The Foreigner Limit and Exorbitant Parties in Monte Carlo

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Russia’s poor performances at the Euros have naturally given birth to a large amount of soul searching and discussion about the state of Sbornaya and why it continues to fail on the biggest stage. More than 860,000 people have already signed a petition at social activism website to disband the national team, while president of the Russian Football Union (RFU) Vitaly Mutko, who is also the Russian sports minister, has expressed a wish to revamp the team, and build it around players with an “enormous desire to play for their country”.

However, the most honest judgment on the team’s performances come from now former head coach Leonid Slutsky and the players. In an interview with, he talked about a conversation he had had with some of the players following Russia’s 3-0 defeat to Wales in the final group stage game.

The players and I very frankly evaluated our level and we all said it together: “We’re shit,”” he said.

We need to accept this fact. Like alcoholics have to say: “Yes, I am an alcoholic,” It’s an absolutely necessary part of the recovery. Unfortunately, not all the players have recognized this and I think it’s important. It allows you to move forward, however slowly.”

Part of the hard criticism of Sbornaya has been caused by the emergence of an already infamous video of national team stars Aleksandr Kokorin and Pavel Mamaev partying in Monte Carlo during their vacation. In the video, they are seen smoking a hookah while being served several exorbitant bottles of champagne. The two players have both received severe punishments by their clubs, and Mutko has asked the Russian clubs ‘to take a closer look at the behaviour of their players’, while president Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov has called the behaviour a ‘vain disgrace’.

Monte Carlo incidents exemplifies Russia’s problems:, who originally published the Mamaev and Kokorin video, calculated the cost of the champagne bottles to be €250,000, and while both of the players have stated that the real number is much lower, it has become a symbol of the over-paid, lazy football players that have come to represent the Russian Premier League.

To understand how this became the stereotypical Russian football player from the top flight, one needs to go back to 2005, when the RFU introduced a limit on foreign players. Since then the limit has often been discussed and moderated, for example from the original seven allowed foreigners to the current six, but the essence that has remained is that Russian football players no longer have to fight as hard for their spot in the starting line-up. While this on paper sounded like a splendid idea, history has shown that the lack of competition within the squads has not only created players that were too satisfied to develop, but also a fierce competition for the best Russian talents, which has both bankrupted clubs and made the players too well-paid to ever consider leaving Mother Russia.

One of the purposes with the limit was to secure playing time for the young Russian players across the league, but the result has instead been that since the older players stay in Russia, it is now even more difficult for youngsters to break through into the first teams.

These claims are confirmed by the squad Russia sent to France. At the Euros Russia’s squad was the 4th oldest with an average age of 28.57, and CSKA midfielder Aleksandr Golovin was the only player younger than 25. With the exception of naturalized Roman Neustädter, it is furthermore worth noticing that all of the players in the squad play in the RFPL, and that Fedor Smolov was the only player, together with Brazilian born goalkeeper Guilherme, who had played outside of Russia’s borders, as he played 11 games during a loan at Feyenoord in 2010.

Lack of youngsters in the league:

Data from the previous 2015/2016 season shows that not a single player with a Russian passport aged 21 or younger played 1800 minutes – 20 full games – last season.

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The amount of young players in the RFPL compared to the other top leagues in Europe.

Luckily, it seems that some of the more experienced Russian players are slowly starting to realize the damage done by the limit. “Russian players need to go to Europe. The limit [on foreign players] doesn’t bring anything good.” Russian captain Vasily Berezutskiy said last month, while Roman Shirokov added: “To some extent the limit on foreign players is sinking Russian football.” Perhaps the most significant criticism once again came from Slutsky who recently said: “The first thing I would do if I had the chance is to lift the limit on foreign players in the Russian Premier League.” Compared to the biggest leagues in Europe that number is borderline ridiculous, especially when looking at the average number of minutes received by the youngsters compared to other leagues. Even though it should of course be noted that the RFPL has fewer rounds than the rest of the leagues, it is painfully clear why the talent pool for Sbornaya is significantly lower than for competing nations at the top of European football. Furthermore, the table proves how difficult it is for young Russian football players to break through, and get regular playing time in the RFPL compared to the reality French, Dutch, Spanish or German youngsters experience. What’s interesting is that the second worst of the selected leagues is the English Premier League, which is also haunted by an infamous quota on so-called home grown players.

However, despite the remarkable criticism from some of the most noteworthy actors on the Russian football scene, Mutko has shot down all talks about disbanding the limit, and at the moment it seems the authorities will wait until after the World Cup in 2018 to make any drastic changes. The fear of the league being flooded with foreigners that was part of the reason for imposing the limit still frightens the men in charge.

Follow Toke on Twitter: @TokeTheilade

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.


  1. Bob Sanders says:

    There is no doubt the foreigner rule really hurts the RPL. But as with many sport rules in the US, the foreigner rule is rooted in $$$ and not talent development. Owners want to be able to sell their product and they are afraid too many foreigners will spark disinterest in the product.

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