In 2007, Rubin Kazan became one of the first clubs outside of Moscow to lift the Russian league title, with only Zenit and 1995 champions Alania going ahead of them. The following year, Rubin swept to a second championship crown, cementing their place in the Russian elite as well as making impressive waves in Europe – victory in Barcelona the crowing glory of a memorable but short-lived campaign.
To reach the top is one thing, to stay there is another. This is particularly true in Russia, a nation in which domination has so often come in spells – Spartak Moscow’s incredible rule over the 1990s the ultimate example of how one team is able to so often impose itself over the rest. Valeri Gazzaev’s time at CSKA coincided with the army club’s most successful spell, taking two titles, several cups and an historic UEFA Cup win in 2005. Although CSKA’s recent revival under Leonid Slutsky and the unpredictable emergence of Anzhi have brought their position under doubt, there is little argument that Russia is currently in the era of Zenit, Luciano Spalletti’s men having lifted three of the last five titles and a cup as well as progressing beyond the group stages of the Champions League for the first time.
The fact that Zenit have been able to reach the pinnacle has been partly due to the failure of Rubin to maintain their position at the top. Back to back league titles gave them the ideal opportunity to build a lasting dynasty at the summit of the Russian game, however a number of factors have prevented this from happening. In hindsight, financial circumstances both outside their control – Suleyman Kerimov’s takeover in Makhachkala, Gazprom’s sustained and unparalleled investment in Zenit – and those within their own remit – the Tatarstan government’s budget contractions and the need to sell key players to maintain a wage structure – suggest that to do so would have been almost impossible.
Still, to pin Rubin’s slow slide into midtable solely on market forces would be to oversimplify the situation. It is true to say that the Kazan side has faced sizeable cuts to the playing budget in the years following their title victories, but they are not the only club that has had to deal with the global economic crisis. Furthermore, a brief glance at some of the players currently plying their trade in the Tatar capital is enough to suggest that, at least individually, the side does possess the quality needed to challenge – Cristian Ansaldi, Salvatore Bocchetti and Roman Eremenko could all walk into most if not all of the title-challenging sides.
However, equally as telling is a look at the number of players who would, could be, and perhaps should be, playing a part in their bid to return to Europe and the top table of the Russian game. Salomon Rondon is perhaps a harsh target given his relatively new arrival in Kazan, but four goals in 14 games is a less than spectacular return for a striker in a side relying on a dead ball specialist for the bulk of their goals. Nelson Valdez managed three goals in 20 games, Obafemi Martins achieved the same, whilst the most successful import into Rubin’s eleven, Alejandro Dominguez, could not be persuaded to stay despite two spells with the club.
The reasons for Rubin’s transfer troubles remain at large, but what is clear is that manager Kurban Berdyev – whereas at other clubs the board seem to go over their managers’ heads, the Turkmen enjoys greater and greater autonomy within Rubin – shows no sign of letting up in his pursuit of foreign stars. Carlos Eduardo, the club’s record signing at €20m, has played just six games since arriving in 2010 and is in process of moving back to Brazil – nominally on loan, in all likelihood for good. Gokhan Tore, a €4.6m signing from Hamburg in the summer, has played just four times despite obvious potential, and is now negotiating with the club after going AWOL following remarkable claims of extortion levelled at the club by the player’s former agent.
According to the agent in question, manager Berdyev, along with a number of club authorities, demanded in the region of half a million Euros from the young Turk, prompting the former Chelsea youngster to flee home and refuse to play. Only now, with both parties on neutral ground in Spain, are the details of his return or release being thrashed out.
Irrespective of the truth of Tore’s allegations, the incident in itself should create something of a warning sign for young foreign stars looking to continue their career in Kazan. Yet just this week, with the finer details of Carlos Eduardo’s return home being sorted and Tore’s future yet to be decided, the club unveiled its newest and possibly most high profile signing yet, that of Rennes’ French international Yann M’Vila.
If Rubin were hoping for a player to keep out of the headlines and do his talking on the field, M’Vila is arguably not the man to sign. An undoubtedly gifted midfielder – a former target for sides across Europe – the Frenchman also possesses something of an attitude problem which saw him argue with coaches at Rennes and face international suspension after unauthorised absences from under-21 duty. Equally, if M’Vila is searching for somewhere low-key to rebuild his career without the drama and chaos synonymous with modern football, seeking solace at Rubin may be a bad move – Berdyev’s power grows with each threatened resignation, scandal seems more frequent at the club than ever, and the competition gets fiercer each week.
Conversely, M’Vila could be the man to prove to others that Rubin and Berdyev do in fact know how to deal with foreign stars, something thus far restricted to players who have made their name at the club such as Ansaldi and Dominguez. The likes of Anzhi, Zenit, Spartak and CSKA seem to have the market cornered when it comes to the big money imports, and whilst Rubin are a club with more local roots than most in line with their Tatar identity, a successful line of imports could well be the difference between midtable and Europe. With investment clearly forthcoming once again, it is the internal problems which are holding them back.