Manuel Veth –
Yuri Afonin, who is a member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, has brought forward a motion in the Russian State Duma (the parliament) that Russian football clubs should no longer be allowed to use state funding to buy foreign players. The proposal comes at a time where the Russian Federation is just months away from hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Recently the Russian national team struggled at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup and was eliminated at the group stage of the tournament. The Sbornaya’s head coach Stanislav Cherchesov has struggled to find replacements for ageing players, because of a lack of strong talent pool in the Russian Football Premier League.
The Russian Football Union sought to address this issue by introducing the 6+5 rule, but the limitation of foreigners on the field has been counterproductive at the best of times. It was, therefore, no surprise that the Mutko has recently announced that the rule would be changed to 10+15, which would allow Russian clubs to register ten foreigners in their squads.
Afonin – No More State Money for Foreign Players
The discussion on foreign players in the Russian Football Premier League did not stop here. Afonin’s approach to not allow state money to be used for foreign players is the sort of statement that will make headways in the press abroad.
Afonin, however, has a point. The Futbolgrad Network recently investigated the influence of state money in Russian football and found that 50% of the clubs playing in the Russian Football Premier League last season were dependent on state investments. The numbers were even more drastic when one included the Football National League (second division) were 15 out of 20 clubs were dependent on government spending.
One example is Zenit Saint Petersburg, Zenit’s recent multi-million transfers, and the signing by Roberto Mancini was only possible because of the financial support by Gazprom, which is, after all, a state-owned company. Of course, Zenit also signed several talented Russian players this offseason—including Dmitry Poloz and Aleksandr Erokhin.
The argument of Afonin and the Communist Party in Russia should not be entirely discarded. Should state money be used to finance the transfer of foreign stars? Would the money not be better used to further local talent or perhaps even infrastructure projects outside of football?
The Question of State Funding Needs to be Addressed
These are two fundamental questions, which have been debated in Russian Federation, not just in conjuncture with football. The mayor of Novokuznetsk, for example, has announced a referendum over the cities financing of the Kontinental Hockey League club Metallurg. In that case, the city government argued that the millions of roubles spent on the hockey club would be better used for infrastructure projects in the city.
Afonin’s idea now goes in the same direction. Clubs, which are in many cases funded by city governments, should not use their funds to sign foreign players, but rather invest in their academies. At the same time, Afonin’s idea has a major weakness. Many smaller clubs in the Russian Football Premier League just lack the infrastructure to maintain academies up to the standard of the big leagues in Western Europe.
Hence, for Afonin’s plan to have an impact Russian clubs playing in the Russian Football Premier League should be forced to introduce the sort of academy system that was successful in Germany and Spain. Here organisations are required to have an academy to receive the licence to play professional football.
Afonin’s idea at first glance therefore seems to be typical for the sort of strange statements that regularly emerge from the Duma. But in this case, it is worth to take a second glance, because clubs most certainly need to be weaned off state funding and at the same time forced to produce more of their local talent.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and social media junior editor at Bundesliga.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.