Zenit is not Saint Petersburg’s only football club. It’s not even the city’s oldest. Dinamo Saint Petersburg was formed in 1922 (and Zenit in 1925), though it has mainly been cast into the shadows by its younger, more illustrious cousin. Things have been so difficult in recent years that the club has been disbanded three times. Following the latest disbandment in 2015, however, things are at last looking up.
Dinamo’s biggest problem—not enough income—is typical of many lower league Russian sides. Gates are usually tiny at second and third tier games and revenue from merchandising and television rights is minimal, but the costs of running a club are high—not least because of the travel involved when fulfilling fixtures in a vast country. Dinamo’s best recent side, its 2003 team, which included Russian international Aleskandr Panov and came close to being promoted to the Premier League, folded at the end of that season. Without the extra income that being in the top flight would have brought, the operation was not sustainable.
For the 2014-15 season Dinamo also played in Russia’s second tier (the Football National League), but this time finished at the bottom and managed just two wins. Relegation was confirmed not long after the winter break, as were rumours of sizeable debts. Players are still waiting for back wages.
Following disbandment of Dinamo in 2015, a new joint-stock company, run by different people, was immediately formed. The re-born football club it created took place of the old Dinamo in the third tier Professional Football League and appropriated the branding associated with Dinamo. The man behind this version is former Dinamo Moscow President and billionaire Boris Rotenberg, and he has brought friends with him. Ex-Dinamo Moscow youth coach Aleksandr Tolchinin is Dinamo’s new manager, and in attendance at the first home game of the season was former Russia midfielder and Dinamo Moscow Deputy Director Alexey Smertin.
In terms of players, Dinamo already seem to be ahead of their rivals. Two names in particular stand out—Maxim Rogov, who has a good amount of Premier League experience with Mordovia Saransk, and Oleg Kozhanov, a former Russia Under-21 player whose appearances for Zenit included a UEFA Cup quarter final. Both players are still in their twenties and surely have plenty left to offer.
Dinamo Saint Petersburg will, it seems, become a farm club for Dinamo Moscow. The aim this season is to return to the second tier and perhaps to the club’s historical Dinamo stadium in the city. There are rumours that an even bigger leap may be attempted if the hoped for promotion takes place. Having spoken to someone “close to the club management”, Sports Daily correspondent Dmitriy Zimin writes: “Boris Rotenberg is thinking of taking Dinamo Saint Petersburg forward in a big way after things didn’t work out at Dinamo Moscow—to the extent that the club will play in the Premier League. It seems he has learnt from the mistakes of the past…he will develop the club rationally.”
Dinamo have started slowly but should be there or thereabouts by the end of the season. Also, as the experience of Zenit-2 shows, being thereabouts is sometimes enough. After that, providing that a healthy level of funding continues, Dinamo could well make it into Russia’s top flight. Perhaps the currently declining Dinamo Moscow will one day become their farm club…