FC Ufa – A model club at the crossroads

FC Ufa – A model club at the crossroads

Manuel Veth –

FC Ufa are a model club. One of the smallest clubs in the Russian Premier Liga the club located in the Republic of Bashkortostan finished sixth during the 2017/18 Premier Liga. Playing in the Europa League for the first time the club was ultimately eliminated in the playoffs by Scottish club Rangers.

It was a short-lived adventure by a club that never truly expected to reach the group stage of the tournament. Instead, it appears that FC Ufa used the competition to cut down on their scouting costs, as the club ended up signing 25-year-old Lovro Bizjak from second qualifying opponent NK Domžale and Luxembourg’s midfield talent Olivier Thill from third-round qualifying opponent FC Progrès Niederkorn.

The joke has been that FC Ufa have somewhat stratified their scouting network using their European excursion to cut down on scouting costs. Such an accusation would be unfair towards a club that laid open the talent of no other than Oleksandr Zinchenko.

Zinchenko was signed by FC Ufa in February 2014 after he had left his youth club Shakhtar amidst a complicated contract dispute. When Zinchenko signed for FC Ufa, the midfielder was playing pickup football in Moscow’s city leagues, but the club believed that they had gotten a special talent and ultimately would be proven right when they sold Zinchenko to Manchester City for €2 million.

Zinchenko deal became a model transfer for FC Ufa

It was an exemplary deal for FC Ufa that would lay the basis on how the club would conduct their business. The same season Ufa sold Zinchenko to City they would also transfer goalkeeper Andrey Lunev to Zenit for €3.5 million. Lunev had previously been signed from Saturn Moscow on a free transfer.

That year FC Ufa earned in the region of €4.2 million from transfers – a significant sum for a Russian club outside the top six. Money that guaranteed the club’s survival and also laid the foundation for the club’s best finish in the RPL last season.

Finishing sixth in the standings, however, also meant that many of Ufa’s top players caught the attention of other top clubs. Hence, ahead of this season, Ivan Oblyakov was sold for €4 million to CSKA Moscow, and Ivan Stotsky joined Krasnodar for €2 million. Furthermore, successful head coach Sergei Semak left the club to join Zenit ahead of this season.

Oleksandr Zinchenko was an important transfer for FC Ufa (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Oleksandr Zinchenko was an important transfer for FC Ufa (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

The €6 million the club earned were then used to finance the deals for the Bizjak and Thill and the club’s salaries for this season. Transfers and the early rounds of Europa League qualification have, however, taken their toll.

With just 14 points from 14 games, Ufa are currently 14th in the Russian Premier Liga standings and are in danger of relegation this season. As a result, went separate ways with head coach Sergey Tomarov handing the position to Dmitri Kirichenko on an interims basis.

It is a bit of a complicated cycle for the club from Bashkortostan. The best players are always expected to leave the club, and the lack of football infrastructure also has meant that Ufa has not benefitted from the football stadium boom the country is experiencing.

Overall, attendance has been up significantly in the Russian Premier Liga from around 14,000 last season to 18,000 this season. FC Ufa, however, are one of the few teams that have seen their attendance drop from last year. While the club saw an average attendance of 6916 per game this year, the average attendance has been just 6816.

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In general, Ufa is a big city with a population of around one million inhabitants. Similar to Rubin Kazan from Tatarstan, which has a similar ethnic makeup than the Republic of Bashkortostan, football has been a bit of a tough sell. One reason is that hockey has been the predominant sport in the city with Salavat Yulaev Ufa being one of the best teams in the country that plays in a modern indoor arena.

FC Ufa need a new stadium to grow

A modern arena could help FC Ufa as well. The club currently plays its home games at the 15,000 seat Neftyanik Stadium, which was built as part of the Soviet stadium boom of the 1960s. Although renovated in 2015 the Neftyanik is a typical Soviet concrete bowl with a running track separating the stands from the field.

The Ufa based news page Bashinform reported that Ufa’s general director Shamil Gazizov had a meeting with the head of the Bashkortostan government, which owns the club, Radium Khabirov. “I feel optimistic about the future,” said Gazizov. “We had a chat about a new stadium and commercial structures that would benefit for the club and the city,” Gazizov added. 

FC Ufa need an upgrade from their Neftyanik Stadion (By Фальшивомонетчик - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)

FC Ufa need an upgrade from their Neftyanik Stadion (By Фальшивомонетчик – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)

A new modern stadium could be the necessary next step for FC Ufa. Until then, however, the club will remain dependent on player transfers. Gazizov admitted that he is currently negotiating with Italian clubs about the potential transfers of two players. “I expect that four players will leave us in the winter,” Gazizov admitted without naming any names.

Transfers that will be important to guarantee the survival of the club and also bring in cash that a new coach can spend during the long upcoming winter break. It is a bit of a difficult cycle for the club from Bashkortostan and the reality for many clubs outside of Russia’s capitals Saint Petersburg and Moscow.

At the same time, there is also a sense of optimism when one looks at FC Ufa. The club represents a model of self-sustainability and outside the box thinking that is not common yet among Russia’s smaller club. At the same time, the club may need some help in the form of a new stadium to become a genuinely self-sustainable entity and, therefore, a true model club for Russian football.

Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds 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 is available HERE. 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.