A Union of One – Russian Footballers Union

 

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The original (shorter form) of this article appeared in print 06.06.16, this online edition includes relevant links.

Some weeks ago the proverbial cat was put among the pigeons. As is known to anyone who can a) read English, b) watch Russian football or c) read the many reports from FIFPro on outrageous crimes against local footballers, all is not well with the wacky world of Russian football. Yet there is far more that goes on that the wider world and authorities don’t know about, mainly because of omerta in Russian football/sport and an inability to read Russian.

Footballers Dis-United

In Russia there are 2 footballers unions, actually, there is only one footballers union, the other is the ‘union of footballers and trainers and agents’ (PSFT), I’ll explain that a little later. So we have two, the All-Russia Football Players Union (ARFPU) and the one that was established a few years earlier. Having worked in football environments where unions were not present and/or actively discouraged, Russia’s situation is quite worrying.

In Malta I tried, as a club official, to organize players into a collective. I began at our own club, Floriana FC, and at one point had players from 6 Premier clubs and 9 other clubs from the 1st to 3rd, and a rep from Gozo, in one place at one time. In a French-style café in Msida we met to discuss a way to make conditions better for players and at least have a modicum of bargaining power and protection. A lawyer friend of mine helped draw up a Charter and prepare documents for registering a non-profit organization. It meant standing and recognition with the Ministry of Sport, MFA and Gozo FA and FIFPro.

All was going swimmingly until a local agent caught wind and inveigled his way into the set-up. Suddenly it all changed and changed utterly. He began recruiting players from within our group and signed them as clients. Worse, he was very close with a number of football club owners/presidents and games began. Players were threatened with retribution and be blacklisting. In a small market, being called a troublemaker is football and social death. This guy had no moral qualms about pretending to act in players’ best interests while making money off their backs. When I saw that the MFA were happy with the whole joke I stepped away and within 2 weeks it collapsed. The agent still operates today and is responsible for trafficking young African players to Malta, for a fee.

Russian Footballers Union (s)

In Russia the same dynamic develop with the older, aforementioned ‘players, trainers and agents union’. A failed businessman/ambitious agent sets it up, continues to act as before and gets legitimacy from a collegial body. Putting aside the murky background of the person, Mr. Nikolai Grammatikov, involved in establishing the union, the facts surrounding the actual association with the collegial body remain disturbing.

Our research increased. My 2 ground pounders made the calls, did the paper checks and spoke with the principals. What they found was far more worrying than initial fears. Below are the main points:

  • Of the signatories on the articles of association (for the “union”), most were forged. The forged signatures include those of Russian International footballers, past and present. These documents were accepted and part of the process of association with FIFPro. They are currently under investigation by the august body.
  • The “union” was established as the Union of ‘footballers, trainers and agents’. The “agents” bit was later dropped, yet the trainers remain.
  • The principal appears to continue operating in the capacity of an agent. This completely flies against whole idea of having him as General Secretary of the players’ union.
  • Of the more than 100 players and 46 trainers from all 3 levels of professional Russian football our researchers contacted, not a single one is a member of the union of footballers and trainers When asked for the number of members in their union, the “union” stated they were not obliged to tell anyone.

A source close to this “union”, speaking on condition of anonymity, said:

“Careful. You don’t want to mess with them. They won’t make a mistake as there is too much money at stake. It’s all a scam, but nobody will speak out except big footballers. They hate him (Grammatikov) and laugh at Leonchenko (President of PSFT). They’re making money from players and the union and the wrld body (FIFPro).”

However fair is fair and we didn’t want to go to press without hearing their side of the story. When the original article came out they made false claims against me as a person and then went on to libel me online. That they went online to claim I was deleting their tweets and blocking them, not responding to them and accusing me of misrepresenting the situation in Russia, was surprising. Especially as they were subsequently caught out on their own lies.

Shadow Chase

Despite being libeled by this “union”, I agreed to a meeting. Blatant lies to further an agenda is nothing unusual for them, though doing so when the World could see them being duplicitous was a new low. Their email, while rude and unapologetic for their libel, at least offered a chance to get their side on the record. To refute the mountain of accusations from players, trainers, club officials, Russian Football Union officials, FIFPro members and members of the Russian law enforcement community. Everybody, no matter what their troubled, murky past, deserves a day in court.

So I agreed and waited. And waited. The article deadline drew closer and they didn’t respond to any requests. Finally, with the Editor pulling the piece unless I submitted by Thursday, I wrangled an extension and asked the “union” to meet or answer questions before Saturday afternoon. 10 days had passed since we’d agreed to meet, they’d hidden in the shadows. Late Friday evening they responded that they’d only meet 6 days later and in the presence of their lawyers “that have big experience in representing players.” Apart from this they threw out their usual threats and attacked the ARFPU.

Cutting through their bluster and reminding them of the deadline, they were unwilling to meet or answer questions. Instead they made threats and insults. Which was unfortunate. Certainly they would have had to answer some serious questions, not just over forged documents and finances. One last time I tried to engage with them to at least answer some basic accusations made during interviews and investigations, instead they disappeared.

They had repeated – look at our Facebook page. So we did.

Social Pariahs

Apart from re-posts and some google translated articles from FIFPro, very little of note was on their Facebook page, until one of my researchers spotted a post from March 5th this year. It was this response which inspired further investigations. They, Grammatikov and his puppet Leonchenko, made a strange statement aimed at one Mr. Tarasov of the Lokomotiv Moscow parish. A regional lawyer took Tarasov’s cause to the Labour Court, suing Lokomotiv for punishing the player for his Europa League t-shirt incident. Revealing a t-shirt with VVP’s image and words that he is a “Polite President” drew ire on the player and club. The only problem was, the player hadn’t yet been punished and was peacefully discussing it with the club.

An associate of the lawyer told us, the order to take the case had come from the PSFT. While the paper trail was tough to deconstruct it was pretty convincing. Tarasov wrote a blunt letter, published on social media and told the PSFT to stop interfering. That he was a member of the actual players Union, the ARFPU. The regional lawyer quickly withdrew the case and was, we were told, furious to have been hung out to dry.

To get a clear overall view and try dispel the avalanche of negative reports and feedback, I took on personally to speak with contacts within clubs (current and former) and the Union. The former President of one club in the Volga Region reported that a representative of the Grammatikov had contacted him, offering a player who was unsettled in his current club. The player was about to exploit a loophole in his contract under advise from the “union” and leave for free. Yet the Volga Region club would have to pay a large fee, to an agency associated with the “union”‘s GS. The former President called the players club and was told that a “union” representative (the same person who had made the initial call) had been sniffing around the club asking questions. The player did move, for a fee, though it was paid to the club.

Two clubs were offered “services” by representatives of the PSFT, a current Commercial Director told us:

“They wanted to have a member of theirs come in and organise the scouting, recruitment and managing of players. Our President asked our Sports Director, who was categorically against. I, then, thought it was a novel idea as I had just started in the club. I thought it a free “union” service and I wasn’t aware of the background of the people involved. Our Sports Director was, and blocked the move. I thought it very strange that a “union” would work in this manner, especially demanding fees from clubs for consulting. It was like extortion, he said – “We can keep your players happy.””

A former employee of the RFU and RFPL was blunt in telling me that the “union” were still operating as agents and had not paid him a fee for a marketing project he’d undertaken. He believes that funding had come from “a foreign source” (most likely FIFPro) and never went to the project. In any case the project never saw the light of day and he was left out of pocket for more than $3000.

I needed some good news at least. It couldn’t always have been so bad. Surely it began with great hopes and then life got in the way. So we 3 went digging again. It was a terrible error.

A Union of None or just one

A Russian Footballers Union that could channel the power of FIFPro would be a panacea for many ills in the Russian game. In fact I’d go so far as to say it’d be the most important development in Russian sport since the 1980’s. Yet the PSFT was built on thin air, not solid ground. What Mr. Grammatikov refused to address was that peculiar situation regarding the founding documents. Why indeed would he, if it could up with him in hotter water than he was already personally in at the time.

In 2005, unable to attend the sign-up with FIFPro in Holland having been arrested leaving the country, Mr. Grammatikov gave his travel companions a bunch of papers before being led away by the police. The documents were for the formation of the “union” and contained the forged signatures. It was all a fake. Not that that was anything new to the gentleman in question, though we digress.

In order to clear up a situation where notable footballers and individuals were “members” of this fantasy set-up, we double-checked our facts.

  • The documents submitted to the Russian Ministry of Justice on May 30th 2005, for registration of the Union of footballers, trainers and agents contained 2 forged signatures. This was confirmed with both men.
  • According to the documents in our possession, on December 20th, 2005, a conference was held to fine tune the “union” with a stellar line-up. Yet 5 of those who supposedly attended, confirmed that they didn’t.
  • 2 players (Vladimir Bystrov and Igor Denisov) signed statements that not only had their signatures been forged on PSFT documents, but that they had never taken part in any part of the registration or “union” formation.
  • In addition to those above, the signature of Andrey Arshavin was also found to have been forged on the documents. He said that he did not sign the document.
  • The meeting to establish a players rep committee from Zenit was supposed to have taken place on April 28th, 2005. Arshavin, Bystrov and Denisov (named in the documents) confirmed they took no part in this.

So, to summarise: forged documents, no transparency, no sense. And yet Mr. Grammatikov’s personal “union” has served him well.

A very Russian business

When I worked in archaeology one of the prized places to dig on a site was in the cess pit/toilet. I remember happy days in Ireland digging up medieval iron spearheads, gold nuggets, leather shoes and even a brooch. The PSFT and past of their GS proved to be quite the bountiful cess pit. It was obvious why they had refused to meet or even answer simple questions. Mr. Grammatikov and his PSFT aren’t keen on disclosure.

Personally, we sought to ignore remarks about him and focused on football matters. This became almost impossible when we contacted a former employee of Kuban Krasnodar who stated Mr. Grammatikov was willing to make the issues of the club’s disgraceful dispute with a player (Nizetic) disappear – for a fee. We heard this time and again. And it has been reported ad nauseam in the media.

So, having dropped the “agents” bit from the official title of the “union” at the fantasy conference attended by far fewer than the 24 stated, it seemed odd that it continued to have, as General Secretary, the man who was representing the “Association of football agents”, and who was openly a football agent. Even during this past winter transfer window the Gen. Sec. of the PSFT and his President appear to have continued their agent activities according to more than a dozen witnesses in Russian football.

The evidence mounts:
Lorenzo Melgarejo – Kuban to Spartak

Sergey Yashin – Volga NN to Shinnik Yaroslavl

Alexander Samedov – Spartak Moscow

These are a very, very select few from mainstream Russian media. Is it any wonder the Russian football establishment refuses to do business with this “union” and that footballers are suspicious about being near it? The unfortunate, stained past of Mr. Grammatikov just keeps being dragged into the present too.

The refusal to honour a Memorandum of Understanding to join forces with the ARFPU removed any last vestige of legitimacy from the PSFT. As a Russian sports journalist, now with Match TV commented – “In Ireland would you put a convicted priest in charge of a kindergarden?” While the parallel is unfortunate and tapered for his Irish audience, I got the point. The idea of a Russian Footballers Union in the hands of a football agent does seem counter-intuitive. There is a Russian Footballers Union, though it needs to wait for recognition while FIFPro investigates the “union of footballers, trainers and agents”. Until then Russian footballers will continue to suffer and Russian football (and sports) will remain in freefall. The irony of a proper, legal and transparent Russian Footballers Union (ARFPU) already with the support of players, clubs and Union having to wait for a foreign investigation to be allowed full recognition is not lost on anyone here, and many abroad. The “union” of one will need some mighty impressive signatories, legal ones, to get out of this cess pit.

 


Follow Alan on Twitter: @DangerKidsBooks

Author: Alan Moore

A Russia-based Sports Journalist and Consultant, worked with major sports clubs including:- Spartak Moscow, Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt. Boxed Internationally, played semi-pro football and I worked full-time in sports management/consultancy from 2003-13.

First published professionally on football in 1990, first Russian league match in 1991, now Hosting Capital Sports on Capital FM, Moscow and writing the odd article.

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