Overpriced and Overvalued?: Russian Players and the Curse of the Quota

Overpriced and Overvalued?: Russian Players and the Curse of the Quota

Last week, Sport Express listed the 10 Russian players with the highest transfer value playing in the Russian Premier League (RPL). The players were: Alan Dzagoev (€20 million), Aleksandr Kokorin (€18 million), Igor Akinfeev (€16 million), Igor’ Denisov (€12 million), Aleksandr Samedov (€10 million), Dmitrii Kombarov (€10 million), Denis Glushakov (€9 million), Viktor Fayzulin (€8.5 million), Aleksandr Belenov (€7.5 million), and Aleksei Kozlov (€7 million).


Recently Futbolgrad published a list that judged the top 30 players in the post-Soviet space, with only one Russian on the above mentioned list included – Aleksandr Kokorin – who was ranked eighteenth, while Dzagoev and Akinfeev failed to make the list entirely due to poor performances at the World Cup, but also during international competitions such as the Champions League.


So why is there such a discrepancy between the value of Russian players and their actual performance? Why is it that the Russian national team has struggled in international tournaments despite the fact that its players are valued so high?


While those players are certainly talented much of the gap between their performance and their value stems from the fact that the RPL has maintained strict quotas on foreigner players, alongside Russia’s failure to produce enough young home-grown talent, with the concomitant transfer values therefore reacting to simple supply and demand factors.

Currently the Russian Premier League employs a rule in which four Russians must be on the pitch at any given time.

Of course this rule, in theory, is supposed to protect local talent, and force clubs to invest more into youth development. In actual fact these restrictions seldom work as the top clubs will simply overpay for whatever local talent is available to fulfil the quota set leaving smaller clubs with even less talented local players with which to develop and perhaps sell on.


Recently Lokomotiv Moscow president Olga Smorodskaia stated that she wants to do away with legionnaires (as foreign players are called in Russia) altogether as she does not believe that it actually helps in developing Russia’s own talent. Indeed the Russian Premier League will most likely make changes to this rule by next season allowing more foreigners on the pitch at any one time but limiting foreign players in the squad.


But the theory that foreign quota rules in top leagues helps to strengthen the national team is a myth. For instance, both Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga have no foreign limitation, and yet their respective national teams have dominated world football in the 2000s.


Both these countries have realised that the production of local talent requires more than half-baked quotas and policies by the state but rather strong youth development programmes through hard work and forward thinking. It seems thus that in trying to encourage the development of young home-grown players, the Russian Premier League may have made this particular situation worse. What is more, as young, talented domestic players are paid a tsar’s ransom as their demand grows due to the quotas, fewer are excelling as they receive too much too soon, while many are reluctant to develop their talents in Europe’s top leagues, where their actual worth may be reflected in a cold light.

By Manuel Veth