Storm in the Heart of Tatarstan

The game had just finished. Bukharov scored twice, Navas was brilliant in the defense and the fans from Kazan stood up and applauded Kurban Berdyev, the coach. This sounds like a scene from 2009, when Rubin Kazan won the league. But the calendar said 2015, and much had changed since the glorious days six years ago.

If anybody back then had said that Berdyev and his best players could move to Rostov, people would have taken it as nothing more than a tasteless joke. But reality is that the entire staff, including Berdyev the head coach, and six players from Kazan are on the coasts of the Don now.

Rubin’s 2009 squad was one of the best teams in the history of Russian football. They became the first club from outside Moscow to win two league titles in a row, they set a Russian Premier League record in the number of big wins in one season and, at the end, they beat Barcelona at Camp Nou as well as created a dozen of chances against Mourinho’s Champions League winners from Inter. No one expected that the team would lose dominance before Tatarstan got a new president in the summer of 2010.

Rubin Kazan's succesful team in 2009.

Rubin Kazan’s succesful team in 2009.

Rubin Kazan is owned by the republic of Tatarstan, which means that the president of the club is appointed by the president of Tatarstan. So, as soon as Tatarstan’s head changed, Rubin had new rulers too. For the next couple years the team continued to play well, but because of the conflicts between Berdyev and new heads of the club, Rubin lost their grip on the title. Things got worse in 2012, when the governance of Rubin changed again. The new president Valeri Sorokin, who is, according to his own words, absolutely indifferent to football, invited Andrei Gromov to be chief executive. Gromov is infamous for making the former Premier League club Khimki go bankrupt, and relegated to the second division. Berdyev, who built the team, and raised it from the position as a FNL outsider in 2001 to the Russian champion in 2008, came into conflict with Gromov, and Sorokin, whom he deemed unprofessional.

In August of 2012, two months after Gromov’s appointment, Berdyev was asked about his opinion on the general director’s work and his answer was shocking. Berdyev revealed that he never communicated with Gromov. As Berdyev said, Gromov, unlike previous general directors, who worked hard from morning to night, rarely visited the club’s office. This slowed down all of the internal processes in the club, as Gromov has to approve and sign all financial documents. Gromov’s lack of appearances didn’t only impact the first team but also the academy. Nobody from Berdyev’s team knew where Gromov spent his time, when he wasn’t at the club, and Gromov himself wasn’t very helpful either as he deliberately ignored all interview requests from journalists.

The scandals soon followed, and rumours of money laundry emerged as Turkish midfielder Gökhan Töre joined the club in December 2012. Töre’s agent wrote a letter to the President of Tatarstan, in which he accused Berdyev of threatening and extorting his client. The wave of gossip was gigantic and it continued to grow until Berdyev in the end won a trial and cleared his name. After rumors of Gromov being involved in the scandal to make Berdyev look bad, a newspaper published a letter from a group of Rubin staffmembers, where the personnel asked the President to fire Gromov.

The relationship got a tragic ending in December, 2013, when Berdyev was perfidiously sacked. A dismissal nobody told him about, which meant he got the news delivered from the news on TV. Fan-favourites Ryazantsev and Natcho refused to renew their contracts as a protest to the situation, while Rondón quickly facilitated a move to Zenit. Roman Eremenko and Dmitriy Torbinsky broke their contracts in order to escape the chaos, as they both left the club not long after. Most of Rubin’s successful squad was now gone. Even though everybody supported the coach, some of the experienced players like Ryzhikov, Karadeniz and Navas did however decide to stay in an attempt to save the team and its legacy. Despite their loyalty to the club, they all used interviews to hint that the club wouldn’t be successful again with Gromov in charge. To make things even worse Sorokin lied about Gromov being sacked after the Berdyev scandal. Actually, Gromov’s power grew, as he began to take all the important decisions in the club. While Rubin tried to hide this fact, Gromow has often been photographed at training, in the club office, and in VIP lounge at the stadium. Airat Garaev, the official general director of the club, has stated that Gromov is just a very loyal fan and follows the team everywhere at his own expense, a statement that lowered both his popularity and trustworthiness among the fans.

Andrei Gromov (left) together with Valeri Sorokin.

Andrei Gromov (left) together with Valeri Sorokin.

Kurban Berdyev took over FC Rostov last winter, with the task of saving the southern team from relegation. He completed the task and started to build… a second Rubin. Kazan’s famous veteran César Navas and the 19 year old Iranian striker Sardar Azmoun moved to Rostov. The promising midfielder Pavel Mogilevets, who has played a season for Rubin, also joined them, while Aleksandr Buhkarov and Aleksandr Gatckan were already there. Last but not least Christian Noboa, Ecuadorian midfielder, who was one of the best players in the golden era of Rubin, was signed by Berdyev this summer after stints with Dinamo Moscow and PAOK. It is however not only on the player front that Berdyev has copied his Rubin set up. 17 former Rubin staff members have joined Rostov since Berdyev took over.

Briefly before the kick off at the Tsentralnyi Stadium in Kazan the announcer mentioned, that former president of Tatarstan Mintimer Shaimiev was at the match. The crowd applauded him. He used to visit every sport event during his presidency, but after a period of serious illness in 2010, he was forced to cut back on his social life. This Monday was an exception, as Shaimiev came to the stadium to show his respect for Kurban Berdyev. And he wasn’t the only one. Rubin’s supporters showed a banner addressed to their former heroes: “Behave like you are at home, but don’t forget that you are guests already”.

When the squads were announced, the whole stadium shouted the names of former Kazan residents. In contrast, only Karadeniz and Ryzhikov from Rubin were rewarded with the same level of noise and support as the guests.

After a corner kick in the 5th minute Bukharov opened the score, just like he had done so often in Kazan. And just like in 2009 the fans applauded him for his goal, probably the first time a guest was cheered after scoring against Rubin. It seemed like fans were actually waiting for the chance to applaud their former players, and that although Rubin is the only club for the fans, they owe a massive gratitude to the people who helped their club achieve more glory than anyone could have hoped for. They felt respect for their favourites and a kind of justice in the occasion. As the match went on it became clear that Rostov was by far a better side on the day, and only a fantastic Ryzhikov in the goal kept them from scoring seven goals.

When Bukharov scored his second goal, the stadium became more and more nostalgic. The style of attacks, the manner of play, and the stability

Shaimiev and Berdyev in 2008 after Rubin won their first title.

Shaimiev and Berdyev in 2008 after Rubin won their first title.

of the defence and, at last, the same players – Rostov looked like Berdyev’s Rubin at its prime.

As the final whistle sounded, Berdyev changed his usually permanent serious face and saluted his friend Shaimiev. Then, he turned to every

stand of his old home ground and thanked them. People gave him standing ovations, and some were even crying, begging Berdyev to come back. In their hearts the crowd knew that the good years were over, and that as long Gromov and Sorokin are in the club, nobody from Berdyev’s team could ever return. And there is nothing simple fans can do about it, because of Sorokin’s connections to the republic’s governance.

Rubin Kazan midfielder Magomed Ozdoev with the ultras after the match against Rostov.

Rubin Kazan midfielder Magomed Ozdoev with the ultras after the match against Rostov.

After the game against Rostov midfielder Magomed Ozdoev came to the ultras stand and had a conversation there. His action was met with respect and appreciation and nearly all the people, who were there, came down to him to hear him speak.  Magomed apologized for the team’s poor results, and he promised that the players would try their best in the upcoming games. After that, somebody threw Rubin’s scarf to him and the footballer immediately put it around his neck. It seemed like Ozdoev was right, as Rubin beat Kuban Krasnodar the following week. It is however still unknown how Rubin will overcome its crisis that has resulted in the worst start in the 57 year history of the club. On the other hand, nothing is so bad that it isn’t good for something, and some optimistic followers hope that if the results continue to get worse, Sorokin and Gromov will be kicked out of the club forever.

Author: RussianFootballNews


  1. marvelous article! thank you for sharing!

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