For a number of seasons the Premier League of Russian football has been scrutinized for it’s poor standard of play and its lack of soul. The struggles that a number of teams face on a weekly basis will not be brought to the attention of the fans as they look to protect the identity of the country’s premier league.
The 2015/16 Russian Premier League was one of the most competitive leagues in European football. Despite the fast-paced and highly entertaining play, Russia’s highest division remains divided with a league for the rich and one for the poor, metaphorically speaking. The division in the league has become apparent in the past five or six years with a number of big teams struggling to cope financially and ultimately going bankrupt.
What people struggle to realise is that of the 16 teams in the RPL there are only six teams that have been in the division longer than five years: CSKA Moscow, Spartak Moscow, Terek Gronzy, Lokomotiv Moscow, Zenit and Rubin Kazan remain the only fortunate ones not to suffer relegation, bankruptcy, or administration so their status could remain in the Premier League.
Four of those six have also claimed a domestic trophy during this period with Spartak Moscow and Terek being the only exception, but they still managed to be paid by the governing authorities. In comparison, FC Saturn Moscow and FC Moscow have both gone out of existence, whilst Torpedo Moscow have been forced to drop to the lowest league in Russian football so they could afford to travel to away games after they received no financial package from the Russian Football Association.
Russia’s Communist past is undeniably halting the league’s progress which threatened to become one of the biggest and best in Europe during the late 2000’s. When CSKA, Rubin and Zenit all challenged in European competitions during this time, no effort was made to highlight the game in Russia thus causing a lack of investment in the league. CSKA’s UEFA Cup victory in 2005 was the first by any Russian club at this point and it was shortly followed by a UEFA Cup victory for Zenit St. Petersburg when they defeated Rangers in 2008. Kazan tore the script up in 2008 when they won their first league title but until last season no side had challenged the top three before FC Rostov surprised everyone going toe-to-toe CSKA in a title race that lasted until the final week.
Communism still plays a major role in how the media portray sport to the outside world. The embarrassment that came last season when Dynamo Moscow were relegated saw a lack of media attention brought onto the club who were seen as shaming the sport and league. Dynamo was the original symbol of Soviet football and their fall from riches to rags last season was almost condemned when investors pulled out of the club leaving the board struggling to pay bills on a weekly basis.
Currently, city rivals CSKA Moscow are the symbol of the nation’s pride. The most successful club in recent times and hailing from the capital city means more focus is directed towards them from the media and association officials. Whilst the red-and-blues turned down a £17million from Leicester City for Ahmed Musa, Dynamo had not paid their players for close to 18 weeks.
Many supporters will be less sympathetic towards teams who allow themselves to be crippled by such debt, however when teams like Zenit St. Petersburg received local government support as Gazprom wanted to invest in the club, and teams like Anzhi Mackhahkala were frowned upon for tempting to compete with some of Europe’s elite questions need to be asked.
Anyone who doubts corruption is still a major part in the league’s general running would be naive to say the least. Terek Gronzy are literally owned Ramzan Kadyrov – the leader and undisputed ruler of the Chechen Republic. Kadyrov famously hired Ruud Guillt in 2011 before sacking him just six months later. He was apparently extremely unhappy at Guillt’s attempt to become a powerful and favoured figure as in his opening press conference he confirmed that “I’d like to believe that I can bring joy into the lives of the Chechen people” – Kadyrov felt he was the only man allowed to do so. His support however has enabled the Russian, or Chechen, club to remain in the top-flight since 2008 however and they still maintain a mid-table finish on a regular basis whilst others continue to struggle.
These are just some examples of the poor mismanagement that favours the superior teams in Russia. A league that still attracts a number of players for its potential and number of huge clubs, but until they are willing to part with their greedy pockets and set up a system of fairness we may continue to see a number of great clubs suffer. However it must be noted that ultimately it is the supporters of these clubs that become the victims of greed, communism and power.