Round Table: Russian Football’s New Year


As you will be aware people are aware, we recently turned the calendar from 2017 to 2018, and it is thus time to evaluate the year that went by and look forward to the new one. To do so, we found four RFN writers and asked them about their Russian football highs and lows of 2017 as well as their hopes for 2018.

In the panel, we have:

Toke Theilade (@TokeTheilade)
Andrew Flint (@AndrewMijFlint)
David Sansun (@RFN_David)
James Nickels (@JamesNickels)


Question 1: What was your personal of 2017?

Toke: Seeing Aleksei Miranchuk blossom into the top class player we all knew he had the potential to be, has been awesome. I was starting to fear that Miranchuk would never break through, but Yuri Semin has really found a way to utilise him. Miranchuk is now the kind of player who can determine the outcome of a game himself, and it’s a pleasure to watch.

Andrew: Without question, it was the Cup Final, and on so many levels. My personal attachment to Ural meant it was incredible to see their first major final and to be privileged to be in the stands and see the breathtaking Fisht Stadium. The match itself was dramatic with four red cards, and grudgingly I have to admit the best team won, although it was great to see the legendary grandfather of Russian football win another trophy.

David: Personally, as a Rubin Kazan supporter, the 6-0 win against Anzhi in August was a delight to watch. This was, unfortunately, the last swansong before Jonathas was sold to Hannover, and Rubin’s form has been terrible since. As a neutral, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching SKA Khabarovsk’s home games since their promotion, all of which have been hugely entertaining, with an average of 2.9 goals per game, and SKA actually winning a number, before tailing off in the winter, losing their last three.

James: Spartak’s 5-1 victory over Sevilla. Easy. It was a joy to see the side performing on the highest stage once again, reminding me why I initially fell in love with Russian football. However, the result was so much bigger; despite both Spartak and CSKA dropping out of the Champions League and into the Europea League knockouts, this season showed that Russian football can be a force, and no more was this shown than in Spartak’s demolition of a talented Sevilla side.


Question 2: What was your personal low of 2017?

Toke: The same low as in the past many years: that there were no serious attempts to fix the huge structural problems of Russian football. The people in power keep discussing the same foolish and superficial solutions fully aware that they won’t help one bit.

Andrew: Usually there are so many, and 2017 was no different. The circus of Tom Tomsk’s collapse was a stain on the RFPL’s integrity as our editor-in-chief pointed out, but it highlighted some serious deeper issues that have never been dealt with. Personally, I have never been as heartbroken as I was when Khasan Mamtov left FC Tyumen. He was the leader, talisman and inspiration behind an otherwise struggling FNL side, and without him, Tyumen have looked lost.

David: I could list so many related to Rubin, but Sardar Azmoun’s awful form, going over 1000 minutes before finally scoring against SKA Khabarovsk on the final day before the winter break has to be my personal low. I really want him to be able to turn his form around before the World Cup so he can grab a starting place.

James: There are a few, from poor results to continued scandals and stalling reform, however, very few have suffered just quite like Luch-Energiya Vladivostok this past calendar year. The players haven’t been paid in six months now, but they reached their nadir in early November. They were forced to move into Luch’s training base, unable to pay off their housing bills. Furthermore, they couldn’t even afford food, and fans were forced to raise money and gather food in order to feed the players and their families. The situation has hardly been alleviated due to the structure of the FNL, but the inability of a group of players being utterly unable to neither house nor feed their wives and children is de facto the lowest ebb in Russian football.


Question 3: What are you looking forward to the most in 2018?

Toke: I must admit that I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens after the World Cup; seeing whether any of the young Russians will actually move abroad, or if all their promises were empty. Furthermore, it’ll be interesting to see how the World Cup impacts Russian football with the new stadia across the country, and if the removal of the World Cup shadow will see us taking some steps towards actual improvement and reformation – or stagnation and a series of “white elephant” stadiums.

Andrew: Apparently there will be a few teams kicking a ball about in Russia over the summer, so I might pay attention to that. In fact, with so many of the RFN team travelling over for the World Cup, it will be literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to finally meet some great writers face-to-face. On a broader scale, while I am in fact optimistic over Russia’s chances on the pitch, what I am most looking forward to is a smoothly run and harmonious global event that shows Russian people and fans in their best light, ushering in an era of greater understanding and fewer stereotypes. We can all dream…

David: I can’t wait for the World Cup in the summer since I’ll be in Kazan, Moscow and St. Petersburg for the tournament. I’m also hopeful of seeing a Russian player finally making a move abroad to a big European League, whether it be Aleksandr Golovin, Fedor Smolov, Aleksei Miranchuk or even someone else. It’s time these players start to make the jump to Europe and there are now finally some players who have the quality to do so.

James: What else but 14 June 2018? The day the biggest football tournament in the world kicks off in Russia for the first time ever. The 2018 World Cup is set to be the highlight of all fans of Russian football’s 2018. Bar none. Fears exist over policing, external threats, corruption and nepotism; yet on the pitch, I have no doubt the tournament will be a festival of football. Panama and Iceland will both partake in their first-ever World Cup tournament, and many others return for the first time in decades; Peru (36 years), Egypt (28), Morocco (20), Senegal (16), Saudi Arabia, Sweden and Tunisia (all 12).

Toke Møller Theilade

Author: Toke Møller Theilade

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

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