By Manuel Veth –
The saga is finally complete—the Russian Football Union (RFU) has announced the termination of Fabio Capello’s contract. Also, the RFU made the following statement on their homepage: “the RFU sincerely thanks Fabio Capello for his work as head coach and wishes him success in his future career.” Fabio Capello, in turn, thanked the RFU for their help and for the support he has felt throughout the years. “He is also grateful to the players for working together, and to the fans – for their sincere support of the team.”
Meanwhile, Valery Gazzaev, a successful coach himself, who has recently started a campaign to reform Russian football, summed up the Capello saga by stating: “better an end to horror then horror without an ending.” Gazzaev has been one of the voices most critical of Capello’s stint in Russia, and was also one of many who asked for a resignation from the Italian coach after Russia’s poor performance at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Who Will Pay?
Yet even after the contract termination of Fabio Capello, confusion rules, as there are doubts over the compensation payment that Fabio Capello will receive. Sport-Express announced that the 69-year-old Italian coach would receive up to 930 million roubles ($16.5 million) in compensation. Later the Minister of Sport of the Russian Federation Vitaly Mutko announced that the details of the termination are secret, while at the same time insisting that the rumoured €15 to €20 million are not true. Later Sport-Express wrote that Capello would receive €8 million from the Russian Football Union.
Whatever the amount, doubt prevails whether the RFU can actually pay the compensation for Capello’s contract; the federation has failed to pay Capello in the past and Uzbek oligarch Alisher Usmanov has bailed out the RFU by paying up to 700 million roubles towards Capello’s contract. Now, however, Usmaov is adamant that he will not pay for Capello’s resignation: “I have done the trick, and the rest will be solved by those who are in charge.”
Meanwhile, the honorary President of the Russian Football Union, and long term Soviet and post-Soviet apparatchik, Vyacheslav Koloskov stated to R-Sport that he doesn’t know who will pay for Capello’s compensation, as the RFU has no money. The RFU under the leadership of Spartak Moscow legend the 88-year-old Nikita Simonyan, however, has insisted that they do have the necessary funds—without stating how much the actual sum is—to pay for the termination of Capello’s contract.
Who will coach Russia?
Next to the compensation question, another unknown is Fabio Capello’s replacement as coach of the Sbornaya, as its fans often call Russia’s national team. In the past the RFU has insisted that the next coach of the Sbornaya would have to be Russian. Not that the RFU will have much of a choice in that department, as surely no high profile foreign coach would risk employment by a federation that has failed to honour a former coach’s contract.
There are not many candidates in Russia who would take the job either. The favourite appears to be CSKA Moscow coach Leonid Slutsky. Slutsky, who is perhaps best known for his habit of nervously rocking back and forward during games he coaches, has a strong record with CSKA, which he has managed since 2009. In 2011 Slutsky won the Russian Cup, in 2013 he guided CSKA to winning both the Russian Cup and the championship, and in 2014 he added another Russian championship and the prestigious coach of the year award to his tally.
Slutsky, however, remains under contract at CSKA, and the Sport Director of the club, Roman Babayev, has already stated that the club will consider its own interests before that of the RFU. Asked whether CSKA could accept a double role—in which Slutsky coaches both Russia and CSKA—Babayev said: “I think that this is not the best option. Ultimately, this format will not be effective either for the team [Russia] or for our club.”
Asked whether the club would have to accept an order from the “top” Babayev stated that CSKA would not be bullied into letting Slutsky go: “What do you mean ordered? There is an employment contract, and both [the club and Slutsky] have obligations outlined in the contract.” At the same time, however, it remains to be seen whether CSKA Moscow, and its owner oligarch Evgeny Giner could defy an offer from the RFU, especially if it is backed up by an order from the Kremlin. Sport-Express has suggested that this could happen, in the interest of getting the Sbornaya back on the road to success at all costs.
Slutsky, meanwhile, has stated that he has not been contacted by the RFU or by any other body related to the Russian national team: “No one spoke to me about coaching the Sbornaya. So I see no reason to discuss abstract things.” Asked whether he could see himself coaching the team Slutsky stated: “theoretically I could coach Mars’ national team.”
Other candidates to coach Russia’s team include the recently fired Dinamo Moscow coach, and former Dynamo Dresden, and Spartak Moscow goalkeeper, Stanislav Cherchesov who has stated that he would be willing to listen to an offer by the RFU. Another possible candidate is Anzhi Makhachkala’s new coach Yuri Semin, but it appears that both the public, and the media want Leonid Slutsky, and as is often the case in Russia and in the Kremlin, public opinion is valued above all else, and this could very well ensure that the RFU will get their man.
New Coach – New Structures?
No matter who the new coach is, will he be able to work with a football federation that has proven to be an institution without transparency? Furthermore, does Russia’s football federation really believe that there is hope for improvement even with a new coach in place? I wrote on June 25 that Russian football lacks the fundamental structures that are necessary to create a successful national team and that this is proven by the fact that many of the best players in the Russian Premier League are foreigners.
The RFU has tried to combat this problem by introducing more stringent rules to limit the number of foreigners playing in the Russian Premier League. The RFU announced today that they would introduce a new quota, which is called 6+5, and stipulates that Russian clubs have to field at least five Russian players during league games. Under the old system a maximum of seven foreign players were permitted on the pitch.
My opinion, which I have expressed before, is that reducing the number of foreigners could have a negative effect. When young, talented domestic players are in demand due to quotas, they are paid a tsar’s ransom and 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.
At present many coaches, and players in Russia also criticize a more stringent quota system. Zenit Sankt Petersburg coach André Villas-Boas, for example, told Reuters “The new format will become the end of the development of Russian footbal. When you take away Hulk, Witsel, Javi Garcia, what will the Russian championship be left with? When one of the main players cannot play because of the limit, the others become lazy and do not want to fight for their place.”
Sport-Express also has criticized the move, and writes that “Russian players will have even less incentive to go to foreign leagues, where they can increase their skills, and where they have to play at a faster pace. The Russian national team will be world football’s couch potatoes.” Now with the new ruling, Russian players will be even more reluctant to try their luck abroad, and even worse, the few players who are now abroad, such as Real Madrid’s Denis Cheryshev—who spent last season on loan with Villareal—or the recently signed RasenBallsport Leipzig left-back Dmitrii Skopintcev, may be tempted to return to Russia where they would be guaranteed more money and playing time without having to prove themselves at the international level.
Europe’s most successful football nations, in comparison, have all refrained from imposing foreign limits on their top leagues. Instead, leagues like the German Bundesliga, for example, has forced their clubs to invest money into building football academies. This problem was understood by the RFU, which last year announced that it would do away with limiting foreign players on the pitch, and instead would limit to ten, the number of foreigners that clubs could employ.
Capello and 6+5 – Political Interference Limits Russia’s Progress
Instead, as Reuters reported that the Russian Minister of Sport, Mutko, has insisted on the 6+5 rule. This points out one of the fundamental flaws of Russian football—interference by politicians like Mutko who have little to no understanding of the foundational problems of the Russian game.
While it cannot be denied that Capello’s reign as coach of the Russian national team has been poor, Gazzaev’s above statement that targeted Capello’s coaching abilities, could also be used to describe the way the Russian Football Union mishandled the Capello saga. The firing of Capello, the hiring of a new messiah in the form of a Russian coach, and the introduction of the 6+5 rule, in some ways, is typical of Russia’s greater structural problems both inside and outside football. As players, coaches, football apparatchiks, and the political elite squabble over the future of Russian football, very little is actually done to introduce much needed reforms.
Manuel Veth is a PhD candidate at the University of London King’s College, London. Originally from Munich, his thesis is entitled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.