Unravelling the enigma of football in the post-Soviet republics
As you perhaps may not have ascertained from NMTB’s rather puerile attempt at conveying sound via the medium of the written word, that “noise” was in fact the final nail being driven into the coffin of this month’s CIS Cup, struck with a Thor-like swing by Vardan Minasyan wielding his Pyunik Yerevan-shaped Mjöllnir.
(Bravo, by the way, if you did determine all that from “thud”).
The CIS Cup has limped from one crisis to the next in recent times and NMTB just hopes now the Football Union of Russia puts everyone out of their misery.
Come on, you’ve had 17 years, that’s not a bad run.
The tournament is a broken-legged racehorse that nobody’s got the heart to shoot; it’s a terminally ill patient who can’t afford a flight to Switzerland; it’s Victoria Beckham’s “career.”
Shame, really, as NMTB quite likes the CIS Cup.
No, wait, NMTB quite likes the idea of the CIS Cup; the tournament itself is rubbish.
It shouldn’t be. They take the domestic champions of each former Soviet state – all 15 – and chuck them together for one big annual Moscow muck-out each January.
Except nobody cares.
Enthusiasm for the cup is drying up faster than the Aral Sea and the much-maligned competition is today about as eagerly anticipated as an appointment for colonic irrigation.
Clubs have long been blowing raspberries and sticking two fingers up at the RFU by fielding weakened teams or eschewing it altogether, and this year the Armenian champions Pyunik Yerevan have gone one step further.
They've nudged the cup towards consignment in the annals of history alongside all other things Soviet, like Lenin, five-year plans and moustachioed KGB agents sitting in hotel lobbies behind a broadsheet with a couple of eyeholes cut out of them.
They’ve dropped their pants and conducted a dirty protest all over the trophy.
How? Well, Pyunik manager Vardan Minasyan evidently can’t be bothered to go out and scout potential new players for the Bardzraguyn Khumb champions.
Instead, in a mountain-to-Mohammed situation, he has assembled a team of 21 trialists to represent the club in Moscow.
Yep, Pyunik are leaving their entire squad back in Armenia.
You can't help but feel they’ll be trying a bit too hard to impress him though, like a schoolboy performing wheelies on his bike in front of a girl he fancies.
Expect showboating, a few attempts at some mazy runs, 40-yard rockets being blazed into the crowd and cries of “look at me, boss. No... you’re not looking, come on!”
At least Pyunik are in attendance. Well, sort of.
It’s slightly awkward, withdrawing from the CIS Cup, because it’s precisely the time of year everyone knows you’ve got f**k all else on.
But that hasn’t stopped the holders Sheriff Tiraspol and their pals BATE Borisov and FK Ventspils going AWOL this month.
The trio burbled a few unconvincing lines about doing some training or something.
And as for those expecting to see Rivaldo, Denilson and Stevica Ristić turn out for Luis Felipe Scolari’s Bunyodkor, prepare to be massively disappointed (although you're going to be massively disappointed anyway if you're watching the CIS Cup): they’ve sent a reserve team to Moscow.
Big Phil et al have skipped the long-john necessitating, subzero temperatures of the Russian capital for the Speedo-inducing climes of Dubai.
Turns out they’d rather be doing this.
Bunyodkor's beach training - click here to watch
It’s all a bit like the Eurovision Song Contest, really.
When was the last time the UK wheeled out the big guns – someone like Girls Aloud, commercial tripe that’s mundane and dreary, but popular?
It’s because NO ONE CARES. Not even Victoria Beckham would touch it. Then again...
Compare this to some of the newer Eurovisionners.
Their governments assemble the nation’s pre-eminent songwriters and hold their families in a dungeon until they’ve cobbled together a suitable ditty for their No.1 pop star to belt out and promote their country on an international stage.
And they’re proud to do so. The UK just rolls out someone like Daz Sampson.
And that attitude by the old powers exists in the CIS Cup, too.
Take the last four finals:
2009 Sheriff Tiraspol (Moldova) 0-0 FK Aktobe (Kazakhstan) (5-4 on penalties)2008 Khazar Lenkoran (Azerbaijan) 4-3 Pakhtakor Tashkent (Uzbekistan)2007 Pakhtakor Tashkent (Uzbekistan) 0-0 FK Ventspils (Latvia) (9-8 on penalties)2006 Neftçi Bakı (Azerbaijan) 4-2 FBK Kaunas (Lithuania)
Where are the big teams? A full-strength Dynamo Kyiv, Shakhtar Donetsk, Rubin Kazan, Zenit St Petersburg or whoever would walk this tournament.
So what’s gone wrong?
i) The RFU has never quite been sure just how to shoehorn 15 teams into a workable format, especially when they persist with an opening round comprising four groups of four.
And no, drafting in the Russian under-21 side to compete hors-concours doesn’t really solve the problem.
Ditto for inviting a “guest club” from outside of the region. That kind of defeats the object of staging a competition to find the top side of the former USSR.
ii) Winters are cold in Russia, bloody cold, so it’s understandable no one wants to play football. In fact, you can't, so games are held indoors.
And football inside a massive sports hall isn't quite the same.
iii) The RFU are a bit parsimonious and the prize money is best described as frig-all; simple bragging rights aren't sufficient anymore.
The introduction of the Channel One Cup hasn’t helped either.
iv) It has become stale by being staged in Moscow each year.
Why not rotate it? You only need two indoor arenas, and surely everyone can deal with that.
v) Political wranglings have become something of an impediment.
Georgia’s bloody nose in South Ossetia has seen them withdraw their representative (WIT-Georgia), and the Nagorno-Karabakh issue between Armenia and Azerbaijan has permeated into football.
A few years ago Pyunik defeated Shakhtar in the quarter-finals, which meant a game with Neftçi Bakı in the next round, except they didn’t fancy playing the Azeri champions, so instead buggered off back to Armenia on the next flight.
They were subsequently handed a three-year ban from the tournament, although NMTB reckons they were secretly beaming inside at not having to travel to Moscow for a while.
So just who is in this moribund competition that gets underway on tomorrow?
Rubin Kazan (Russia; competition best: group stages)Dnepr Mogilev (Belarus, group stages)Dordoi-Dynamo Naryn (Kyrgyzstan, group stages)Liepājas Metalurgs (Latvia, quarter-finals)
Bakı Futbol Klubu (Azerbaijan, debut appearance)HJK Helsinki (Finland, debut appearance)FK Aktobe (Kazakhstan, runners-up)Vakhsh Qurghonteppa (Tajikistan, group stages)
Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine, four-time winners)HTTU Aşgabat (Turkmenistan, group stages)Levadia Tallinn (Estonia, group stages)Russia U21 (group stages)
Bunyodkor (Uzbekistan, debut appearance)Pyunik Yerevan (Armenia, semi-finals)Ekranas Panevezys (Lithuania, semi-finals)Dacis Chişinău (Moldova, debut appearance)
Nostradamus couldn’t predict a winner out of that lot.
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