This is part of a new series of posts, separate from the main blogs, in which More Than Arshavin will profile the teams which make up the wonderful world of Russian football. Teams from every league will eventually find themselves here, with the pieces shifting between historical narrative, present situation and future prospects whilst trying to capture the essence of each club. If you have a club you would like to see featured, either leave a comment or contact me via Twitter – I’d love to hear your ideas.
In today’s sporting world, there is an awful lot to be said for the power of money. Whether it be unknown Gretna racing through the Scottish league and making it to Europe before disappearing, Team Sky managing to oversee a British win in the Tour de France after a century of failure, or the IPL attracting the world’s finest cricketers for an rich man’s exhibition tournament, it is increasingly apparent that financial power is slowly becoming the most important aspect of any sporting enterprise.
Everybody knows that talent can be bought, but it is the reasoning behind allegiances that has provided a war which continues to rage to this day. New money against the old establishment, the promise of future glories vs the allure of past successes, the chance to secure your family’s future or the opportunity to become a legend of your team – of course none of these are mutually exclusive, however they are often viewed as such by the people that matter.
For the Russian football fan, there are a number of arenas in which this duel is taking place. All of the Moscow clubs are lavishly funded, but for many there is a direct clash between the new money of Evgeny Giner and CSKA, and the rich history of Spartak. Zenit and Anzhi are also representatives of the new money, whilst the likes of Krylya Sovetov and Rostov suffer as their well-established roots are unable to compete with the riches of those at the top of table. That the latter clubs never managed success with a more level playing seemes irrelevant – it is very much a matter of principle.
Nowhere is the conflict clearer than in the southern city of Krasnodar, a city which has enjoyed an economic boom in the post-Soviet as businesses and investors have rushed to plough their new resources into the region. Krasnodar Krai, the region to which the city gives its name, is one of the fastest-growing economies within Russia, and with the 2014 Winter Olympics heading to the resort city of Sochi, that growth looks certain to continue for the foreseeable future.
it is perhaps unsurprising then, that the first top flight derby in Russia to be held outside of Moscow took place in Krasnodar. What is surprising is that the team who emerged victorious on that historic day did not exist four years earlier, the very concept of FC Krasnodar yet to be realised. The man who made it all possible is one who typifies the new Russian businessman – self-made and free from the stigma associated with the oligarchs of the 1990s, Sergei Galitsky has forever changed the way Krasnodar does football.
The man behind one of Russia’s largest supermarket chains, Magnit, helped to establish the club in 2008, providing much of the money to finance the facilities needed to be granted a professional license, thereby forgoing the need to spend any time in the amateur leagues. Thrown into the southern region of the Second Division, Krasnodar finished 3rd in their debut season, 11 points behind champions Volgar-Gazprom Astrakhan, but showing enough promise to attract the attention of the authorities. With a number of First Division clubs unable to fulfill league requirements the following year, it was Krasnodar and their wealthy owner who were invited to step into the void – runners-up Bataysk-2007 declined promotion on financial grounds, remaining in the Second Division and eventually forced to withdraw just two years later.
As the club from Bataysk folded, Galitsky’s project celebrated yet another remarkable promotion just a few months later. After finishing 10th in their first year at First Division level, further strengthening and the arrival of experienced manager Sergei Tashuev pushed them into the promotion slots midway through the season, but a decline in form and the continued victories of fellow Krasnodar side Kuban and Volga Nizhny Novgorod saw Tashuev’s men finish outside of the top two in 5th.
Tashuev left the club, failure to gain promotion deemed insufficient by a board who continued their policy of changing managers after every season. In came Slavoljub Muslin, the former Lokomotiv Moscow boss deemed an impressive coup for a First Division side irrespective of finances. Preparations were made for the new First Division season, and promotion was almost certainly the aim third time around.
However, those preparations were thrown off when it emerged that Saturn Ramenskoye, a Moscow region club who it later emerged had been victim of some catastrophic financial mismanagement, declared themselves unable to take their place in the Premier League, and indeed ceased operations in January 2011. With relegated Alania not deemed suitable for sporting reasons, it left a spot in the top flight open for one team to claim as their one.
Having finished 5th the previous season, Krasnodar had little right to the position. However, as first 3rd placed Nizhny Novgorod and then 4th placed KamAZ Naberzezhnye Chelny turned down the promotion on financial grounds – coincidentally, both teams would be forced to withdraw from the First Division a year later, Nizhny Novgorod merging with Premier League Volga and KamAZ dropping into the Second Division – Krasnodar emerged as favourites. In football as in many areas of life, having the backing of a generous billionaire can prove useful, and so Krasnodar reached the Premier League after just three years of existence, without ever being promoted as a result of their league position.
With less time than usual to prepare for the Premier League, Muslin of course benefited not only for Galitsky’s riches, but a season which would incorporate three transfer windows instead of the usual two. In came effectively a new squad of players – among them Montenegrin international Nikola Drincic, Brazilian forward Joaozinho, Portuguese winger Marcio Abreu and Armenian striker Yura Movsisyan, a powerful forward who would go on to be named the fan’s player of the season. After 30 games, Krasnodar found themselves in the bottom half of the league split, but comfortably safe from relegation, and the rest of the season was played out with only pride to compete for. An impressive 9th place was their final result, just one spot below cross-town rivals Kuban, and the best they could have expected after their rapid rise up the leagues.
A slightly more restrained summer in 2012 saw Rubin’s Sergei Kislyak the main arrival and Muslin stay in charge, a first for the club as the Serbian manager was given the green light to continue his good work. Sharing the Kuban stadium with their rivals – a short-term solution, as the 2018 World Cup will see a new stadium built in the city – there are occasional grumbles of short-termism and financial doping from the side founded in 1928, but it will mean nothing to Galitsky and his club’s fans as they seek to establish themselves as the city’s primary club. FC Krasnodar may not be able to buy Kuban’s long history, but they are well on the way to buying success.