All posts by Futbolgrad

Georgia to Host European Under-19 Championships in 2017

Georgia to Host European Under-19 Championships in 2017

While Georgia’s European integration at the political level plods along at a pedestrian, sometimes stationary pace, the country appears to have been warmly accepted and trusted by the continent’s football authorities, as UEFA announced that Georgia will host the European Under-19 Championships in 2017.

The news broke at the start of a year in which Tbilisi will play host to the UEFA Super Cup, where the likes of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid could be potential guests in the Georgian capital.

Hosting both events successfully will elevate Georgia’s status in European football circles, despite its recent shortcomings at full national level on the pitch.

Domenti Sichinava, who has been president of the Georgian Football Federation since October 2009, expressed his delight at the decision: “I congratulate Georgian football on such an important achievement. We are pleased that the Executive Committee of UEFA trusted our country and Football Federation. After two years of work, we will hold the finals in Georgia!”

The tournament contains eight teams, with Georgia qualifying automatically as hosts. Four venues are to be used for the finals with Tbilisi, Rustavi, Mtskheta and Gori the selected host cities and towns.

Observant readers will note that the stadiums in every location will require varying degrees of work before being ready for a major youth tournament.

UEFA rules state that matches cannot be played on artificial surfaces which means the current synthetic pitches in places at Mtskheta and Rustavi will have to be removed and replaced with grass.

Other stadia expenses foreseen were outlined by Sichinava: “I cannot say how much it will cost to host the championships. The stadiums must satisfy either 2nd or 3rd UEFA category, we need to upgrade press areas, VIP suites. There is also the need for 8 training pitches which can be no further than 30 minutes from the stadia.”

With the stadiums at Rustavi, Mtskheta and Gori in particular need of an overhaul, it was no surprise that Sichinava revealed work would begin this year, two years before the finals are held in July 2017.

Interestingly, Georgia’s largest stadium, Dinamo Arena, will not be used for the championships, with the GFF president explaining that its capacity (55,000) was excessive for the crowds expected and that it was already occupied with hosting this year’s Super Cup. Mikheil Meskhi Stadium, roughly half the capacity of Dinamo, will be the only Tbilisi stadium used, and will almost certainly host the final.

Critics have questioned the value to Georgian football of spending large amounts of its scarce resources on hosting tournaments and high-profile matches, while the domestic league flounders and the national team plummets to well outside the world’s top 100.

Government support has been assured for the hosting of the championships, stipulated in a decree signed last year but it remains unclear whether the country’s football authorities have their priorities in order.

For Georgian fans, one big night in August in Tbilisi this year and two weeks of Europe’s best young talent playing in Georgia in two years’ time will be scant consolation if the country’s on-pitch malaise thickens simultaneously.
When asked which other countries had bid to host the 2017 finals, Sichinava revealed: “we beat England.” If nothing else, this was a rare opportunity for a Georgian football official to say that.

By Alastair Watt

The Return of the King – Yaroslavsky and Metallist Kharkiv

The Return of the King – Yaroslavsky and Metallist Kharkiv

The King is dead, long live the King! This may very well hold true for the ownership of Metallist Kharkiv, when their long-term owner Oleksandr Yaroslavsky sold the club under mysterious circumstances.

In December 2012, Serhiy Kurchenko purchased Metallist. Kurchenko, at the time, was the owner of gas company Gaz Ukrainia and was regarded by some as a somewhat mysterious figure (and a billionaire at the tender age of 27, no less). Speculation however was rife that the club were merely to serve as the front for questionable business activities that involved the former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich.

Shortly after the takeover of Metallist Kharkiv Gas Ukraine became rebranded as VETEK and the new ownership group made hot-air promises to fans, and the municipal authorities, who owned part of the stadium.

“I don’t want to look at Donetsk Shakhtar and Dynamo Kyiv’s back; I don’t want to celebrate the bronze medal in the Ukrainian Cup every year. I want to hear the Champions League anthem at our stadium. Our goal is to win the championship within three years and to bring a European trophy to Kharkiv within five.”

Two years later the club had neither reached the group stages of the Champions League nor won any silverware. Kurchenko’s close relationship with the former Yanukovich regime also meant that he was forced to flee the country after the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, which led to the disposal of Viktor Yanukovich and his cronies.

As a result, many of Kurchenko’s assets have now been frozen due to sanctions imposed by the West and by the new Ukrainian government, or sold to other companies. Kurchenko and VETEK’s demise have also had a deep impact on the fortunes of Metallist Kharkiv, with the club having seen many of their top players depart.

The teams ambitions, however, may receive a new boost in the form of the former owner Oleksandr Yaroslavsky. This week Yaroslavsky stated to that he would be interested to buy back his former team. “My heart aches for the team, I have not made a formal offer yet but I am ready for dialogue.”

With Kurchenko possibly forced to relinquish control of the club Yaroslavsky may well return to the helm of his former club without having to spend any cash at all. And with Yaroslavsky back in control Metallist hope it will herald a return of their ambitions of becoming a true force in Ukrainian football.

By Manuel Veth –

Douglas Costa – Chelsea-bound?

Douglas Costa – Chelsea-bound?

Out of left field, Chelsea this week may forgo their attempts to sign Florentina’s Juan Cuadrado and instead make a bid for Shakhtar’s Douglas Costa, with the view that the Brazilian could be a cheaper alternative on the right wing than the Colombian, due to excessive financial demands.

Chelsea however have starting the bidding process without taking Shakhtar’s astute transfer policy into account. It is an open secret that Cuadrado has a release clause in his contract, which is worth €35 million. Shakhtar are aware of this as much as Chelsea and have since declined an offer of €21.5 million for their Brazilian stating instead that they want at least €40 million for Douglas.

Previous transfers of Shakhtar players indicate that Shakhtar owner Rinat Akhmetov, and the management staff around Mircea Lucescu can be indeed tough negotiating partners. This is especially evident with the transfers of Henrikh Mkhitaryan to Borussia Dortmund, but, more significantly in this case, Willian, who Chelsea failed to sign the first time around.

Indeed the Willian transfer to Anzhi Makhachkala indicates that Douglas Costa’s road to London could be indeed a difficult one, should in fact it happen at all. If anything the Willian transfer highlights that the two clubs do not have the best working relationship or that, to put it another way, Akhmetov and Abramovich do not appear to get along.

But does Douglas Costa really fit Chelsea or the Premier League? His statistics have been substandard this season although his immense talents on either flank cannot be denied. Indeed, Chelsea have been close to infallible this season at times domestically, with only one spot in the starting XI in flux: that of the ‘other’ attacking midfielder with Oscar and Hazard’s places cemented. Thus, it appears the end for the capable André Schürrle, who will inevitably move back to his native Bundesliga, and excel.

Costa has indicated that he would favour a move away from Shakhtar to Chelsea, and has asked the Ukrainian club to ease up on their financial demands. However, the true obstacle for this deal will be Russian-Ukrainian relations – in a football chairman sense -, which appears at this moment in time somewhat ominous.

By Manuel Veth -

Overpriced and Overvalued?: Russian Players and the Curse of the Quota

Overpriced and Overvalued?: Russian Players and the Curse of the Quota

Last week, Sport Express listed the 10 Russian players with the highest transfer value playing in the Russian Premier League (RPL). The players were: Alan Dzagoev (€20 million), Aleksandr Kokorin (€18 million), Igor Akinfeev (€16 million), Igor’ Denisov (€12 million), Aleksandr Samedov (€10 million), Dmitrii Kombarov (€10 million), Denis Glushakov (€9 million), Viktor Fayzulin (€8.5 million), Aleksandr Belenov (€7.5 million), and Aleksei Kozlov (€7 million).

Recently Futbolgrad published a list that judged the top 30 players in the post-Soviet space, with only one Russian on the above mentioned list included – Aleksandr Kokorin – who was ranked eighteenth, while Dzagoev and Akinfeev failed to make the list entirely due to poor performances at the World Cup, but also during international competitions such as the Champions League.

So why is there such a discrepancy between the value of Russian players and their actual performance? Why is it that the Russian national team has struggled in international tournaments despite the fact that its players are valued so high?

While those players are certainly talented much of the gap between their performance and their value stems from the fact that the RPL has maintained strict quotas on foreigner players, alongside Russia’s failure to produce enough young home-grown talent, with the concomitant transfer values therefore reacting to simple supply and demand factors.

Currently the Russian Premier League employs a rule in which four Russians must be on the pitch at any given time.

Of course this rule, in theory, is supposed to protect local talent, and force clubs to invest more into youth development. In actual fact these restrictions seldom work as the top clubs will simply overpay for whatever local talent is available to fulfil the quota set leaving smaller clubs with even less talented local players with which to develop and perhaps sell on.

Recently Lokomotiv Moscow president Olga Smorodskaia stated that she wants to do away with legionnaires (as foreign players are called in Russia) altogether as she does not believe that it actually helps in developing Russia’s own talent. Indeed the Russian Premier League will most likely make changes to this rule by next season allowing more foreigners on the pitch at any one time but limiting foreign players in the squad.

But the theory that foreign quota rules in top leagues helps to strengthen the national team is a myth. For instance, both Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga have no foreign limitation, and yet their respective national teams have dominated world football in the 2000s.

Both these countries have realised that the production of local talent requires more than half-baked quotas and policies by the state but rather strong youth development programmes through hard work and forward thinking. It seems thus that in trying to encourage the development of young home-grown players, the Russian Premier League may have made this particular situation worse. What is more, as young, talented domestic players are paid a tsar’s ransom as their demand grows due to the quotas, fewer are excelling as they receive too much too soon, while many are reluctant to develop their talents in Europe’s top leagues, where their actual worth may be reflected in a cold light.

By Manuel Veth –

Shakhtar Face Identity Crisis Upon Return from Brazilian Beach

Shakhtar Face Identity Crisis Upon Return from Brazilian Beach

Happy Brazilians playing footvolley on one of their native beaches is not normally news worthy, but it is when players in question are of Shakhtar Donetsk, Ukraine’s reigning champions, seeking refuge from their Eastern European travails.

The fighting continues in the Donbass, with the recent shelling of Donetsk airport on January 15 by the Ukrainian army, which is desperately fighting to regain control over the city, the latest high-profile act of violence.

The resulting uncertainty of the Shakhtar’s future has led to speculations that some, if not all, of Shakhtar’s Brazilians could leave the club during the on-going January transfer window. Looking further ahead, will Shakhtar remain a popular point of entry for Brazilians wanting to make their mark on European football? Indeed, it seems somewhat surreal to see Shakhtar players kicking it around the Brazilian beaches while back at the club’s home bombs are falling.

However, this beach retreat is merely an act of appeasement, protecting the morale of Shakhtar’s considerable Brazilian contingent. Indeed. Brazilian blog has speculated that Shakhtar may increase their Brazilian ranks by making their own signings during the trip.

Frank Henouda, Shakhtar’s Brazil representative, has since confirmed that the club may bring in up to three more Brazilians. This would not only further increase Shakhtar’s image as a Brazilian colony in Eastern Europe but may also serve economic purposes as the club now aims to become an economic brand in South America. To strengthen ties with the region, the club has also expressed determination to make the Brazil tour an annual event.

According to the Ukrainian sport portal, Shakhtar will earn money from this trip, as the club has sold the rights to the tour to a Brazilian agency Granada Eventos. This deal seems to be beneficial for both sides as Shakhtar can use this tour to further gain a foothold in the Brazilian market, and Granada Eventos is looking to line its pockets from ticket sales. Despite being friendlies, most of the tickets for scheduled matches are more expensive than the average ticket for Shakhtar games in Lviv.

Shakhtar CEO Sergei Palkin has also highlighted the importance of this tour: “this is an important step in the history of our club development. For the first time Shakhtar will play in Brazil – the country which is represented in our team by a large group of top players. I am sure that the upcoming meetings will attract a lot of interest from our supporters.”

Yet in times of war and conflict in the Donbass, most Shakhtar supporters back in Ukraine, who are faced with the uncertainty brought by the conflict, will scarcely even check the scores on the club’s Brazil tour. Palkin’s talk of the club’s globalisation infers an indifference toward local turmoil, while Shakhtar’s large Brazilian following on Facebook, which exceeds that of its Ukrianian following, shows that Shakhtar’s brand is growing.

Even if the club returns from Brazil with another batch of South American talent to let loose on the Ukrainian Premier League, the club faces a dilemma at home. Having already been removed from the Donbass because of the fighting, the club risks losing its identity as the club of Eastern Ukraine if it continues to go down the world brand and franchise path, well-trodden by their Western European counterparts.

The tragedy of Gasan Magomedov: a timely reminder of Russia’s troubled Caucasus region

The tragedy of Gasan Magomedov: a timely reminder of Russia’s troubled Caucasus region

The news of the shooting of Anzhi Makhachkala’s youth player Gasan Magomedov after traveling home having played football with his friends represents a horrible reminder of the troubles that still plague Russia’s Caucasus region, and the apparent indiscriminate nature of the violence.

Dagestan has been a volatile since the fall of the Soviet Union, only recently regarded by the BBC as the most dangerous place in Europe.

Similar to neighbouring regions Chechnya and Ingushetia, Dagestan has become a centre for unrest with car bombings and various smaller acts of terrorism an all-too-often occurrence. Much of the violence is aimed towards the Russian authorities however the tension is largely internal between traditional Sufi groups advocating secular government and more recently introduced Salafist teachers preaching the implementation of Sharia in Dagestan.

Magomedov’s car was hit by machine gun fire, where he died en route to hospital his club mourned in an official statement on Sunday.

Sergey Korablev stated that: “I hope the law-enforcement bodies will efficiently detect the murderers, who will receive just punishment. Despite of the efforts to destabilize the situation, we`ll keep on living and working for the only purpose – peaceful Dagestan! In memory of Gasan…”

Anzhi Makhachkala were envisioned by the Kremlin as a vehicle to bring, or at least convey, peace to the volatile region, as the world’s focus fastened on relatively-nearby Sochi before and during the Winter Olympic Games. According to Germany’s Sueddeutsche the club were considered part of the Kremlin’s stick and carrot approach in the region. Hard measures by the security forces against terrorist groups were supposed to be combined with large financial investments in the region, a finely measured concoction designed to bring peace and stability to the region.

During the Anzhi ‘project’ squad members, including most notably Samuel Eto’o, lived and trained in swanky areas of Moscow, only to be flown in and out of Makhachkala for home matches, while surrounded by an army-sized security escort.

But the recent fire sale brought an end to this expensive courier service, as the club were even relegated after a long campaign of mishaps, after which Anzhi started a new project in which young players from the region were to form the backbone of the squad.

While it is impossible to make any substantive connection, the death of Magomedov, who was only 20 years old, is a tragic confirmation of the end of the Anzhi project: one which purported peace, but on the actual ground changed very little (if anything at all) for Dagestan. The tragic death is also a brutal reminder that the Russian Federation has still not found a solution for peace in the volatile Caucasus region.

By Manuel Veth and David McArdle