Russian football, on the edge of the precipice

English football received a five-year ban without participating in European competitions after the Heysel tragedy (1985). The Russian military campaign in Ukraine has placed Russian football on the brink of the same precipice. The national team was excluded from the World Cup, the clubs cannot play in European competitions and there has been a massive exodus of soccer players to foreign countries, including Ukrainians.

“Everything is in the hands of FIFA. Russian clubs can return in ten years, within a year or never,” Mikhail Prokopets, a lawyer for the international company SILA that represents the interests of Russian clubs, told EFE.

Russian clubs, excluded from Europe

Pessimism is rampant in Russian football. FIFA and UEFA have been adamant since they ostracized Russian football on February 28, four days after the fighting broke out.

The Russian military campaign in Ukraine is lengthening and, at the very least, the Russian teams will be sidelined until 2023. Spartak Moscow, which had qualified for the round of 16 of the Europa League, could not even take the field because of the “ special military operation.

However, the Russian clubs did not give up and appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), but on June 15 it rejected the appeals filed by both the Russian Football Union (UFR) and the affected clubs in the face of this season: Zenit, Sochi, Dinamo and CSKA.

The UFR considered suing the TAS for the economic damage caused or going to the Supreme Court in Switzerland. But Prokopets believes that Russia lacks “legal instruments to appeal the arbitration award.”

“It is a decision that is outside the legal field. It depends on external factors,” he commented.

The lawyer assures that the impossibility of competing against teams from other countries is a “big problem” for the development of national football and for the economy of the clubs.

“If the clubs don’t play in Europe, you can’t sell your best players at a good price or sign other players, since they prefer to play in the Champions League. If you don’t play against the best, you also earn less in television rights. It’s a global story,” he explains.

In addition to financial losses and problems finding sponsorship, some top Russian clubs are also having kit problems due to the decision of big brands like Nike to leave the Russian market. Incredible as it may seem, some footballers have even been instructed not to give shirts to fans.

On the sporting front, imbalances have also occurred as teams from southern Russia cannot travel by plane from their cities and must travel by bus and train to airports elsewhere. And it is that for security reasons the authorities closed the airports of the regions near the Ukrainian border.

legionnaires stampede

One of the most serious consequences for Russian football has been the stampede of foreign footballers, especially Europeans. The trigger was FIFA’s decision to allow players and coaches who play for Russian and Ukrainian clubs to unilaterally suspend their contractual relationship until June 30 (FIFA’s authorization to suspend the contracts of foreign players was later extended until June 30). June 2023). The clubs, tied hand and foot, are defenseless.

“If we lived in a vacuum, FIFA’s decision is absolutely illegal. It violates all the rules that regulate football in recent years, from the transfer system, to the stability of contracts or private property, ”denounces Prokopets.

Krasnodar lost nine players – they ended up playing with eleven Russian footballers – and their coach, the German Daniel Farke. Although, recently, the Colombian Córdoba, the Ecuadorian Ramírez and the Brazilian Caio returned.

Rostov also lost seven players, but managed to save the category. Rubín Kazán was not so lucky, as he was relegated with former coach Leonid Slutski on the bench.

Of the greats, the German coach of Dinamo Moscow, Sandro Schwarz, lasted until the end of last season to pack his bags and has been replaced by the Serbian Jovanovic. The Italian Paolo Vanoli also stayed at Spartak until winning the Russian Cup title, who has been replaced by the Spanish Guillermo Abascal. German Josef Zinnbauer took over from his compatriot Makus Giskol at Lokomotiv. Zenit is the only one that has managed to keep its squad, with the exception of the Brazilian Yuri Alberto.

“For foreigners who play in Russia there is no problem. They continue to live and play. Despite everything that is happening, there are many foreign players in the Russian league. Ukrainian clubs like Shakhtar have also resorted to TAS. Neither Russians nor Ukrainians are satisfied”, he highlights.

The five Ukrainian footballers who were still playing in the Russian league left their teams as soon as the Russian invasion was over: Rakitskiy (Zenit), Ordets (Dinamo), Ivanisenya (Krylia Sovétov), ​​Poliarus (Akhmat) and Kulakov (Ural). They were also accompanied by Dinamo’s assistant coach, Andréi Voronin, but not by the historic captain of the Ukrainian national team, Anatoli Tymoschuk, who decided to remain in Zenit’s technical organization chart, which has made him a traitor to the homeland in Ukraine.

The other side of the coin is that Russia has decided to bet on the Latin American market, where many of this summer’s signings come from. Latin soccer players are cheaper than European ones and, what is more important, they are less politicized.

The selection, without World Cup

“The most curious thing is that if you read the ruling, neither the Russian team nor the Russian clubs are responsible for what happens. This is very important. Russian football is not responsible”, explains Prokopets.

Instead, in May, UEFA banned the Russian team from all competitions, including the Nations League. This is added to the severe setback for the team led by Valeri Karpin not being able to face Poland in Moscow in the World Cup playoffs. The wound is still festering as the Poles eliminated Sweden and secured a ticket to Qatar.

Since losing by the minimum against Croatia in November, a defeat that prevented them from qualifying directly, Russia has not had anyone to play with. Karpin, idle since then, has had to combine the job of coach with the Rostov coach. In September the national team will meet again to play a friendly, but the rival is still unknown. The candidates range from Iran, Belarus and Saudi Arabia.

The lawyer admits that “he cannot be optimistic”, since the emotion of football is that “a small one beats a big one”, in that “the Volgograd Rotor receives Manchester United”. The hope that isolation will serve to develop grassroots football is not a consolation for him.

“That must always be done, not just now. FIFA has created a lot of problems for us. In Russian it is said that you should not fix what is not broken. It is what FIFA has done, touching what does not have to be fixed ”, he argues resignedly.

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