Russia are in London next week to play an exhibition game against Brazil – the hosts of the next two World Cups meeting at Stamford Bridge. With many Russians and Brazilians residing in the London area, the game should be well supported.
Anyone expecting a Russian team to compare with sides of the past will be disappointed, however. Russian football has never been the same since the break-up of the old Soviet Union. When the old empire collapsed, the big Russian clubs were virtually bankrupt.
Only Spartak Moscow had money, largely because they were backed by the ubiquitous Gazprom. Spartak won the Russian title nine times in 10 years between 1992 and 2001.
Two Russian clubs have been throwing money around like it’s been devalued, Zenit St.Petersburg and Anzhi Makhachkala. Zenit raised a few eyebrows with their audacious purchase of the much-coveted Brazilian striker Hulk and Axel Witsel from Porto for £83 million. And Anzhi have been trying to lure some of Europe’s big names to a Russian backwater that must rank among the most inhospitable places to go and play football. Samuel Et’o earns £ 350,000 per week!
We’ve heard for a while that Russian clubs are part of a new order that will dominate Europe in the years ahead. But in 2012-13, it’s not quite happening. IN the Champions League, the Russian representation failed to make an impact, Zenit finishing third in their group and Spartak Moscow finishing bottom. The Europa League looked like it might be dominated by Zenit, Anzhi, Rubin Kazan and CSKA Moscow. But it hasn’t materialized. Anzhi, with their seemingly limitless resources, couldn’t beat an under-performing Newcastle and Zenit went out to Switzerland’s Basle. So much for “here come the Russians”. Rubin Kazan, who now face Chelsea, are keeping the red (white & blue) flag flying high.
The good news for the Russian game is that the country’s corporates are starting to invest money in the domestic game, notably Gazprom, whose name seems to appear everywhere in big-time football.
Gazprom are behind the proposal for a binational league formed between Russia and the Ukraine. There’s some serious money – around € 1billion, to be precise – on offer, but it won’t be without its challenges. For example, if Dynamo Kiev, who once provided the hub of the old USSR team, visit Rubin Kazan, they would have a 22-hour trip – not everyone appreciates the sheer size of the land mass that once formed the Soviet Union.
The binational league concept is firm recognition that the Ukraine was once the backbone of the USSR team. Remember Oleg Blokhin? It might make for a more attractive and marketable football league, but it won’t necessarily improve the Russian national team – unless of course Mr Putin has much grander ideas….