There are some big questions to be answered that will affect both the current state & future of Russian football. Domm Norris reports
This week has been a hectic one for Russian football and it could be an important week not only for the coming season but also further into the future - and I’m not talking about Ruud Gullit.
Developments are afoot to transform the manner in which transfers of players under the age of 23 are processed - especially in relation to the issue of compensation for the departure of such players. The present footballing legislation means that if a player under the age of 23 leaves a club at the end of his contract and promptly finds a deal elsewhere then his former club are eligible to receive a form of monetary compensation. The idea of compensation for youngsters is viewed as a necessity - especially within Russia - as it is a means through which small clubs who rely upon their academy prospects to fill their first team and eventually generate profit - without which clubs will simply fall by the wayside. At a time when the development of young, Russian talent is at a particularly low level - while foreign imports continue to gain in stature - the news of the abolition of compensation is an issue that threatens the ongoing development of Russian football.
The introduction of the '6+5' selection process - whereby at least 5 players on each team must be of Russian nationality and only 6 foreigners may take the field at one time - was thought to be a system that would help induce the development of Russian talent. However it seems that this may well be undermined by the abolition of compensation for young players at the end of their contract. If clubs are unwilling to invest their money in academies that will help develop young players then Russian football will simply continue to rely upon foreign imports to help maintain the standard of the league system. In turn this could mean that the long-term aim of the RFU - to mount a serious challenge for the 2018 World Cup - could be in jeopardy.
The potential amendment to the legislation has not proved popular among those involved in Russian football. The likes of Valery Karpin - Spartak Moscow's coach - and Olga Smorodskaya - Lokomotiv Moscow's President - have been vocal in their anger towards any potential changes, with both agreeing that it could potentially permanently damage Russia's aspirations for sporting greatness. Karpin even went as far as to suggest that funding academies could become too risky to justify - such words from a reputable figure in Russian football is likely to make others listen and take heed of what could lie ahead.
The definition of 'legionnaires' within Russian football could also result in the abolition of compensation having an even more significant effect. The admission that players who were born in the Soviet Union and feature for nations who formed from its ashes do not count towards the 'home grown' collective of the starting eleven places huge emphasis upon the Russian squad members. This emphasis also results in Russian talent being given are hugely inflated value - as such quality Russian players are a rare commodity at present especially with the likes of Andrei Arshavin and Yuri Zhirkov playing in England. The demise of compensation therefore threatens to reduce the numbers of Russian players coming through the ranks while also increasing the value of these players - who have had less money invested in them so in turn their quality could potentially be diminished.
The legionnaires debate has often courted controversy as it has been argued that it is discriminatory against footballers from ex Soviet states. Olga Smorodskaya touched on the issue when she said 'citizens of Belarus can operate in Russia without special work permits, without limitations, for some reason this rule does not apply to professional football. Who knows why? Russian laws provide relief to the Belarusians, but Russian football - for some reason - has other laws.' Lokomotiv's President also went as far as suggesting that Belarusian players could justify taking legal action against what she considers to be obvious discrimination.
The issue of compensation for young talent has also coincided with the news that the Russian Premier League has taken steps towards eradicating the significant levels of violence that occur with worrying regularity in the top flight. While such a problem has been prevalent for decades it has only been recently - possibly due to the World Cup in 2018 - that initiatives to combat hooliganism have been close to implementation. Legislation is being put forward that will look to establish a method of deterrence and punishment - in a manner that will replicate the methods taken to eradicate hooliganism from British football. It has been proposed that trouble makers are made to serve a ban from football stadia around the country for a period of time ranging from one year to life - as well as the possibility of some repeat offenders being given jail sentences that could result in some seven years behind bars.
However it is all well and good putting forth punishments for offenders but the issue of identifying those involved is another pressing concern. The relatively poor stadia infrastructure throughout the Russian Premier League - with many teams playing in multi purpose grounds not built specifically for football - means that at present there are only limited means of catching trouble makers once the crowds have dispersed. Discussions have been ongoing about implementing CCTV cameras throughout Russia's existing stadia - while each of the new grounds developed for the World Cup will have to feature such facilities. As well as CCTV the possibilities of borrowing the idea of placing stewards within the ground - as a means of limiting altercations between fans and police - is thought to be high on the agenda. It is certain that measures must be taken for the coming season if a lasting impact is to be made before the World Cup kicks off in 2018. The entrenchment of hooliganism within Russian football is an issue that could take a number of years to quarantine and eventually eradicate.
Both youth development and hooliganism are significant talking points for both the RFU and the Russian Premier League to discuss and assess. These issues are given even greater importance due to the fact that the World Cup will be the pinnacle of Russian sporting success - and the nation is determined to create the more successful tournament yet. However if Russia does not have a team capable of competing for the trophy and if Russian fans cause trouble on a stage that will be viewed by hundreds of millions of people then the legacy of the competition will be nothing but a wreckage that hurls Russia back to square one.
Domm writes regularly for IBWM and if you would like to read more from him please visit the excellent football ramblings.