Russian football: my new addiction

Those of you that follow me on twitter know I’m a big fan of football and quite addicted to the Bundesliga. As well as Everton, the Bundesliga and the Premier League, over the cause of the season I have found myself becoming addicted to Russian football.  I’ve watched a few games here and there over the last couple of seasons and despite enjoying them I struggled to commit to the league. That all changed just before the winter break of the 2012/13 season, I found myself searching for the latest news and watching games on a regular basis, instantly becoming hooked on it. During this piece I will be explaining why I love watching this league and what lies ahead for it.

CSKA Moscow won the double this season.

CSKA Moscow won the double this season.

Money, overpaid players, poor pitches and small attendances, those are some of the things that are often said when discussing or reading about the Russian Premier League. There is no denying that these things exist in Russian football, there is a lot of money in the league and over the last couple of seasons that has been highlighted around the world. The biggest shock to many was at the start of the 2012/13 season where Zenit St. Petersburg splashed out €90 million on FC Porto’s Hulk and Benfica’s Axel Witsel, they both became the biggest transfers to take place in Russian football history. Over the years we have seen Zenit’s Danny move from Dynamo Moscow for €30 million, Samuel Eto’o left Internazionale for Anzhi after the clubs agreed a fee of €27 million, Bruno Alves joined Zenit from Porto for €22 million and even Rubin Kazan splashed out €20 million for Hoffenheim’s Carlos Eduardo in 2010.

Some of the players have enjoyed good success after their big money moves, Danny for instance has won 5 trophies since his arrival in 2008. While others have failed to make any impact since moving for big money, such as Rubin Kazan midfielder Carlos Eduardo who has spent a large amount of his time in Kazan injured and has found himself on loan back in Brazil for Flamengo until 2014.

Zenit's big money signings, Hulk and Witsel.

Zenit’s big money signings, Hulk and Witsel.

As well as the huge amount of money being spent on player transfers, they also come with huge wage demands. Samuel Eto’o is one of the highest paid players in the world earning €24 million a year. Wages have caused problems at Zenit this season with Igor Denisov dropped to the reserves after expressing his feelings that Hulk shouldn’t be on €6 million a year and Witsel on €3.5 million a year, “We’ve definitely bought good players who will certainly help Zenit. But are they really that much stronger than the current players that they get three times as much?”.

It’s easy to say that the money in Russian football is wrong and in some cases it is, like Manchester City Anzhi have quickly raised to title challengers due to the money they have, something that is unpopular with rival fans. Across Europe teams struggle to compete with the Russian clubs financial. So when a Russian team shows interest in a player your club is chasing, you might as well rule out your club getting him. Everton found that out this January, BBC reported that Everton were prepared to offer £6.2 million for Rennes midfielder Yann M’Vila, however Rubin Kazan came in, offered more money to Rennes and a lot of wages to M’Vila, so it was no surprise to see him join the two time Russian champions.

However all this money is needed, the Russian Premier League is a young league after being formed in 2001. It’s a developing league and needs high profile players to attract fans in both Russia and across the world, as well as other high profile players. With high profile and quality players clubs are getting stronger and with that the league is stronger, the last couple of seasons have shown this. The 2011/12 season was very competitive as 7 points separated 3rd from 8th and Zenit claimed the title only 2 points clear of CSKA Moscow. The 2012/13 season was much of the same CSKA Moscow beat Zent to the title by 2 points and Anzhi in 3rd were only 5 points ahead of Terek Grozny in 8th.

One of the things I love about this league is how competitive it is, over the cause of the season we saw plenty of shock results. Alania managed 2 shock results last season, something they can take away from their season in the top division, they managed a 5-0 win over Terek Grozny who ended up finishing 8th, they also dented Dynamo Moscow’s European hopes after beating them 1-0, that result was Dynamo’s first league defeat since they tasted defeat against Krasnodar back in November. CSKA Moscow also tasted a couple of bad results, losing to struggling Rostov 3-0 and 3-1 at Amkar Perm. Anzhi were hammered 4-0 at Krasnodar and they also lost 2-0 to Mordovia Saransk, who were one of two teams to be relegated.

Anzhi supporters against Terek Grozny.

Anzhi supporters against Terek Grozny.

Why have I developed a love for Russian football? I have become fascinated with whats going on in the league, you only have to look at Anzhi they are the shining light from the trouble in Dagestan, backed by the money of owner Suleyman Kerimov they have quickly become a real challenger for the title and representing Russia well in Europe. However despite their quick rise which has seen them finish 3rd this season (their highest ever finish in the league) and reaching the cup final, those aren’t the things that have impressed me. I’ve closely followed their progress as a club this season, due to them building a lovely new stadium, Anzhi-Arena. Since opening in March fans of the Dagestan club came in their numbers the 27,000 capacity stadium is often filled, which is a welcomed site in a league where attendance isn’t a particular highlight. Kerimov has spent at least £15.6m building football centres with pitches for children around the republic, Anzhi have also opened the first youth academy in the Republic of Dagestan and they are also building impressive youth facilities to improve football in the Republic and build for the future. It’s exciting times for the club and a club I will be following closely and hoping they can succeed in making a positive effect on the Republic.

With Russia hosting the 2018 World Cup, plenty of stadiums are being built over the next few years and seeing some of the designs have really impressed me. Currently a lot of the stadiums in Russia are run down and not that appealing, not many make you say “hey I wouldn’t mind going there someday”. Take Rostov as an example, there current stadium isn’t the worst stadium in Russia but like a lot of clubs in Russia’s top flight after the World Cup they will be upgrading to a stunning stadium for their fans and visitors to enjoy. Something that will hopefully improve the attendances at games in the future and hopefully we will see better football on show as well. There is a lot of talent in the Russian Premier League and a lot of teams are capable of playing nice football but due to the poor standard of the pitches and harsh weather it’s almost impossible to play attractive football all the time. This is another current problem which will hopefully improve in years to come and be another factor in attracting fans to come through the stadium gates.

Rostov's stadium after the World Cup.

Rostov’s stadium after the World Cup.

No matter what your opinion of this league is, if your big fan like myself or even if you dislike it due to reason such as the money involved, whatever your reason this growing league is one to watch out for in the future. The young league still has a long way to go before being spoke in the same breath as the elite leagues such as the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga.

Article for footyscene.

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