who commented, ‘I am disappointed that, most likely, we will not see him in the team [again]. At quite a mature age, ‘temporarily’ should be taken with a grain of salt’, he said.

Alas, it would appear, that the three time Russian Premier League winner’s goalkeeping exploits shall now be confined to the light blue of Zenit, unless, that is, he should make a comeback if and when Russia qualify for the 2014 World Cup, with the laborious qualifying stages freshly out of the way. There is some sadness, though, with Anzor Kavazashvili suggesting that ‘the Russian national team will be twice as weak without Malafeev’, and Sergei Ovchinnikov admitting that losing Malafeev ‘will affect the team’.

The always acrobatic and assured Zenit goalkeeper, however, will be focussing on taking Xenia and Max to the park, with the game of football put to the back of his mind on those international weekends.

Dmitri Sychev: The forgotten hero

The career of a footballer can morph from so many differing points and perspectives that it can often be difficult to contrast and compare the development of individual players. Some burst on to the scene at the youngest of ages, while others spend a little longer honing their skills before becoming an integral part of their respective team. You could say that either method is to be respected as long as one reaches the potential that they possess. However despite a footballer’s career being perilously short there remains a notion that breaking through into the public consciousness is a marathon, as opposed to a sprint.

It is often the case that young, pacey and fearless centre forwards burst onto the scene in their late teens, striking fear into the heart of defences through pure athleticism and spontaneity. However as reality takes hold, and opponents begin to wise up, times can often become a little tougher for those players who previously looked impervious to floundering performances. This may well sound like the opening to an article around the demise of a certain Michael Owen, however today the focus is firmly upon Lokomotiv Moscow’s Dmitri Sychev.

Sychev was once Russian football’s greatest hope. As a young midfielder showcasing his skills for Spartak Tambov in Russia’s second tier he quickly established himself as a teenage prodigy of the highest order – a youngster whom was placing clubs across Europe on red alert. At Tambov, Sychev had forged a prominent reputation in a side predominantly made up of local players, with only a couple coming from outside the Tambov region – including Sychev who grew up to the east in Omsk. The process of acclimatisation was one that was aided by Sychev’s ability on the pitch, and his relaxed manner off it. The teenager’s persona quickly became a prized possession and as such his transfer to Spartak Moscow in the winter of 2002 came as little surprise.

It was with the capital club that Sychev’s rapid ascent to the fore of Russian football was complete as his conversion into a centre forward saw him rack up the goals for his new club at a rate of knots. Such performances ultimately saw the 18 year old selected for the 2002 World Cup – a tournament at which his stock rose further thanks to his exploits off the bench in all 3 of Russia’s games, including a goal against Belgium in an exciting 3-2 defeat. The tournament may well have ultimately ended in disappointment for Russia, as the nation failed to progress past the group stage, however for Sychev the tournament served to open further doors, particularly on the continent.

The youngster’s contentious departure from Spartak Moscow, in favour of French side Marseille, left a bitter taste in the mouths of many of the red and white portion of the capital thanks to his refusal to feature for the club – although the move served to provide the prospect of success on an even grander scale. However, despite the move coming during a golden age of Russian footballers succeeding in Western Europe – the transfer ultimately saw Sychev’s development stunted by cameo appearances off the bench in unfamiliar positions.

Sychev’s return to Russian soil became inevitable and following 3 years of frustration with Marseille, the forward quickly became an integral part of Lokomotiv Moscow’s pursuit of domestic success – culminating in a league title in his debut season of 2004. However, since arriving back in Moscow, Sychev has gradually seen his influence within the club dwindle as a merry go round of coaches and foreign talent have left Lokomotiv surrounded by a tumultuous atmosphere. This season the club have attempted to lay down firm foundations in the appointment of former Croatia coach, Slaven Bilic, however the planting of such firm roots could well lead to the further demise of Dmitri Sychev.

Over the past 18 months Lokomotiv have seen a gradual change in the personnel of their strike force, with the likes of Roman Pavlyuchenko, Felipe Caicedo, Victor Obinna and more recently Dame N’Doye arriving at the club to much fanfare. The increased level of competition within the club’s attacking positions has ultimately seen Sychev demoted to the role of bench warmer, making the briefest of cameos redundant of whether the game is either won or lost. There would once have been a time where having Sychev sitting on the bench would be a joker in the pack that would leave a tiring defence living in fear. At present, however, Sychev cuts a forlorn figure, shorn of confidence and lacking in interest.

It is a sorry state of affairs for a player who was once the figurehead of Russian football’s grand pursuit of excellence on the continent. Sychev is no longer the player he once was, his electric pace and acceleration has diminished somewhat and his eye for goal is tarnished thanks to periods of misuse in positions on the flank, where he can struggle to involve himself. However this is a player with significant levels of experience at the very highest level, and a footballer who could still provide a threat if used appropriately and safe in the knowledge that he is likely to feature prominently.

At a time where a number of Russia’s premier sides are looking to invest in a centre forward, it is a shame that there remains such little interest in the former Russian player of the year. Perhaps the time for Sychev to compete within a top side on a regular basis has passed, however for an ambitious club – and there are a great deal of those in Russia – who are looking to work their way through to the higher echelons of the domestic game, the signing of Sychev could prove to be a solid investment.

It remains intriguing that both Sychev and – the player with whom he was so often compared – Michael Owen have suffered from such similar fates over recent months, when the world was at both their feet merely a decade ago. There is a case for arguing that neither player has managed to consistently work at their highest level for a period of time that could constitute being held in the highest regard – however both players will continue to earn respect thanks to the exploits of their youth.

RPL Transfers Attack Enlightenment Ideas of Inevitable Progress

Footballers, like any other traded good, are commodities. And commodities vary in quality, speciality and customer satisfaction, a fact that has rifled through the vaults of history to the most ancient market halls of Rome, Athens and Constantinople. If today’s Russian Premier League, with this summer’s transfer dealings, were to represent a market hall of old, it would be a provincial bazaar of wacky, one-off and lesser quality products, rather than the grand, finely-crafted goods on offer in the larger cities.

For all the newspaper clippings featuring names such as Wesley Sneijder, Dimitar Berbatov and Luka Modric, the Russian Premier League’s sides have recruited Gokhan Tore, Juan Insaurralde and Gordon Schildenfeld, returning us to that provicial bazaar, located, it seems, without easy access to the grand halls of the big cities. This, after all, had appeared to be a season when the Russian Premier League could finally break free from the still looming shackles of the Soviet Top League and surge past the more humble of Europe’s footballing nations.

This wild galavant, however, looks increasingly distant as the transfer window progresses. Zenit, who sit atop of the league after the first round of matches, have failed to strengthen significantly, leaving the impression that a Herculean effort would be required to better last season’s Champions League finish, the one aim for Spalletti’s devilishly oiled title-winning machine. Russia’s other representative in the Champions League, should they advance through the perilous qualifying stage, is Spartak Moscow, led by the greasily coiffeured Unai Emery. Astute but rather uninspiring may be the terminology used to describe their transfer dealings with the aforementioned Insaurralde brought in at centre-back and Tim Vickery’s darling Romulo the latest defensive-midfield fire-fighter.

The merry-go-round of mediocrity stops down in Makhachkala, not due to an influx of lavish imports from western Europe but due to the appearance that the merry-go-round may have ran out of steam. Their one signing of note, the Johan Djourou on stilts, Lacina Traore may have an impressive goal ratio for a man who plays football with all the poise of a crane fly attacking a gas lamp, however, he doesn’t fulfil the promises and intentions of manager Hiddink and owner Kerimov. Sneijder, Pazzini, Skrtel, Maicon, Mbia and Bastos are those linked with moves to Dagestan, with Anzhi seemingly the only club that could drag this provincial market hall inside the grand city walls.

Perhaps the most credible move from a Russian side features a different type of market hall altogether. Those at Volga, surviving a relegation scare last season, have appointed Anzhi cast-off Gadzhi Gadzhiev as manager, giving the silver-haired footballing sage a route back into the Premier League. Their decision paid dividends on the first day of the season as Dinamo, a side managed by Sergei Silkin, silver-haired but looking increasingly less like a footballing sage, were dispatched back to Moscow with a 1-0 defeat to mull over. Should Gadzhiev be given the time not afforded to him at Anzhi, Volga, by the season’s end, will be comfortably in mid-table, safe from the icy ravines that surround relegation play-offs and Gadzhiev looking ever more silver than grey.

Gadzhiev, as sage-like as he may be, cannot conjure an adequate smokescreen to cover what is evidently a Russian Premier League season with no more quality than the previous one, dismissing Kant and his merry-band of Enlightenment thinkers’ theory that progress is inevitable. We may see a more open campaign as Zenit run out of steam and the others fight amongst themselves but, unless there are some significant signings, most likely in Makhachkla and St Petersburg, the quality will not have significantly improved. Time is running out for Kant, John Locke and Voltaire’s ideas to take hold of this current Russian season, for the sake of those who enjoy high quality football, we had better hope they cement themselves in this provincial market before September.

Unai Emery’s Russian mission

Written by Paul Wilkes, editor of laligauk.

The success of a manager can often be subjective, even the most efficacious coaches are questioned by fans, rivals and media alike. It’s fair to say that Unai Emery has been subject to cross-examination more than the average. Financial constraints and unrealistic expectations are just some of the obstacles encountered by the tactician at the Mestalla. Whether it be strength of character, single-mindedness or just being plain stubborn, Emery is a manager that knows what he desires and how he is going to acquire it; he won’t be swayed by negative media or public opinion.

Originating from the Basque Country, he started his playing career at local side Real Sociedad; though he only made five first team appearances for ‘La Real’. He spent the majority of his playing career in the lower echelons of the Spanish league; forced to retire at the age of 32 due to a knee injury whilst playing for Lorca Deportiva. It was, in some strange way, lucky to have happened in the community of Murcia, south-east Spain. The president of Lorca, Manuel Muñoz Carrillo, offered the young rookie the job. Straight away this decision paid dividends as the club were promoted to the Segunda for the first time in their history in 2005. The following season they finished 5th, just five points off Levante in 3rd who were promoted to La Liga. When considering the club were relegated the next campaign after Emery’s exit and the club folded due to financial difficulties in 2010; his accomplishments were remarkable, the foundations laid for his ability to over achieve.

A similar scenario ensued at Almeria; a first promotion to La Liga in his first season, an above expectant finish of 8th in the second, followed by relegation two years after Emery had left the helm. It was this attribute of competing against the odds that led to him replacing Ronald Koeman at Valencia. Arriving at a side that finished 10th the previous year, he immediately improved the club enabling a Europa League position, in the next three seasons Valencia were 3rd, with only Barcelona and Real Madrid finishing above them. It’s the finer components of his time at ‘Los Che’ though that reveal more about the Spaniard himself.

Unai Emery is a man for the most meticulous of details, his sides are broadly defined in a default setting if you like, in which he believes the team can best benefit. This will be adapted slightly to every opposition or even changed completely if he feels it’s necessary. At Valencia, this was 4-2-3-1 during his final season with attacking full backs. He’s not afraid to change formation, which was done more regularly in his first three seasons, but a number of players were privately reluctant to make the continual adjustments. Emery’s thinking is the more adaptable the players tactically the better they would become. The use of two strikers was used to fit both Roberto Soldado and Aritz Aduriz into the same line-up, a more fluid 4-4-2, he mentioned in an interview with RSport that this is something he will continue to utilise, “As I’ve said before, we will be playing a 4-3-2-1, with one striker. At some point we may switch to a 4-4-2 whereby Emenike and Welliton could play together, but also have [Brazilian forward] Ari, [Russia striker Artem] Dzyuba and Alexander Kozlov. We don’t rule out the possibility of reverting to a 4-3-3 at other times.”

Rotation was high on the list at Valencia as he looked to involve the majority of the squad and keep players fresh in order to compete in all competitions. Changes to the wide players enabled either the directness or intricacy that he required. A particular favourite was the ‘double left-back’ move, the combination of Barcelona’s new signing Jordi Alba, who was a converted winger by Emery and Frenchman Jeremy Mathieu, with one at left back and the other left-wing. Whilst perceived as defensive in some quarters, the dynamic of two naturally attacking players proved anything but. Their interchanging and understanding enabled fluidity when going forward, but a rigidness when looking to keep things tight at the other end, in fact Alba has thanked Emery publicly for making his career.

When preparing for a game against Stoke City in the Europa League, the team played head football for ten minutes, in anticipation of the aerial bombardment that they were expecting. Emery acknowledged his side would have to change “we have got to adapt to their style,” but maintained the need to stamp their own authority on the opposition “we have got to show our character and our personality out there on the pitch as well” he said. A hard disciplinarian he will require his players to be punctual, but he is still approachable as he proved to me outside the Britannia stadium.

The Valencian fans are a demanding bunch and in the end they grew tired of the club’s inability to compete with the ‘big two’ in Spain, even though his four years were spent juggling the accounts. As star players David Villa, David Silva and Juan Mata left to reduce the debt, they remained competitive. The side made a £66 million profit, whilst rivals Barça had a net spend of £141m and Real Madrid £274m in the same period. They were effectively achieving the best they could hope for, although it’s never enough for supporters. It should be noted however, that they never once sung for Emery to ‘go home,’ a fate which had befallen all previous managers.

Criticism of one-off performances and failure in the Champions League were also dealt. His Valencia teams only beat Real Madrid once in the league back in May 2009 and failed to defeat Barcelona at all, the record of one win in 16 attempts against the ‘El Clàsico’ pairing doesn’t sound good, but shouldn’t be too surprising given resources. Their two attempts at Europe’s top prize saw a group stage exit and a last 16, they did fair better in the Europa League where they were knocked out at the quarter and semi final stages by Atlético Madrid twice, who then went on to win it both times.

At Spartak, he will do battle for the title against a team with excellent cohesion that transcends to the national side in Zenit as he did facing Barça and a club with extreme wealth in Anzhi as to when he was opposing Real Madrid; this time though the odds are stacked slightly more favourably.

The RFU are taking the piss

Let’s not beat about the bush here. The Russian Football Union is a joke, a laughing stock and a disgrace to the game of football.

There can be but few football associations who seem so intent on destroying the presently fragile structure that continues to prop themselves up as the RFU. The organisation’s search for a new President and coach of the national team has rightly become viewed as a pivotal moment in the RFU’s history, and you would imagine that serious deliberation would be taken as to which direction the organisation should turn toward. That, however, would be too simple for an institution that is beset by an underlying sense of chaos.

This summer has witnessed a disastrous spell of calamitous decisions with Russian football which have served to place the game in a particularly perilous situation. The national team’s woeful effort during Euro 2012 led to the resignation of Sergei Fursenko, the RFU chief, and former national team coach, Dick Advocaat, which has sparked a wild goose chase that would barely draw a smile from the audience of a 1920’s slapstick comedy.

As the rumours began to swirl across the Russian press that Roberto Mancini had privately penned an eye watering deal, following negotiations with Fursenko, prior to his resignation, the RFU took it upon themselves to distinguish such flames by claiming that they would release a shortlist of coaches who were in contention to take over the reins of the national team. The absurdity of such an assertion was evident even prior to the list being released, however following the publication of the 13 man list the situation has become one of the most farcical of modern memory.

Had the RFU actually formally opened negotiations with the aforementioned coaches within the shortlist then there would have been a pinch of sense in the assertion that the organisation needed to inform the world of those who were at the forefront of their minds. However, the shortlist includes coaches who have yet to be approached by the RFU in any way, shape or form. This is merely a case of the RFU assembling a beauty contest with a group of exotic sounding names who have literally no idea that they are to be judged, and have little intention on being so.

Pep Guardiola, Rafa Benitez and Fabio Capello join the likes of Marcelo Bielsa and, laughably, Harry Redknapp in the list of names – which also includes a number of Russian based coaches in the guise of Valery Gazzaev and Yuri Krasnozhan. The ambition of the RFU would be respectable, and even honourable, but for the fact that this process is merely a mummer’s farce, one that any self respecting coach would refuse to touch with a barge pole the size of eastern Europe.

The perception of Russia merely being able to buy the enticement of a foreign luminary, it is worth noting, is a heavily publicised falsehood. As the western media seeks to push the perception that Anzhi Makhachkala’s vast wealth is the norm across the entirety of the Russian footballing system, the reality is that the RFU have become painfully reliant upon the backing of wealthy benefactors, particularly Gazprom – who continue to rise as a footballing super power in their own right, thanks to their substantial investments within the sport across Europe. So, while whoever takes over will no doubt still receive a lucrative financial package, it will not be from the pockets of the RFU that the money appears, and for a football association to be so indebted to the business, and in turn political, realm a worrying precedent is set that has admittedly been in effect for generations.

The RFU has become, over the past number of years, obsessed with heading to the continent to snatch well respected western coaches with contemporary ideals to front their seemingly cursed national team agenda. It is, therefore, seemingly unlikely that they will be contented with turning to a Russian coach who would be viewed as a significant step down following the trials and tribulations of Dick Advocaat and Guus Hiddink. So it seems as though the addition of Yuri Semin, Anatoly Byshovets and Valery Nepomnyashchy are merely serving to swell the ranks should approaches for the foreign names fall upon deaf ears.

Some reports have even gone as far as to suggest that some of the names on the shortlist are merely serving as consultants to the RFU in their hunt for a permanent fixture. This would serve to make a farcical situation yet more sickening, as an already opaque situation somehow becomes yet more clouded. It would make sense that some of the prominent, experienced figures within Russian football would provide a soundboard upon which the RFU can discuss potential ideas however to lumber them within a shortlist where they have a minimal chance of being offered the job is downright disrespectful.

But let’s face the facts. Russian football has rapidly become a laughing stock, at a time where it needs to garner as much respect as physically possible. The camel’s back has been broken by years of mismanagement, political involvement and an over reliance on the backing of heavyweight oil companies. The RFU has no one to blame but itself, and who in their right mind hopes to join the ranks of an organisation that has literally no idea what the future holds.