By Saul Pope, and Manuel Veth –
The introduction of the so-called 6+5 rule in the Russian Premier League has been widely discussed in recent months. This ruling was put in place for the current season, and forces clubs to field at least five players who are eligible to play for Russia’s national team, the Sbornaya. Futbolgrad’s Saul Pope and Manuel Veth below discuss the pros and cons of the 6+5 rule.
Saul Pope and the pros of 6 + 5 system
Having a restriction in place on the minimum number of Russia-eligible players in any Premier League team (currently five on the pitch at any one time) is essential to enabling Russian players to develop to their full potential. The league is a competitive one—and competition is, of course, good for any player—but as things stand, there is still a tendency for bigger clubs to look abroad rather than to scout within Russia when they need a new signing.
Many sides operate close to the Russia-eligible limit (over half of Premier League sides currently average fewer than six Russian players in their first teams), which backs up the theory that club managers would prefer to have larger foreign contingencies on the pitch. Without a limit, it is easy to imagine a situation in which Zenit St. Petersburg, CSKA Moscow or Spartak Moscow could have a starting eleven that is entirely non-Russian. The domestic World Cup is on the horizon, but many of the players in the Russian first squad are ageing. Russia needs to give the national team manager the best possible opportunity to pick from a quality crop of players.
Without a limit, young Russian players would not get the opportunity to bridge the gap between elite Russian football and the lower leagues/youth games. Zenit, for example, is a side that has gone through a particularly fallow period when it comes to developing local talent in the last decade. The limit is forcing them to put young Russian players like Pavel Dolgov and Aleksey Evseyev into the matchday squad (they are infinitely more useful as a substitute than a bench-warming foreign player). Both have been seen first-team action for Zenit this season.
The limit also prevents a plethora of low-quality foreign players in the league. Although many fit in and provide stiff competition for local players (Ahmed Musa, Hulk and Guilherme, to name three current Premier League successes), over the years others have fallen short of expectations whilst simultaneously blocking the path for young players. Around 2003-2005 (and pre limit), Zenit manager Vlastimil Petržela brought in a considerable number of foreign players who fitted into this latter category (Dragan Čadikovski, Jan Flachbart and Marek Kincl, to name three who still give me nightmares). A limit in place means that this couldn’t happen today.
Manuel Veth and the cons of the 6+5 system
Vitaly Mutko is part of the Saint Petersburg clique that currently dominates Russian politics. Mutko has been active in football since 1992 but despite holding various positions in football, Mutko has remained a technocratic politician first, and a football specialist second. This is demonstrated by the 6+5 rule. At first glance, it seems to be a no brainer to guarantee more playing time for home grown talent by allotting a fixed number of positions for them on the playing field. At the same time, however, past experiments demonstrate that a legislating fixed number of players does not guarantee a higher number of capable players for the national team.
In fact, reducing the number of foreigners could have the reverse effect. When young, talented domestic players are in demand due to quotas, they are paid a tsar’s ransom and often fail to excel; many receive too much too soon, and are reluctant to develop their talents in Europe’s top leagues, where their true worth would be assessed in a cold light.
In fact, the theory that foreign quota rules in top leagues help to strengthen the national team is a myth. Both Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga, for example, have no foreign limitation, and yet their respective national teams have dominated world football in the 2000s.
It was for the above reason that Turkey abolished its quota system. The system led to an explosion in the price of local talent, but ultimately failed to produce more capable players for the Turkish national team. Instead the Turkish Football Federation introduced an incentive system for clubs that have developed young players. In fact, the incentive system is one of many ways that clubs can be encouraged to develop their own players and this system would be especially effective with the smaller clubs of the Russian Premier League that often struggle financially.
An even better example is Germany: The country has completely overhauled its youth development system following the its poor performance at the 2000 European Championships, and has since made it mandatory that all clubs of the 1. Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga maintain youth academies. As a result German clubs’ investment into youth academies has increased almost three fold from €47.8 million in 2002 to €120.15 million in 2014.
The experience of Germany could be especially important for Russia, as the two countries already have well established football links. Since 2007, Russia’s biggest club Zenit Saint Petersburg has worked closely with Schalke 04—that operates one of Germany’s most productive talent schools—in order to improve youth infrastructure at Zenit. The Russian Football Union, rather than experimenting with rules and regulations that often appear to be blind actionism, would show foresight by initiating real infrastructural changes to individual clubs, something that could be achieved by exploiting already existing business connections with Germany.
One thing is certain: the 6+5 rule will do little to increase the pool of Russian talent, and as the example of Turkey clearly demonstrates, could have the reverse effect. Instead of introducing regulations, the Russian Football Union would be better served to both provide financial incentives for smaller clubs to produce talent, and also to require that all clubs of the Russian Premier League copy the German youth academy model.
Saul Pope has been following Russian football since the mid nineties, and first saw a live game in 1998 (Zenit St. Petersburg vs Shinnik Yaroslavl’). He has been contributing to When Saturday Comes magazine for over a decade, with a particular focus on social, economic and political issues surrounding the game in Russia and, to a lesser extent, Ukraine. He has a particular passion for teams in and around St. Petersburg. A fluent Russian speaker, he graduated from the University of Surrey with a Master’s degree in the language. He lives in the UK, but travels back to Russia on a regular basis. You can follow Saul on Twitter @SaulPope.
Manuel Veth is a free lance journalists, and PhD candidate at King’s College London. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. His thesis is entitled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, and will be defended in November. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.