Unpaid footballers still a burning issue in Russia

The interesting RFN Top 50 footballers of 2017 merited a discussion before we went on air on last night. It was close to midnight when we reached the TV studio and while Quincy Promes wouldn’t have made any of our top 5, I pointed out that Yann M’Vila was in at 40. I joked we could do a top 50 unpaid footballers list. If not for RFN, the plight of the Frenchman would have been totally ignored by foreign media. Currently, from being cheated by former club Dinamo Moscow he’s now getting done over by his current club Rubin Kazan.

When we first discussed the story with Alexander Zotov (which you can hear here on SoundCloud from 32:00min) of the All Russian Football Players Union (ARFPU), we discovered the depths to which Dinamo would sink to get their transfer ban lifted. Unpaid footballers be damned, this winter they’ve been signing players, even as their financial situation deteriorates foreign media roll along with it. Again, if not for RFN, it’d be ignored. While foreign media scramble to their knees to get interviews with a criminal informer’s lawyer in order to get funding for a new docufilm, the situation for Russian “professional” unpaid footballers is as bad as it ever was, despite the ARFPU’s trojan efforts.

As we went on air we referred to our notes and mentioned financial issues in Russian football. We hoped viewers would care. If in three years no lessons had been learned, they never will be.

Up in Flames

I should have known better after a 2 a.m. visit from one official and a threatening phone call from another. It’d been a late night at the pub (working, not drinking) and my head had just hit the pillow when I heard a bang from the street outside my window. Car alarms started up so I figured I’d check if one was mine. My effort to help two unpaid footballers had just gone up in flames. A nice start to 2014 and my last foray into football for over two years.

Andrei’s Ashes

As he’s still playing, he asked me to use only his first name. In 2006 my old company signed him during a training camp in Austria. When I left the company in 2011, he came with me. Then he was playing for a second division side in Russia and earning 30,000rbs (US$500) a month.

In March 2011 he received his last salary from the club. I visited the club offices in May and was assured they’d sort it out, there was a cash flow problem. Odd as our 2 other players there were paid up to date. When I pushed a little on that fact, I was told: “But they’re here for another year.” I was lost. I asked, with Andrei sitting beside me, “Do you want him to sign a new contract?” The sports director shook his head.

I was stuck, kicking up could end up with three unpaid players and our company down the princely sum of 13,000rbs a month (from an average of seven percent commission). My partners would rip me a new one, Russian colleagues would rant, but I’d be doing the right thing. A deadline was given. If he wasn’t paid up to date by Tuesday, May 31st, we would revert to the Labour Court. The sports director shouted, thumping the desk, told me I was a queer and a scumbag. After huffing and puffing we laid out a plan and by July Andrei had received his outstanding salary. He moved to a Football National League (FNL) club in August.

I left the business fully after my jeep blew up but stayed in touch with Andrei. We met last Summer for dinner at an Irish pub in Moscow. He was headed to a training camp with his new club, having signed a new deal in January 2017. Yet he was fighting for wages wed from October 2016. Additionally, he was not allowed to get a copy of his contract. Still an FNL regular, for a contracted 240,000rbs (US$4,000) a month, he wouldn’t be paid unless he signed an extension and waiver for unpaid monies. We met at the same pub on January 3rd, he’d refused to go to the Winter training camp.

He and his wife are now living with her parents as they’ve rented out their apartment to pay the mortgage. He received one month’s salary from November 2016 – January 2018. He is owed in excess of 3.6 million roubles (US$60,000). He is afraid of using ARFPU or outside legal assistance as his agent told him he’d never work again. His agent is an accomplice of the FIFPro supported criminal Nikolai Grammatikov, profiled by RFN. Andrei is not alone but feels very much so.

Maltese Vultures

I’ve written before of my horrific experience of ‘professional’ football on the islands of Malta. Where salaries go unpaid for years and a man making money from bales dropped from ships or a ‘businessman’ running a knocking shop, can take control of clubs. When I tried to bring it to the attention of foreign media – nobody wanted to listen. “It’s an internal issue” I was told by a holidaying BBC sports correspondent. Local media studiously ignored it and are largely complicit in fostering a culture of fear. A lot is down to the political allegiances of Maltese media, yet that microscopic local nuance is the same on the macro scale.

For over 18 months I’ve tried to get the story of the plight of Russian footballers heard. FIFPro is moving, slowly, though international media is a dead loss. Unless it is going to go along with the narrative that Russians are doping and Putin sucks, nobody wants to know. “It’s an internal issue,” I was told by a foreign correspondent of a major media company “We don’t really cover that.” He went on to ask me if there was any truth in the rumour that the hooligan ban was messed up. With the biggest ever sporting event just five months away, now is the time to push FIFPro to remove Grammatikov’s organisation. Now is the time when foreign correspondents in Russia can make this happen. Instead, I had one tell me that Georgi Dzhikiya’s terrible injury was “karma”.

Yes, that is what this clown who purports to be a human being said. I asked him to repeat it, just in case I’d misheard. “I said it’s karma for that racist tweet. Serves him right.” I felt my head lift from my body momentarily. I understand the quarter-wit couldn’t kick snow off a rope, that sports to him is a tedious free lunch, yet he’ll turn up with his FIFA accreditation to send home whinging reports and seek out trouble, or stir it. I dropped 300rbs on the table to cover my tasteless americano and left. The temptation to say something or put the remaining half of my coffee over his head was too strong.

For ghouls like this the story of unpaid footballers in Russia at a time when the FIFA jamboree is just a stretch too far. If local media don’t bother to push it, even the more outward looking organisations, why should he? Instead, as we discussed the work done by a bunch of Russian football lovers in a studio, he checked in on facebook to a late night bar. I was tempted to channel a little Spartak support his way.

Alan Moore

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 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 the Capital Sports Stadium Shows at the RZD Arena and writing the odd article. Director of the Russian State Social University College in Moscow.

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