What is the Current State of Russian Football?

What is the Current State of Russian Football?

Manuel Veth –

Russia will be the focus of the football world next year when the World Cup takes place but what is the current state of the domestic game in the country?

Once the dust has settled on the global showpiece, the Russia Football Premier League will return, and those clubs that have qualified for Europe will fly the flag for Russian football.

No Russian club has ever reached the Champions League final, but CSKA Moscow, in 2005, and Zenit Saint Petersburg, in 2009, have won the UEFA Cup. At the same time, they have failed to make a mark on the UEFA Champions League.

The level of the game seems unlikely to change in the short term. However, for those who enjoy a flutter on Russian teams in Europe, Bethut.co.uk will have all the top tips and best markets next season.

The Current State of Russian Football Doesn’t Reflect the Enthusiasm

It must be said that given the passion for the game amongst ordinary Russians, this is a surprising statistic. The nation’s location and the fact they now play from autumn to spring when the weather is at its worse is less than ideal.

Indeed many Russian stars have plied their trade in the English Premier League and other top European leagues, with the likes of Manchester United’s Andrei Kanchelskis, Andrey Arshavin at Arsenal and, more recently, Tottenham’s Roman Pavlyuchenko opting to abandon their home league.

CSKA Moscow won the UEFA Cup in 2005. The RFPL in its current state can only dream of such triumphs. (Photo by Alexandr Fedorov/Pressphotos/Getty Images)

CSKA Moscow won the UEFA Cup in 2005. The RFPL in its current state can only dream of such triumphs. (Photo by Alexandr Fedorov/Pressphotos/Getty Images)

It is a league that is some way behind the big five of England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France and it is open to debate whether that will ever really change.

In football, money talks and there is now a new threat to the European leagues from China but, even with the lure of cash, playing in snowy Russian conditions in old stadia is not overly attractive to the pampered millionaires that currently star in European football.

The UEFA coefficient ranks only one Russian club inside the top 20, with Zenit Saint Petersburg sitting 19th and it is inevitable that teams from the bigger leagues will feature towards the top of the list.

The Title Holders

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992, Zenit have won the championship on four occasions, while current champions Spartak Moscow have ten titles to their name.

CSKA Moscow have won it six times while there have been a few interlopers such as Rubin Kazan (2008 and 2009), Spartak Vladikavkaz (1995) and Lokomotiv Moscow (2002 and 2004) who have challenged the dominance of the big three.

Russia’s top division, therefore, mirrors those from the big five, where there are only a few clubs with a realistic chance of scooping the title—although Leicester City bucked that tend in 2015-16.

That is where the similarities end, as the Premier League is packed full of foreign stars and, on a few occasions, teams have fielded a starting eleven without a British player on view.

That would never happen in Russia as the league is dominated by home grown players, with the majority of Spartak Moscow’s title-winning squad made up of Russians.

That can work to a club’s advantage as there is no language barrier but a lack of exposure to the world’s very best on a regular basis has seen the clubs stagnate.

Russia is a country which has garnered ample negative press from much of the Western media. However, geopolitical considerations aside, winning the right to stage the World Cup has almost universally been regarded as a real coup for the world’s largest nation.

The challenge now is to try to improve the quality of the Russian Football Premier League and next year’s tournament will be a showcase for football in the region.


Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and social media 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.