Unravelling the enigma of football in the post-Soviet republics
After Zenit St Petersburg’s recent wobble, normal service was resumed at the top of the Russian Premier League with their 3-0 win over Alania Vladikavkaz at the Petrovsky Stadium last weekend.
Zenit are now six points clear of prayer bead twirling nil-all merchant Gurban "we’ll play all negative and everything for 80 minutes then kind of give it a go in the last 10" Berdiyew’s Rubin Kazan with a game in hand as we enter the final straight.
It’s not quite so cut-and-dried down at the bottom, mind.
This week Never Mind the Bolsheviks invited three proper journalists in James Appell, Pavel Astafiev and Artur Petrosyan over to FourFourTwo.com to discuss who’s going down, down, down in Russia. It’s like Challenge Lawro, but better. Hopefully.
Tom TomskJames Tom have all but given up on this season, having all but assured themselves of safety – so much so that Valery Nepomniaschy admitted last week that his side were already thinking about next season. The combined scoring talents of Dzyuba and Sergey Kornilenko – the latter now departed to Rubin – have seen them through the year.
Pavel The team with one of the most experienced coaches in the League (Valery Nepomniaschy) and several leaders (Valery Klimov and Artem Dzyuba) are in the most comfortable situation.
Saturn Moskovskaya OblastNMTB Saturn won’t be relegated, but there are serious problems in Ramenskoye.
James A limp end to the season is predicted for Saturn, though they have accrued easily enough points for it not to matter. Beset by financial problems, with the lowest average attendance in the Premier League, they have the goalkeeping heroics of Antonin Kinsky to thank for another season out of relegation danger.
Pavel Another team with great financial problems (the players weren’t paid for four months) and a dubious future. If Saturn hadn't got so many points in the middle of the season, probably they would be relegated by now.
Krylia Sovetov SamaraNMTB Krylia are the only ever-present side in the Premier League side outside of Moscow and St Petersburg, but they’ve got a wretched run-in. Krylia should have enough points to stay up.
Artur The beginning of the season when Krylia Sovetov had problems leaves no doubts that Samara would struggle against relegation. But the appointment of Alexander Tarkhanov was a real turning point and now Krylia are not a candidate for relegation.
James Krylia looked down and out with half of the season played. They were bottom of the pile in mid-July, but a battling 0-0 draw against Spartak sparked a turnaround which has almost seen them to safety. They also have 19-year-old midfielder Ibragim Tsallagov to thank – his development this season has been astonishing.
Anzhi MakhachkalaNMTB Dagestan is a difficult place to visit, and that’s not just down to the state of the pitch.
James They were promoted top of the First Division but lost their manager barely days into the 2010 season. They play in the warmest part of Russia and yet have the worst pitch in the Premier League by some distance. They're on a run of six defeats in seven games, but managed a superb 3-3 draw against Zenit a fortnight ago.
Pavel Strange story with the dismissal of Omari Tetradze, who has lead the team from the First Division, which could’ve been a disaster, but it seems the club will stay in the Premier League. Probably one of the reasons is the large quantity of teams from the Caucasus region.
Alania VladikavkazJames Some might say Alania are fortunate in that they may survive only by virtue of other teams around them being even worse than they are. I’d say that, considering they only had four weeks to prepare for life in the Premier League after the demise of FK Moskva, they’ve performed miracles.
Pavel A team with great history – and great debts. In Russia, Alania are an undesirable team for loans from all Premier League clubs. Stories of unpaid transfer fees (and they are really big) for Abdoul-Gafar Mamah, Ivan Ivanov and Ivan Stoyanov are just proof of the correctness of their position.
Artur None of four Caucasus teams will be relegated, simply because they need each other for next season, and they'll make sure each of them will keep their place in the Premier League.
Amkar PermNMTB Scoring goals has been the problem this season. Georgi Peev is their top scorer; he has three. Emile Heskey has more than that, and he’s played fewer games than the Bulgarian.
Pavel Mistakes in coaching and scouting will probably lead to relegation. The old guard (Peev, Vitali Grishin, Sergei Volkov and Martin Kushev) cannot work wonders every season.
Artur Along with Alania, Amkar are probably the weakest team in the Premier League. Plus (rumours say) recently they played a fixed match, although they were told by RFU officials not to. So after that in each following game they were punished by referees for not obeying (just remember that Lokomotiv penalty). So now (as rumours say) they're destined for relegation.
Sibir NovosibirskJames Sibir have been great to watch – 80 goals have been scored in the 26 league games they’ve been involved in. It’s just a shame 50 of them have been at the wrong end, which tells its own tale. But they’ll always have a home win against PSV in the Europa League to remember this season by.
Pavel No chance of them staying in the Premier League.
Artur Sibir are a team who try to play nice football like, say, West Brom, but the big clubs don’t want them in the Premier League – Novosibirsk is too far away. Just look how many strange penalties were awarded to their opponents this season. I spoke to one Sibir player recently; he's shocked with what’s been happening but he knows they can do nothing about it.
So that’s it. Amkar and Sibir are down. That’s official, four experts can’t be wrong, can they?
We’re all in agreement, but that’s not the end of things, oh no. FourFourTwo will return to this one. Come the end of the season we’ll mock the losers for their general rubbishness, while the winners shall be lauded with praise and worshipped for their knowledge of all things Russian football. For a bit.
James Appell is a freelance journalist and blogs regularly over at the Football Ramble and ITV.com. By his own admission, he is a sports-obsessive Russophile northerner with a soft spot for Spartak Moskva. Take a read of his blog, the Cynical Challenge, you’ll probably like it.
Pavel Astiev is a freelance sports journalist. He writes for Sports Daily and Total Football amongst other publications in Russia. He is also a consultant to Russian and European football agents.
Artur Petrosyan is Sportbox’s football editor and has been a Spartak Moskva fan since he was five. He also makes appearances on Russian television and radio.
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