Round Table: Russian Football in 2014

RFN-RoundTable1

Andrew (@AndrewMijFlint):  English journalist and Russian football fan based in Siberia

Aleks (@aleksvee): Dynamo Moscow supporter based in USA

Saul (@SaulPope): Zenit supporter based in England

Joel (@Vostok1981): Spartak Moscow support based in Portugal

Valera (@ValeraPatotski):  Zenit St. Petersburg supporter based in Norway

Xavier (@AxeMurderer60): CSKA Moscow supporter based in France

Stefano (@confortistefano): Lokomotiv Moscow supporter based in Italy

Toke (@TokeTheilade): Spartak Moscow supporter based in Denmark

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Last seasons exciting title race was one of the highlights of 2014.

Last seasons exciting title race was one of the highlights of 2014.

1: What was your highlight of 2014?

Andrew: FC Tyumen’s promotion to the FNL in June of course! In all seriousness, as a follower of a lower league club, it has been a difficult year seeing the likes of Alania Vladikavkaz struggle, so the euphoria at being a part of promotion campaign after missing out the season before was a ray of light in the midst of troubling times. Higher up the system, seeing Dynamo Moscow’s relatively sensible signings of Alex Büttner and in particular Matthieu Valbuena succeed was delightful, especially in contrast to the crazy transfer fees we have seen in recent years in the Premier League. Although some stadia issues have arisen, it has been pleasing to see some progress in the material preparations for the 2018 World Cup with the opening of Spartak’s and Rubin’s arenas.

Aleks: Mathieu Valbuena’s awesome chip against Zenit. Dynamo lost that game, but that was one great goal.

Saul: Arsenal Tula. I think they are still more likely than not to be relegated from the top flight, but I like the fact that they have continued to play attractive football despite their results. They were beaten 4-0 at home by Zenit in their first game, but continued to attack and remained well supported by their fans. They are also very likely to stick with their manager, Dmitriy Alenichev, come what may – which not a lot of clubs in any top division do these days. That is now looking to be a wise move, as results have picked up somewhat. Arsenal are also one of the few sides with a large majority of Russian players on their team. All in all, to me they feel like a good local football club, and I hope that even if they’re relegated they will come back stronger for it.

Joel: I believe that Roman Shirokov’s arrival at Spartak Moscow was one of the highlights of last year on Russian football, regardless of the fact that he is yet to prove a point at his new team. Another interesting fact, and probably the most remarkable from last year, was when Dynamo Moscow “sabotaged” Zenit’s title chances and delivered the glory to their all-time rivals of CSKA, who probably not even deserved to be crowned Russian champions last season.

Valera: Uh, its got to be the Zenit – Dynamo Moscow game. The most entertaining game I watched this past year. Attack on attack, great goals and some crazy saves. And it ended up with a 3-2 win as well.

Xavier: I would probably say the title of CSKA Moscow, at the end of last season with an amazing finish between CSKA, Zenit and Lokomotiv. We’ve seen a lot of great matches through the season.

Also on a very personal point of view I would also say the CSKA win over Manchester City in Etihad Stadium, nobody was expecting such a result over a big side like Manchester City especially with all the poor performances in the other games. That was a big moment of happiness. A real Champions League Night for every CSKA fans I think.

Stefano: The Russian football highlight of 2014 was the growing up of Krasnodar, who have played (very well) for the first time in a European competition. Galitskiy’s project is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting worldwide. In this moment, Krasnodar is the prototype for the ideal football society and soon they will also have the new stadium. I’m sure that in the next years we will hear a lot about this club. The only puzzle is the future of the club after the passing of Galitskiy, but its better not to think about it in this moment.

Toke: The title race in the spring was something to remember. Russia had one of the closest and most exciting finish in the World in the 13/14 season, where three clubs could win the title on the last day.  During the last rounds we had Zenit’s resurrection under Vilas-Boas and later collapse against Dynamo as well as CSKA’s amazing victory streak. None of us really expected CSKA to take the title, but somehow everything went their way.

2: What was your low of 2014?

Russia's World Cup performance was one of the lows of 2014.

Russia’s World Cup performance was one of the lows of 2014.

Andrew: Unfortunately it is hard to know where to begin; the accusations of racism that just won’t go away, the shocking World Cup performances, the awful organisation of the league system, the financial problems… For me, the real shame has been in the blind faith put in Fabio Capello, who I just don’t see as the answer to a lifeless senior team. Someone who has an understanding of how to motivate, inspire and maximize the potential of the national team will be crucial to restore some faith and credibility before the world rolls into town. The decision making process at the top appears to be flawed – suggestions of entering the national team into the league before the world cup and expanding the Premier League at a time when Rostov and Amkar are unable to pay wages are fundamentally poor ideas.

Aleks: The refereeing in the Super Cup match. Also, watching multi-millionaire players lazily making their way out of the offside position.

Saul: Traveling to Vienna to support Russia in the Euro 2018 game, and seeing them lose 1-0 to Austria. The match itself was not the problem (Russia played OK in patches) but rather the lack of depth the national side has is worrying – very, very few players capable of turning a game or making a difference at the top level. The 2015-16 Premier League rule change might make a difference (15 Russians and 10 non-Russians in the squad) and give those eligible for the national side more exposure, but equally they might make things worse.

Joel: It is not difficult to find negative aspects on Russian football, although I honestly believe that the shameful moment of 2014 was Russia’s poor stint at the Brazil World Cup. Don Fabio was not able to build a team capable of, at least, walking through the group stage and left the tournament with just two miserable points from three matches and another defeat against the usual suspects, Belgium, who tend to be the executioners of Russia (and of the Soviet Union in 1986) at this type of competition.

Valera: Well, Zenit’s Champions league “road” was not as long as I expected. For me personally that was the biggest disappointment for this year. Otherwise the racism from Torpedo Moscow, Rostov from Dynamo Moscow and their own Samba is nothing to be proud of. I’m glad they got the punishment they did.

Xavier: The collective failure of the Sbornaya at World Cup… what a deception… I had so many expectations on this team, everybody was waiting at a least a qualification in a pretty compact group. It’s not only Capello’s fault, players are involved in this huge miss and I hope they will go forward for EURO 2016 and the Russian World Cup in 2018.

Stefano: I have to be honest: 2014 wasn’t an exciting year for Russian football. The Brazilian adventure of Capello’s National Team was simply disappointing, while Russian clubs involved in European competitions had very poor results. As a consequence, my Russian football law is the elimination of Zenit from Champions League. During the summer I thought that Zenit could have done a respectable European campaign: they bought an excellent defender as Garay and AVB seemed to have created a really strong team. Unfortunately, my feelings weren’t true and now ‘Bomzhi’ have to play in Europa League. I have seen every Zenit match in the Champions League and I can say that the elimination is deserved. Apart from the away match against Benfica, they haven’t played neither a single game as a top club. No one will be able to resolve this poor situation and this is very sad.

Toke: My low was definitely how the Russian clubs and national team showed itself on the international stage. The World Cup was borderline torture, because we all knew how much more the players were capable of. Don Fabio picked a defensive approach, but the players were also to blame, none of them really impressed me. It was also terrible to follow Zenit and Lokomotiv in Europe this season that both crashed out way too early.

3: What will you remember 2014 for?

Tyumen fans clearing the pitch for snow before a FNL match against Anzhi.

Tyumen fans clearing the pitch for snow before a FNL match against Anzhi.

Andrew: I will remember the day when volunteers spent four hours clearing snow from the Geolog pitch to ensure the Anzhi match against Tyumen went ahead, and seeing a solitary Lunch Energiya Vladivostok fan travel through five time zones to follow his club, and to be rewarded by the whole team going over to him after the win to congratulate his effort. The crisis in Ukraine and the  economic sanctions have hit hard, but they have hit many clubs hard, and just getting through the year has been a challenge.

Aleks: Rubin and Spartak’s new stadiums, Yuri Semin’s Champions League hat, and Dynamo Moscow’s victorious group stage run in the Europa League.

Saul: Valentin Filatov’s goal for Tosno that knocked Spartak out of the Russian Cup. At that point Tosno were in the third tier and away from home they had little chance, but Filatov scored a belter. I like it so much because it feels like if anyone was due a goal like that it was Filatov. He was at Zenit around the turn of the century when a youngster and for a time looked great, but then suffered serious injuries. His parents were then killed in a hit and run road accident on their way to a match, which led to the player suffering depression, losing form and dropping down the leagues. Seeing that he’d scored such an important goal was one of the few things that really delighted me in Russian football in 2014.

Joel: There are several things that I will keep in mind from last year. First, the arrival of André Villas-Boas to Russian football and his ability to rebuild Zenit after several years of complete numbness and dull football under Spalletti’s stewardship. Secondly, the amazing achievement of Dmitry Alenichev and his modest Arsenal Tula that heroically climbed from the depths of Russian football into RPL after three successive promotions. Third, the return of the former Russian powerhouses of Torpedo Moscow to the RPL after the amazing work carried out by Aleksandr Borodyuk (a manager that is clearly underrated the way I see things) at the FNL. And, last but not least, the last goodbye to someone that I believe to have been one of the best footballers of the last 50 years, the one and only Fyodor Cherenkov, who managed to even display his entire grandiosity at his funeral ceremony that mobilized supporters and players from several different teams, who, for once, put their differences aside to honour not only a great footballer but also an outstanding human being.

The death of the legendary Fyodor Cherenkov was a sad event in 2014.

The death of the legendary Fyodor Cherenkov was a sad event in 2014.

Valera: I have a lot of great memories of 2014. Zenit’s 8–1 win against Torpedo was a great game I really enjoyed watching. A beast, Hulk, has scored 8 goals in RPL this year WOHO. Garay and Garcia joined Zenit, if any one noticed? Even though they have not been shown their best form its something to remember. I also remember when Hulk trolled us all by saying that referee was racist and when Kazan police made a female fan strip. Good times.

Xavier: Beside the CSKA title, I will remember as a pretty decent season for Russian Clubs in general, with many interesting games and players,

1) the rise of FK Krasnodar, they did an amazing job and they continue to develop the club in such a good way.

2) the fall of Anzhi in 2nd division at the end of last season.

3) the Russian Transfer Market (signature of Garay, Javi Garcia, Eremenko, Natkho, Fernandes)

4) The new stadium of Spartak Moscow

5) as a french citizen the signature of Mathieu Valbuena in Dynamo Moscow !

Stefano: I will remember 2014 for Lokomotiv, which is with Spartak the most inconstant club not only in the RPL, but also in the major leagues. The ‘Railroaders’ can fight for the Russian title until the end playing some great games and, a few months later, they also can be eliminated from Europa League by a team such as Apollon Limassol. So, it has been demonstrated that a team can change his status quickly. Lokomotiv’s leadership has tough relationship with fans and this influences inevitably the results. Fans are behaving wrongly and season after season the attendance at Lokomotiv Stadium is decreasing: the team, in fact, is not having the right support. Therefore I’ll remember 2014 as another year in which Lokomotiv demonstrated this wrong policy and discontinuity.

 Toke: I will remember 2014 for being the year we said goodbye to Fyodor Cherenkov. The way his death united Russia’s football world proved how remarkable he was, both as a player and a human.

On another note I will unfortunately also remember 2014 for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the following war in Ukraine, as well as the introduction of the Crimean clubs in the Russian league system and their inevitable struggle to survive. I also believe that the following sanctions impact on the Russian economy and the clubs will be something we will discuss for a long time.

I will also remember 2014 for being the year, when the first World Cup Stadiums finally were opened. Now we are all waiting for the stadium in St. Petersburg…

4: What are your hopes for 2015?

Our experts hopes the current economic crisis in Russia can lead to more young Russians getting playing time.

Our experts hopes the current economic crisis in Russia can lead to more young Russians getting playing time.

Andrew: My biggest hope is that all clubs make it through to the end of the season as financially viable entities, and that in the summer some serious debate is given to the structure of the league system. The Premier League cannot support 16 teams in my opinion; I would decrease the league to 14 teams, split the FNL into east and west divisions, and introduce more incentive for 2nd division teams to stay competitive by introducing a promotion playoff system. This would improve the competitiveness of the mid level teams as there would more to play for nearer the end of the season, but it would be less of a closed shop for teams lower down the system. Also, the season must revert to taking place within one calendar year – the short preseason is madness, and there has been little or no discernible advantage for the tiny minority involved in European competition.

Aleks: Less refereeing controversies and less hooliganism. Arsenal Tula making a miraculous jump out of the relegation zone. Dynamo Moscow setting a new record by making it past the Round of 16 in the Europa League.

Saul: That all the professional football leagues finish with the same number of teams as are currently in them (I am assuming the three Crimean sides already gone). The second and third tiers have been plagued by bankruptcies in recent seasons, and the top flight has not been immune to these during the close season. Currently in financial difficulties are FNL sides Sibir and SKA Energiya (9 months since players were paid); in the top flight Torpedo do not look in great shape, and there are still rumours about Kuban’ not being financed beyond the end of the season and possibly a new club forming in their place in Sochi.

All the chopping and changing can make a mockery of promotion and relegation, and means there’s no chance to build up rivalries or a sense of history with other sides. And that in turn leads to the generally poor attendances across all the divisions bar the top flight.

Joel: The best case scenario for me would be Spartak regaining the RPL title after such a long fast, although, as I still manage to keep my feet on the ground and I don’t usually let my imagination run away with me, I know that such thing will surely not happen.

2015 will certainly be a complicated year for Russian football, due to the current problems the Ruble is facing, and the hypothetical stampede of some top foreign footballers, because of their contract renegotiations. Russian football needs, once again, to take a look inside and put their once outstanding academies to work once more in order to create the right atmosphere for young players to find their way into top teams and, at the same time ,to prepare and assure a wealthy and shiny future for the country’s National teams.

Valera: Hang on let me just put my Zenit glasses on… Here we go! Well best case scenario is that Zenit win the Europa league and RPL. Let’s start with Europa. Zenit have been showing poor results against European teams, but I still have the hope that something will snap in AVB’s head and we can start winning against teams outside Russia. In the RPL things are looking really good for us. Seven points gap ahead of CSKA. In other words, we look really solid in the League. Also I hope that Luís Neto gets sold and we sign Óscar Cardozo from Benfica. If we look overall I hope that we see less racism this year and more beautiful football moments to remember.

Xavier: Another title for CSKA Moscow and more competition in the league with the new 10+15 rules. The ruble crisis has a huge impact on Russian Clubs and they will probably focus more on the formation and the youth players in comparison to the last years.

Stefano: This is a very interesting question. I hope that RFS will fire Capello and Sbornaya will be trained by a Russian coach. I also hope that one of the two of Zenit and Dinamo will win Europa League: I think that both sides have a good team. My main hope, instead, is that Lokomotiv fans will stop to criticize the society in the stadium. The protests can be done during the week in Loko’s offices, not when players are on the pitch and they need a support from the stands. If at least one of my dreams comes true, I will be happy. Of course, I want also that Russia will be qualified for EURO 2016 and Lokomotiv will finish in a European spot in RPL!

Toke: The ruble crisis will be an enormous challenge to overcome for most clubs, but I hope we will see the clubs get through it stronger than they were when it began. Maybe we will see less foreign players, which will allow the Russian talents to get some time on the field. It could somehow end up as a small blessing in disguise. I hope we will not see too many (or any) clubs go bankrupt this year.

Toke Møller Theilade

Author: Toke Møller Theilade

Brøndby supporter, groundhopper and more importantly Editor-in-Chief at Russianfootballnews.com. As a hopeless romantic, I still believe Fyodor Smolov and Viktoria Lopyreva has a future together.

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