All posts by Futbolgrad

Zenit and Racism – Broken Dreams for Brian Idowu

Zenit and Racism – Broken Dreams for Brian Idowu

Brian Idowu had a dream to one day play for the first team of his boyhood club Zenit St. Petersburg. The defender, who was born in Russia, but is of Nigerian decent, has had his path to Zenit’s first team blocked because of the colour of his skin.

The Russian online portal Lenta.ru printed a quote by Idowu: “Playing for Zenit was always my goal. But as time passed, it didn’t go further than training with the youth team. Then it was hinted that with this colour of skin the path to the main team is blocked for me because of the fans who do not like black players.”

The 22-year-old defender also added that when he was 12 and working at a Zenit game as a ball boy he heard monkey chants from Zenit fans directed at him. The story first broke when Idowu gave an interview with the official homepage of his current club Amkar Perm.

Idowu further highlights the difficulties as a black person growing up in St. Petersburg. “In high school, I did not often think about those issues [racism]. But when I got older I learned about skinheads but I did not often come in contact with them. One day, though, in the Metro my friend spotted a group of them and shouted to me “Run!” My parents were always worried about this and I was not able to move around in the city [St. Petersburg] freely.”

The issue of racism within in St. Petersburg’s fan scene has been a well-covered story. In 2012 for example the Zenit fan group Landscrona published a manifesto demanding the club not sign any black or gay players. The club, however, responded to those demands three years ago by saying “we make our player selections without any limitation regarding origin, religion or skin colour”. Zenit did not comment on their policy in regards to players and their sexual orientation, but this is not surprising given Russia’s stance on LGBTQ rights.

The manifesto by Landscrona came in the wake of the club signing two black players – the Belgium midfielder Axel Witsel and the Brazilian striker Hulk. Both have now become established in the main squad, but recently Hulk had been the target of monkey chants at an away game against Torpedo Moscow.

As a report by FAREnet.org highlights, racism in Russian football has been endemic, with 99 incidents of racism reported in Russian football in 2014 alone. With the 2018 World Cup only three years away the Russian Football Union (RFS) has created a new office known as the Anti-Racism Inspector, which is supposed to find measures to combat racism in the country.

We will never know if Idowu was indeed talented enough to make it at Zenit, however the influence of Zenit’s fans and the politics of the clubs functionaries meant that Idowu never had a real chance to strap on his boots for his beloved hometown club, not because of his lack of ability, but because of the colour of his skin.

By Manuel Veth –

Dynamo Kyiv – A new Golden Generation

Dynamo Kyiv – A new Golden Generation

As the 2014/15 football season draws to a close Dynamo Kyiv fans can look forward to an exciting conclusion. On Thursday they will face the Italian club AFC Fiorentina in the return match of the Europa League quarterfinal, and on Sunday they will travel to Lviv to face their closest title rival Shakhtar Donetsk in the all-Ukrainian Derby.

These two matches could very well define the reminder of Dynamo’s season, as a victory against Fiorentina would see the club through to the Europa League semi-final, two games away from a potential final in Warsaw. But even more importantly, defeating Shakhtar on Sunday would see Dynamo move eight points clear from Shakhtar to the top of the Ukrainian Premier League table. With only five games remaining after this weekend the gap would surely be large enough for Dynamo to safely claim their first Ukrainian championship since 2009.

The club’s current progress in Europe and on the domestic front in many ways brings back memories of Dynamo’s last golden squad that narrowly missed out on going to the Champions League final in 1999. That particular team built by the legendary coach Valeriy Lobanovskyi included star players such as Andriy Shevchenko and was perhaps the most dazzling of Ukraine’s post-Soviet history.

It is perhaps fitting that Serhiy Rebrov, who was Shevchenko’s congenial striking partner in Dynamo’s 1999 edition, currently coaches Dynamo. Rebrov became coach in April 2014 taking over from Oleg Blokhin, whose coaching abilities seldom reflected his mythical status as one of the Soviet Union’s greatest players. Under Rebrov the club’s football improved immensely, and by the end of this week Dynamo could once again sit on the Ukrainian football throne.

The success of this season, however, has also meant that several Dynamo players have garnered interest from clubs in Europe’s top three leagues, namely Germany, Spain, and England. This week the Austrian defender Aleksandr Dragović was linked with several clubs from Germany’s Bundesliga including Bayer Leverkusen.

The clubs biggest star Andriy Yarmolenko, who was ranked fifth in the Futbolgrad Top 30 in 2014, has since risen to be perhaps the most dominant offensive player in the post-Soviet space, and has also been linked with a move abroad. Yarmolenko, who is often wrongly compared to Andriy Shevchenko, has been very open about the fact that he wants to join a club from a stronger league, and it appears that either Valencia or Chelsea will be the most likely candidates for his signature this summer.

Yarmolenko and Dragović are important cornerstones of the club, and with both of them likely leaving the club this summer, other players such as the Dutchman Jeremain Lens may move as well. The current political instability of the country may also make it difficult to hang on to the many foreign stars the club has acquired.

In many ways such an exodus would reflect the fate of the 1999 generation, as following the club’s successes at home and in Europe in the late 1990s and early 2000s, many star players including Shevchenko, Rebrov, and Kakha Kaladze left the club to play in Europe’s big leagues. At the same time Dynamo could use the cash injection that will come with these transfers to further strengthen their squad in order to set a foundation that could see them take back the Ukrainian championship and also see them to return to be Ukraine’s number one club in the long term.

By Manuel Veth –

The Henrikh Mkhitaryan Enigma

The Henrikh Mkhitaryan Enigma

The smile was back on Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s face moments after he spectacularly scored Borussia Dortmund’s opening goal against SC Paderborn on match day 29 in the Bundesliga. In the 80th minute he added a wonderful assist to his performance when Shinji Kagawa’s goal made it 3:0.

Mkhitaryan, however, has struggled to retain the form of his last two season where he was top scorer of the Ukrainian Premier League with 25 goals in 2012/13, justifying the €25 million Dortmund paid for the offensive midfielder in what was in many ways a difficult transfer. Mkhitaryan’s first season at Dortmund was also promising as he finished the year with 9 goals and 10 assists.

Mkhitaryan’s poor form became the synonym for an entire club that stumbled from one poor result to another. By the winter the BVB even briefly flirting with relegation, a far fall for a club that only two years ago battled for Europe’s crown at the Wembley Stadium.

In March Germany’s Die Welt newspaper added Mkhitaryan to a list of players that have become the face of Dortmund’s poor transfer policy, stating that “at no point the player has justified the high transfer sum that the club paid for him in June 2013.”

While this is certainly true for the current season, this assessment completely ignores Mkhitaryan’s first season at the club, which included several magnificent performances including a breath-taking game against Bayern Munich in a 3:0 win by Borussia Dortmund in the Allianz Arena.

Football, however, is a fast business and the press has long forgotten the highlights of Mkhitaryan’s early career at Dortmund and the focus is now on what has gone wrong with the Armenian’s form at the club this season. In most games this year Mikhitaryan struggled to be integrated in Borussia’s attacking game.

His pass completion rate of 73.5% is far below that expected of a player of his calibre, for example Mario Götze who Mkhitaryan replaced in 2013 had a pass completion rate of 83.4% at his last season in Dortmund. But perhaps even worse than his passing is Mkhitaryan inability to score goals this season as he only scored twice this year a far cry from the 25 goals he scored two years ago for Shakhtar Donetsk.

While Mkhitaryan is without doubt a magnificent player the recent drop in form suggests that Dortmund may have failed to integrate the player into the squad on a personal level. As Futbolgrad has learned from sources close to the player, Mkhitaryan has been unhappy that Borussia coach Jürgen Klopp moved him away from the centre midfield position to the wings were he feels that he is not as well integrated in the game. According to our source Mkhitaryan also has had a hard time being accepted in the Borussia Dortmund dressing room, and at times feels that players have ignored him on the pitch on purpose.

This story is further backed up by an interview that Mkhitaryan’s agent Mino Raiola gave in February in which he stated that: “Henrikh wants to leave Dortmund at the end of the season” as Mkhitaryan is unhappy with his life in Germany.

At the same time, however, Mkhitaryan’s form, and the reaction by his teammates after his goal suggest that perhaps Mkhitaryan’s situation can still be salvaged at Dortmund. With Klopp now leaving at the end of the season much will depend on whether or not Thomas Tuchel can coax the player back to form, but Tuchel could also sell Mkhitaryan to bring in other players that better fit his coaching style, but either way Mkhitaryan will be the synonym for the winds of change at the Signal Iduna Park.

By Manuel Veth –

Metinvest Default – A Financial Cloud for Shakhtar

Metinvest Default – A Financial Cloud for Shakhtar

The poor financial state of Metinvest, which is located in the Donetsk and focuses mostly on coal and steel production in the Donbass, has renewed doubts about the finances of Shakhtar Donetsk’s owner Rinat Akhmetov. The latest financial crisis came at a time where things started to look up for Shakhtar.

Last week’s results in the Ukrainian Premier League saw Shakhtar defeat Chornomorets Odessa 5:0, while their closest rival Dynamo Kyiv dropped two points after a 2-2 draw against Zorya Luhansk. Dynamo and Shakhtar are now separated by only 5 points, and will meet head-to-head on April 26.

The fact that Metinvest is now in default (but not yet officially bankrupt), has lead to doubts about the financial future of the club. The company is part of Rinat Akhmetov’s gigantic SCM Holding, which owns 71.24% of Metinvest. Furthermore, Metinvest is listed as a premium advertisement partner of Shakhtar Donetsk, which allows them to be present on advertisement boards throughout the stadium. But the financial difficulties at Metinvest could now mean that the company will now most likely be forced to withdraw its advertisement agreement with the club.

Shakhtar has been owned by SCM since April 2006 when the club was transferred from Rinat Akhmetov and various other shareholders to SCM, which was able to take control of 99.998 per cent of the club (Akhmetov retained the remaining 0.002 per cent).

On April 9 Metinvest announced that it was forced to default on some of its debt obligations, and the company is now in talks with its creditors. The company released the following statement: “… The Group [announces] that it is currently in a payment default situation and [that it has] launched three consent solicitations to its 2015, 2017 and 2018 bondholders. The purpose of these consent solicitations (one per tranche) is to request a deferral of a 2015 bond principal repayment due on May 20, 2015 and waive certain existing and future events of default on the 2015, 2017 and 2018 bonds.”

Ukraine Today also reported that Metinvest saw the majority of its factories shut down since July 2014 due to the conflict. Furthermore, in 2014, Metinvest’s net profit declined by 2.5 times compared to 2013 – from $392 million to $159 million.

Technically Metinvest is not bankrupt and is instead in a state of financial default. It is therefore difficult to estimate the true financial impact of the default procedure at Metinvest on its holding firm SCM, and the impact on SCM’s owner Rinat Akhmetov. The financial difficulties at Metinvest, however, show that Akhmetov’s finances may continue to suffer due to the political uncertainty in Eastern Ukraine.

As Ukrainian journalist Oleksandr Tkach informed me there is no indication that Akhmetov would cut the budget of Shakhtar in the foreseeable future. Akhmetov will most likely try to sit out the current economic uncertainty. But the economic difficulties at Metinvest will put further strain on the club in its battle to retain the Ukrainian championship as players will be aware that the club may be in financial difficulties for the foreseeable future.

By Manuel Veth –

Torpedo Moscow – From Cinderella to Black Sheep

Torpedo Moscow – From Cinderella to Black Sheep

Torpedo Moscow returned to the Russian Premier League after an eight year absence and this season was widely celebrated by fans of the club who dreamt of a return to the glory days. But as the Russian Premier League season draws to a close it appears that Torpedo fans have become the new black sheep of Russian football.

On March 18 Torpedo was handed a two game stadium ban after fans shouted racist abuse at Zenit’s Brazilian striker Hulk. It was not the first time that the club was sanctioned for the racist behaviour of its fans, as already in September the club was punished with one game behind closed doors after fans made racist monkey chants aimed at Dinamo Moscow defender Samba.

Despite the punishments issued by the Russian Football Union, Torpedo fans were once again part of crowd disturbances last Sunday. Torpedo fans were caught on camera displaying fascist symbols during their away match against Arsenal Tula. The crowd then turned violent with Torpedo fans attacking both Arsenal supporters and members of the police who were securing the stadium.

Torpedo was then issued another two game stadium ban on top of the one they received for the Hulk incident, and received an additional fine of 900,000 roubles. Furthermore, Torpedo fans, with the exception of women and children under 13, will also be barred from the next three away games. Additionally, Arsenal was fined 480,000 roubles for failing to secure the stadium.

Torpedo Moscow’s President Alexander Tukmanov has since told R-Sport that Torpedo fans are “probably the most aggressive” of any Russian Premier League team. Yet the club seems to be helpless when it comes to curb the problems of racism and violence from Torpedo supporters.

Also as a graph published by Sport-Ekspress highlights, the recent punishments will now mean that the club will be playing in an empty stadium for the remainder of the season, and will also have to do without their male-dominated ultra supporters.

Torpedo Moscow are currently sitting four points above a relegation play-off spot, and the club will now have to fight against relegation without its supporters. But with the FIFA World Cup approaching, the Russian Football Union has intensified its battle against racism. The sanctions against Torpedo are not only justifiable, but also a necessary step in the fight against racism. At the same time it remains questionable whether or not stadium closures on their own are enough to fight this persistent problem of racism in Russian stadiums.

Given these recent events, it is doubtful whether actions by the Russian Football Union, such as the introduction of an Anti-Racism Inspector, will be enough in the fight against racism. Time will tell whether or not these steps are enough, but all eyes will be on Russian football, and its fight against racism, in these next few years prior to the World Cup.

By Manuel Veth –