As the status of the Russian Premier League gradually heightens, invariably more clubs want to be in the mix. In a country the size of Russia, that's no picnic. Here's Domm Norris.
Relegation. Football's most dreaded word. Whether a team playing on a water-logged pitch on a Sunday afternoon or a side playing in front of 40,000 despairing fans, there is no greater pain than seeing your team in the perilous state of relegation.
One such team who is staring down the barrel of relegation's loaded gun is Sibir Novosibirsk.
For a club that is located in Russia's third largest city, behind Saint Petersburg and Moscow, it is strange that success has not been more easily accessible for Sibir Novosibirsk. With Novosibirsk being the key administrative centre of the Siberian Federal District the importance of the city to the Russian nation cannot be understated. Since the years of Joseph Stalin's dictatorship of the Soviet Union and his push for industrialisation, the city of Novosibirsk became one of the most important areas of industrial growth within the Siberian region. The vast expansion of the surrounding area consequently resulted in the government placing a greater level of importance upon the city and thus was often compared to urban areas of the United States, which had witnessed similar growth in such a short space of time.
The historical expansion and industrialisation of Novosibirsk is yet to be replicated in a sporting sense as neither of the city's football, ice hockey or basketball clubs have managed to make a significant impact on the national stage. Where football is concerned, Sibir Novosibirsk, have been a gradual mover through Russia's football league system as - under the name Chkalovets - the club has spent various seasons acclimatising in the wake of promotion. Prior to becoming a Premier League side Novosibirsk spent the previous 5 seasons in the First League, while spending 7 seasons in the regional Second Division - as well as a season in the Russian amateur leagues. This progression looks unlikely to be replicated in the Premier League however as despite recent dogged performances which have seen the club maintain a faint hope of survival Novosibirsk are still favourites to be playing First League football next term.
But why has a club from such an industrialised area and with a strong level of match day support - which currently stands on average at around 12,000, only 500 away from capacity - struggled to become a strong footballing power?
The geographical location of Novosibirsk in the heart of Siberia has inevitably hindered the progression of the football club. Along with fellow Siberian side Tom Tomsk, Sibir Novosibirsk have a particularly difficult job travelling to away fixtures and making a significant impression. Matches against one of the sides from Moscow will mean a round trip of almost 3,500 miles, while travelling to Saint Petersburg is just under a 4,000 mile round trip. The troubles that Sibir Novosibirsk face on the road can be seen in the fact that this season the club have managed to pick up points in just three of twelve away fixtures, in comparison to seven of thirteen home matches.
The location of Novosibirsk also means that investment is particularly difficult to generate. The major western cities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg are far more lucrative propositions to oil rich oligarchs than the eastern stretches of Siberia, where incidentally much of Russia's oil reserves can be found. Many of Russia's oil companies are based within the capital, Moscow, and thus the focus is very much centered on football clubs from the surrounding area and so the eastern side of the nation becomes increasingly isolated. Sibir Novosibirsk are therefore forced to utilise a policy of player recruitment which focuses upon sensible, low cost transfers, providing a platform for promising youngsters and loan deals from bigger clubs. In spite of the odd anomaly it is difficult for clubs to create true sustainability in such a competitive league when there is a lack of funds to purchase players of a higher quality. The difficulties of forging a team strong enough to compete in the Premier League was especially felt by the club's coach Igor Kriushenko, who managed to bring Novosibirsk promotion to the top flight for the first time, and while the club performed well in the First League, the step up has seemingly proved a step too far.
Sibir Novosibirsk have proved that they have the fighting spirit to attempt to battle their way out of the mire in which they find themselves. The club is currently on a run of four matches unbeaten which has left them some six points from safety with a mere five games of the season remaining. Novosibirsk must obviously look to accumulate as many points as physically possible in a manner that they have previously struggled to achieve. Kriushenko will no doubt have the message of the possibility of survival ringing in the player's ears before they enter the field of play, but the rest is up to those eleven men. While the rest of nation views it as an inevitability - relegation is a word that Sibir Novosibirsk are not yet contemplating as the Russian Premier League season gradually draws to a close.
Domm writes regularly for IBWM and if you would like to read more from him please visit the excellent football ramblings.