Being robbed of your football club for financial reasons is just about the saddest thing that can happen to a football fan. Domm Norris writes about the latest group of fans watching on in agony.
Is there a more upsetting scenario for football fans than seeing a club folding under the threat of bankruptcy to sink into the annals of footballing history? The modern era has produced a culture of debt which for many clubs is a seemingly never ending spiral of interest and repayments. But while there are clubs who are capable of surviving through these disastrous economic climes there are countless others who suffer in the knowledge that the end could well be just around the corner.
Russia is a nation where such instability threatens to destabilise its footballing infrastructure and amid recent reports of the further deterioration of one of the nation's top flight clubs - it's a very present issue. Over the past few seasons rumours have spread regarding FC Saturn Moscow Oblast's existence - not only in Russia's top division, but in a wider, general perspective. Saturn are an established outfit in the Russian Premier League - having existed in the division for over a decade - however their will to survive could well have been the cause of their downfall.
In order to understand where the problems began for Saturn it is important to address the method of ownership that the club - like many in Russia - chooses. Saturn is situated in the Moscow Oblast federal district on the outskirts of Moscow, in an area that is one of the most densely populated federal subjects in Russia. The club is presently maintained and financed by the Moscow Oblast regional government - essentially meaning that the club lacks the financial might of the privately owned club's in the Premier League. The seemingly bottomless pit of funds that the likes of Zenit St Petersburg - owned by Gazprom - enjoy are merely a pipe dream for the likes of FC Saturn. The club has had to exist through the development schemes put into place by the Moscow Oblast district which is where the club was introduced to private investment firm MOITK - who were employed by Moscow Oblast to help redevelop areas of the district, including Saturn's stadium in Ramenskoye. The introduction of MOITK into the future of Saturn has been the cause of many of the club's financial woes.
Reports suggest that MOITK claim that Saturn owe the firm a figure that ranges from between £16m to £27m - depending on which story you choose to read. Such a significant sum of money is simply far too much for the club to contemplate paying off - even regardless of the economic downturn. The lack of foresight by both Moscow Oblast and Saturn's board mean that the club is left fighting a battle to remain a float at a time where investment in football has subsided since the boom years of the middle of last decade. Moscow Oblast initiated developments of the region and Saturn in the knowledge that any downturn in the financial sector could leave the football club open to bankruptcy and in a hugely negative position. After the boom, comes the bust.
The winter months could freeze the future of Saturn in the Premier League - in a similar vein to FC Moscow less than 12 months ago. For FC Moscow - a club who had established themselves as a top 6 team and who had played in European competition - the problems stemmed from their owners withdrawing their financial support from under the feet of the club. Thus FC Moscow were simply unable to continue without the necessary funds to enable the club to progress. The economic downturn simply made the club unsustainable - which now threatens to strike Saturn off the list of Premier League clubs.
But what are the possibilities for the club's future?
There have been many reports over the past couple of years that Saturn's financial woes will be combated through a merging with another club within the Moscow region. It is thought that should this happen then FC Khimki would be the most likely club willing to accept such a merger. Khimki themselves have struggled since their relegation from the Premier League in 2009 - finishing 13th in the First Division this season. Khimki's turmoil was further exploited when, upon relegation, the club was forced to abandon their new stadium - where CSKA Moscow and (temporarily) Dynamo Moscow currently reside - and move to the Novye Khimki Stadium which holds some 15,000 fewer spectators. Merging Saturn and Khimki into a single entity could well serve to aid the problems from which both clubs are suffering. However it serves to ask the question about whether such a process would serve to destroy the identity of football within the Moscow region.
The club's ideal scenario would of course revolve around a wealthy investor placing his hat firmly into the ring by offering Saturn the chance to pay off their lingering debts and rebuild on a fresh slate. However the club has found it difficult to entice investors on a far smaller scale to put forth their money which makes mass investment seem all the more unlikely. The club is hugely reliant upon sponsorship cash to attempt to keep up with running costs - however players are still owed wages from this season, which doesn't look like being addressed any time soon. FC Saturn need a Roman Abramovich but for such an unfashionable club such a need is simply an envious dream.
Should Saturn finally buckle under the weight of pressure from MOITK and follow FC Moscow and Torpedo Moscow's path down to the lower reaches of the footballing landscape then it will serve as yet another example of the precariousness of Russian football. The financial boom has been and gone and the wreckage of ill judged investment is still only just rising to the surface. For Saturn their may be hopes that the club can prevail - however it may yet be under a different guise - however the path to removing their financial burdens looks to be a long and arduous one, which could end in defeat sooner rather than later.
Domm writes regularly for IBWM and if you would like to read more from him please visit the excellent football ramblings.