Uncertainty, power-struggles and financial worries are just some of the day-to-day fears of shareholders in Russian football and the expediencies from a number of top-flight Russian Premier League clubs.
Lokomotiv Moscow have become another victim of the post Soviet empire collapse, with them evidently struggling to recapture their glory years due to greed and incompetence.
An impressive start to the season last year had a number of fans optimistic about their league position, with many believing the weakened Russian Premier League would see a new victor come the end of the campaign. Lokomotiv’s red and green army was managed by Igor Cherevchenko but the former Tajikistan international left in June following a series of disputes at boardroom level. Legendary Lokomotiv coach Yuri Semin returned to the team he managed for 13 years between 1992-2005 but last season’s form looks a million miles off returning to the Moscow outfit.
During those thirteen years, Lokomotiv was victorious for Russian football’s premier prize on two occasions. This was during a time city rivals Spartak swept all before them with Semin in charge, the Railwaymen ended the supremacy of the 1990s when nobody considered them worthy opponents in this post-Soviet era.
The club’s board continue to chase down the ever-growing gap between CSKA and Lokomotiv, but the competition to become Moscow’s premier team is beginning to take it’s toll on the club’s supporters, who watch on as their bitter rivals drowned themselves in success. For a team who could regularly be depended upon for cup success, European exploits or even something as small as having the best stadium in Russia, Lokomotiv’s shambolic race has ultimately seen them fall down to third of a potential three candidates in the race to become Moscow’s grandest club.
From a boardroom perspective, former CEO Olga Smorodskaya was once deemed “inefficient” by fellow board members as they continued to rally for her resignation as on-field issues continued. Smorodskaya was one of a number of casualties during change in Russian football this summer, as the football federation of Russia aim to change the running of its clubs ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Not since the days of Semin at the helm have Lokomotiv Moscow’s supporters regularly shown up weekly to show their ever-lasting support for the Railwaymen . The academy at the club became notorious for bringing through a number of youth prospects and these were both key areas Olga Smorodskya failed to rectify during her time at the club. When she was appointed president of Loko, Smorodskaya worked for the CSKA Sports Society, and her past made her unpopular among the fans from the beginning.
Six years ago she became the leading boardroom figure and despite a large number of resistance met by the supporters, their voices were not heard. The average attendance in Moscow prior to her arrival was close to 15,450 for every home game, now Semin’s side are playing in-front of a miserly weekly average of 7,120.
Smorodskaya’s approach made her even more unpopular with the fans as their struggles on the field continued. A traditional club with a working class core of fans fell in to further turmoil when she took their financial breakthrough elsewhere. Key young players were sold, despite Slaven Bilic’s disapproval.
Vitesse Arnhem purchased Arshak Koryan for a minimal fee and Rifat Zhemaletdinov (once dubbed Russian football’s greatest ever prospect) was sold to the highest bidder – that being Rubin Kazan. Vitaliy Lystsov was sold to Benfica and FC Rostov’s Dmitriy Poloz and struggling Ural signed Sergey Serchenkov, all of whom became a number of other figures sold to line the pockets of the greedy shareholders whilst allowing this gigantic club to continue with mediocrity once again. Had Lokomotiv kept the spine of a great team, could they have eventually succeeded in closing the gap? Easily, is the answer.
It came as no surprise that the man dubbed the ‘Russian Alex Ferguson’ returned to his iconic club. In 2010, after four years in Ukraine with Dynamo Kiev, he returned under the request of Olga Smorodskaya, but Semin was sacked just a year into his tenure for “disappointing and unsatisfactory performances” despite the club finishing one point outside the Champions League places in 2009.
Now under the new Chairmanship of Illya Gerkus, the Godfather of Russian football has returned for a final stint as he nears his 70th birthday. Gerkus has been critical of the foreign player ruling in Russia, which allows five foreign players to be fielded at any stage of a game. The clear objective in Russia is to allow their academy football to develop and with Gerkus sharing the same views of many boardroom members, he was identified as the perfect candidate to replace the outgoing Smorodskaya.
If Semin can manage to adapt to the new style and pace in Russian football’s premier division and coincide with Lokomotiv Moscow’s turbulent boardroom issues, then surely the race to supremacy can belong to the Railwaymen.
The foundations of the empire may be in dire straits but the ever-growing building continues to rise. Lokomotiv Moscow are a club steeped in history and success with a dedicated fan-base. Bad decisions have stagnated the club’s planned progress, combined with wealth, greed and selfishness. With an iconic manager in place, a symbol of belief in the football system enabled with Gerkus as Chairman, and a passionate core, then who knows where Moscow will finish this season if swift changes can be made to aid their desperate season as it continues to slip away.