A Brazilian player for the Russian national team? The fans’ verdicts

FC Krasnodar’s Brazilian-born forward Wanderson has recently said in an interview that he would – if the possibility arose – be interested in playing for the Russian national side. A story covered widely by Russia’s sports press, fans commented on it in their hundreds.

Below are selected comments from two popular sources of football news in Russia, Sport-Express.ru and Championat.com. Comments with indents and a dash before them are replies fans gave to the previous comment:


No thanks..can you sign the Russian National Anthem in Russian? Same can be said of the trainer [Fabio Capello].


A great forward, but I’m against this. A naturalised national team is a world team.

   -So we’ll keep on falling flat on our faces at the group stages. Look at the current world champions: Germans, Poles, a Turk etc.


I won’t support the Russian team if, like Switzerland, it has its Xhakas and Seferovichs playing for it. A load of Macedonians and Brazilians support teams like that [as well as fans from that country].


The nationalist-chauvinist census has begun. A worthy player, would suit the national side.


If Wanderson was born and raised in Russia then definitely! But as things are, no!


No need…the [Sochi] Olympics were so shameful with Koreans and America winning medals for us.


Go home…dirty foreign worker.

   – You should be ashamed for humiliating the Russian nation with nationalism and chauvinism! World football is fed by internationalism! Zidane is an Algerian who played for France, and there are lots of such examples. Don’t write such foul things – it’s football and not Nazism!


If at least one of his parents was a Russian citizen, like [Stoke City forward Peter Odemwingie] then yes, but our team isn’t bad – we just need an attack-minded manager.


We don’t need him? Fine – just don’t moan when we don’t get out of the group at World Cup 2018. At Sochi nobody started shouting when a Korean and an American won five golds for us.


Against this:
1. He doesn’t speak fluent Russian
2. He’s 28 (not a youngster)
3. There are other players of the same level
4. We need to develop our own players, and not naturalise average players
5. It’s a road to nowhere


Personally I’m fed up with watching eleven useless millionaires running round the pitch who’ve got themselves comfy and know they’ll be in the side no matter what. Such footballers are an embarrassment to our country, but not a Brazilian who’s taking the decision to swap nationality and play for us. I’m 100% certain he’d at least apologise for mistakes and tear it up on the pitch like a player should do. Generally I’m in favour – it’ll help bring in fresh blood.


Well, yes. We always have our own way of doing things. No European country has a national side made up of players entirely from the ‘title’ nationality, and fans support them. But we are the greatest, and have no equal on the planet in terms of racial purity. Strange for a multi-nationality country.


We don’t need the same ‘happiness’ as they have in France, for example. We have enough multiculturalism in Moscow at Eid al-Adha.


Yes, yes, let’s naturalise players like we did for the Olympics. In fact, why do we need youth academies? We can just hand out passports and not worry.


Russia isn’t only made up of ethnic Russians. As long as there is use then I think let him play. Getting upset because only ethnic Russians should play is a load of rubbish.


You’ve got to be able to support your own people when it comes to the national team. Of course, we could naturalise 25 Brazilians – they might even win something. But it won’t be the Russian national team. Those born and raised here should play, or else those who moved here, learned the language and got citizenship.


Oh, how good was it when Ukrainians like Kanchelskis and Salenko played for us…I don’t understand how these foreigners differ from those…apparently it’s better to be at the same level as Honduras, but with only Russians playing for us.


We need to boldly use the naturalisation process. If someone starts talking about patriotism they’re talking rubbish. Good old Andrey [Arshavin] answered all the questions about that after the loss to Greece in 2012. [Arshavin told fans it was 'their problem' if they were upset by Russia's performance]


Don’t compare those who competed at the Olympics with Wanderson. [speed skater Viktor] Ahn can speak Russian, [snowboarder Vic] Wild has a Russian wife. Wanderson doesn’t have any link to Russia.


I won’t support the national team if it accepts black players.

   – Bravo! That means Russia won’t be threatened with FIFA sanctions for fascist flags or bananas thrown on the pitch, for shameful monkey chants…if tens of morons don’t go to the national team’s games it means thousands of ordinary people will do.


The quantities of positive/negative answers here reflect the figures in a poll Sport Express carried out. In the poll, 42.5% were in favour of Wanderson playing for Russia, 57.5% against.

The usual depressing racially-motivated answers are here (and even more depressingly, they aren’t a tiny minority), but others are against for non-racial reasons. I take two positive notes from these answers. One is the considerable number of fans in favour of the concept, if not the player (the argument that he’s no better than the current players is a fair one in my opinion). Two is a tendency I’ve noticed amongst Russian football fans in recent years – a greater and greater willingness to self-police and speak out against racist comments. Previously comments like this would have more likely just been ignored.

Saul Pope is a blogger on Russian and Ukrainian football and contributor to ‘When Saturday Comes’ magazine. He can be followed on Twitter: @saulpope

More on the same topic:

Black players at Zenit? The fans’ views

Russian fans hold the key to eradicating racism in their stadiums

Euromaidan: the views of a Kyiv-based footballer

Belarusian blogger Aleksandr Ivulin recently interviewed countryman and former Arsenal Kyiv player Aleksandr Danilov – who lives in the Ukrainian capital with his family – about life in the city now. The interview is translated below.

Do you feel calm in Kyiv?

Totally. The disorder and all the happenings are only in the city centre. The other areas are living a calm and well-measured life. You don’t feel anything unusual. Of course, a lot of sensation has been created around Euromaidan: everybody is discussing it. People are going to work as usual, though: schools, nurseries, shops and other organisations are working as they always do.

Have you ended up at Euromaidan at any point?

I haven’t been to the protests. I’m trying to sort out things that are more important to me [translator's note: Danilov is currently without a club]. However, I have had to pass through the city centre in my car.

What did you see?

People in helmets and camouflage, broken tiles, burning tyres. The situation doesn’t give you any positive feelings – I don’t even know what to say about it. I’m with the Ukrainian people in the current situation! But let’s not touch on political issues.

OK. Is it possible to drive around the centre of Kyiv normally?

I haven’t been in the city for three days [Danilov recently travelled from Ukraine to Belarus, and was there when the interview took place]. Before that you could get along Kreshchatyk or Grushevsky without any difficulty. However, friends have told me soldiers and the security forces are beginning to block these routes. It’s not easy to get there anymore.

Have you witnessed any disorder in Kyiv?

When I drove past the demonstrators during the daytime everything was calm. Normally they get more active closer to night-time. Fights between civilians and the security forces are frightening.

Do you tell your wife and children to stay at home in the evenings?

I’m not worried – they understand the situation. When I arrived in Belarus my parents – having watched television – were terrified for me. They asked how I could still live there with a war going on. A lot of Belorussians are afraid of going on holiday via Kyiv. They don’t need to be afraid of anything. If you live in the Left Bank area of Kyiv you can’t hear anything at all. I should add that the Ukrainian people are not indifferent to the fate of the nation. Many Kyivans join in the protests, though life in the city hasn’t changed at all. There’s no chaos in Kyiv. The interest in and sensation around Euromaidan has been caused by the media.

Fine, if that’s the case. How do you relate to the fact that the Lobanovsky Stadium has suffered serious damage during the protests?

Euromaidan has mixed everything together: football, politics….though I’m more concerned for those who are fighting for their views, for the will of the people. They are getting injured, risking their health and sometimes their lives. There have been several fatalities during the protests. This is terrible! Streets, stadiums and pavements can all be restored. Nobody is even thinking about this. The cost of their repair is nothing in comparison to human lives.

A Belarusian has died at Euromaidan…

One opinion is that he shouldn’t have gone there. But every person can do whatever he deems necessary. It is every individual’s personal business whether they go to Euromaidan or not. Some believe it is necessary to go and support the Ukrainian people – that’s normal. Some don’t want to do that – they stay home and watch from the sidelines. That’s also normal. I wish it would all end soon. The main thing is that there is no threat to human life. Such trivialities as, for example, the renaming of ‘Berkut’ ice hockey club to ‘Phoenix’, are of little importance.

The protests have lasted for more than two months. Is Ukraine tired from this?

The people are tired from a difficult life and the country’s leadership. Kyiv’s residents are not debating whether they’re tired or not. Ukrainians are fighting for one common cause. They want the government to hear them, for something in the country to finally change. I haven’t once heard someone saying they are sick of standing on Maidan. Now Ukrainians are united. They are helping one another and trying to change their lives for the better.

Do you support Euromaidan?

Everyone has their own view of the situation. I don’t absorb myself in politics. It’s true that I support the people of Ukraine. You could say that I am a part of them. However, I’m not judging the sides in the current conflict.

Russian speakers may be interested in the original interview, which is here

Aleksandr’s blog (also in Russian) can be found here.   

Saul Pope is a blogger on Ukrainian and Russian football and contributor to ‘When Saturday Comes’ magazine. He can be followed on Twitter.

Russian Premier League 2013-14 winter review: 5 surprises, and 5 less surprising things…

The winter break in the Russian Premier League is upon us: with games not scheduled for three months, the pause gives an opportunity to reflect on the surprising and less surprising elements of the season so far:

The surprises

1) Fire sale at Anzhi Makhachkala – and they’re bottom of the league

Anzhi Makhachkala started this 2013-14 season with Guus Hiddink season signings added to the expectation that they’d challenge Zenit St. Petersburg and CSKA Moscow for the title.

However, within weeks Hiddink had resigned, there were rumours of players fighting, and a home loss to FC Rostov led to owner Suleiman Kerimov announcing Anzhi would change direction with immediate effect. Within weeks almost all the expensive signings were gone – including €19 signing Aleksandr Kokorin, who didn’t play a competitive game before being sold back to Dinamo Moscow. Anzhi are now bottom of the league and without a win, their side largely made up of loan signings and young prospects.

So why the sudden change in direction? Some put it down to Kerimov needing to tighten his belt after a company in which he is a major shareholder lost 25% of its value on the stock market; other reports from within the club said the Rostov defeat had made him ill. What seems certain is that though Kerimov’s intentions were good in wanting to create a strong club for his home region, his lack of football knowledge let him down. Rather than building a squad he bought a series of big-name stars – who ended up failing to become a team.

2) Lokomotiv Moscow are top equal with Zenit

Around the turn of the century Lokomotiv Moscow were one of Russia’s top teams: league titles in 2002 and 2004 cemented this. But since Yuriy Semin’s departure as coach in 2005 the club have been an average side, clinging onto the coat-tails of the Europa League places. Those eight years have seen thirteen different head coaches, including a return for Semin, but now they finally seem to have the right man. Leonid Kuchuk does not have a sparkling track record, but his side have only lost three times and have conceded fewer goals than any of their title rivals. Lokomotiv, with a smaller budget than the very biggest clubs, seem to spend wisely (including two recent good signings from Anzhi: Mbark Boussoufa and Lassana Diarra). They also have a record of getting the best out of Russian players – one who’s really come along during recent seasons is Aleksandr Samedov.

There is no clear title favourite in 13-14 – main rivals Spartak and Zenit both have their weaknesses – and Lokomotiv seem a more stable side than the others. They may well be back in the Champions League in 14-15: possibly as Russian champions.

3) Rubin Kazan’ in decline – and their manager of twelve years fired

That Rubin Kazan’ go into the winter break in eleventh place, level on points with Krilya Sovietov and below Rostov and Amkar, is almost as much of a surprise as what has happened at Anzhi. As recently as 1995, Rubin were finishing in the lower reaches of Russia’s third tier (and lowest professional league), but made quick progress over the next eight years and went on to win the Premier League in 2008 and 2009 under Kurban Berdyev. 2009 also saw a famous away victory over Barcelona in the Champions’ League, and that year could have been the club’s high water mark.

The club is by and large run pragmatically – their foreign signings are never the big splashes seen further to the west in Russia, but they pick up effective players who stay put (like Gökdeniz Karadeniz, who scored the second goal in the Barcelona victory). Russian signings are similarly low-key, but Berdyev has brought on players rejected elsewhere (like Alan Kasayev), and lengthened the top level career of others such as Roman Sharonov. But with the club’s league finishes disappointing since 2010 and expectations higher than ever, it could be that the manager has taken Rubin as far as he can. It is the timing of the sacking that caught many by surprise rather than the circumstances, but the winter break provides a lengthy pause in which to find the right manager.

Berdyev himself is still young enough for another big challenge, and is considered by many in the region as an excellent tactician: Dinamo Kyiv, shaky for several seasons, have already been suggested as his next club.

4) Vyacheslav Malafeev isn’t Zenit’s number one keeper – but nobody’s noticing

Goalkeeper Vyacheslev Malafeev is a one-club man, and has been a more or less constant presence in the Zenit side since 2001. Other keepers, including a couple of regular internationals, have been seen off without much trouble.

Until this season, that is. In what is in my opinion the best signing of the season, Zenit picked up Russian-Greek keeper Yuriy Lodygin from the relative obscurity of Skoda Xanthi. An injury to Malafeev meant Lodygin getting an instant chance to impress: he has been ever-present since, and despite being only 23 has looked assured both in league and Champions League matches. Lodygin has since made his international debut for Russia, having refused the opportunity to play for Greece, and at present looks the most likely successor to Igor Akinfeev in the national side.

Malafeev has quickly been forgotten; he would unlikely win his place back were he fully fit. A year ago the thought of him unfit and never playing for Zenit again would have caused alarm. But no player is truly irreplaceable – even a Zenit old boy…

5) The mystery of Fyodor Smolov

A forward with four goals in around ninety appearances at club level would not normally make his country’s national squad: but Dinamo Moscow’s Fyodor Smolov is always picked for Fabio Capello’s Russia. A small Russian top flight and generous limit on non-Russian players does mean that Capello is limited in terms of his national team options – and he should be given credit for going with younger players rather than back to Andrey Arshavin or Roman Pavlyuchenko – but many remain confused by the persistence with Smolov rather than another prospect with a better scoring record.

In this close season there have been suggestions of Smolov moving on loan to relegation-threatened Ural, having provided just one assist and no goals from fourteen Dinamo outings this season. Previous loans (to Feyenoord and Anzhi) brought more experience but just one goal. Smolov is now 23; soon he will stop being considered a prospect and instead a player not good enough to make the grade. A good second half of 2013-14 followed by involvement in the World Cup would mean the slow start is forgotten: nobody remembers much about Arshavin’s relatively late fulfilment of his true potential. But the warning signs are there: plenty of others (Aleksandr Danishevskiy, Alexandr Prudnikov and Ruslan Pimenov to name three) have faded away after promising early careers.

And the less surprising

1) Pitches not up to scratch

A few months ago I wrote a piece for the When Saturday Comes website on the lack of pitches in Moscow: reconstruction work at three of the city’s stadiums and heavy rain led to the two remaining natural pitches not being able to cope with the fixtures of Moscow’s four big sides. The result was Dinamo Moscow taking up semi-permanent residence on the synthetic pitch of a second division side, a CSKA Champions League game being staged in St. Petersburg, a Moscow derby taking place on a training pitch and Spartak fans forced to travel over 800 miles to Ekaterinburg for a ‘home’ match.

The weather always affects the quality of pitches – my personal favourite is watching a Zenit-Dinamo tie around ten years ago on a pitch that looked like a speedway track – but what added to the chaos this year was the bureaucratic cock-up of having three stadiums in the capital closed at the same time. Traditionally Russia’s football pitches are at their worst in March, so there are likely to be more problems and not only in the capital, and some will breathe a sigh of relief that both CSKA and Spartak exited Europe early.

2) Racism reported at matches

There were few surprises when racism was reported at games in Russia. As well as the monkey chants allegedly directed at Yaya Toure by some CSKA fans, there were also reports of pro ethnic Russian chanting at an Anzhi Makhachkala game held near Moscow and a swastika flag raised by Spartak fans during a cup match. This was apparently a reaction to what Yaya Toure had accused CSKA fans of.

If there was widespread condemnation in Russia of the flag incident, then reactions to the other issues were differing. Pro ethnic Russian chanting gets little coverage when it happens – and has been answered at least once in the Caucasus by anti-ethnic Russian chanting. The relatively regular incidents of monkey chanting are explained away in a variety of odd ways: they’re a figment of people’s imaginations; they’re just a means of putting an opponent off; they’re wrong if directed at great players like Toure, but not so otherwise.

One important angle western media tends to ignore is the growing number of Russians uncomfortable with and ready to speak out against incidents of racism at football matches and it is with these people, I believe, that the battle to combat this issue should continue.

3) Valeriy Gazzaev keeps on banging on about a joint Russian-Ukrainian league

When first announced a year ago, the concept of a joint Russian-Ukrainian super league seemed daft. It now seems even dafter, but is seemingly gaining support in both countries. One reason is that the league’s organising committee have actually done some organising and can now answer questions on how the league structure might work. But the key factor behind its continuing existence in theory is the interest in the project of influential clubs like Zenit and Shakhtar Donetsk, and the financial might of Gazprom.

Gazprom’s money has allowed Valeriy Gazzaev to be appointed chief of the project, and he regularly tells the media of what a great idea it is: despite that the league would unlikely feed into European competitions, and relegation would be decided on geographical borders rather that final league placings (so that an equal number of Russian and Ukrainian sides always remain in the league).

A good idea? No way, in my view. But the money behind it means the project will rumble into 2014 – and it may become reality in 2015.

4) Russian sides outside the elite are in danger of going bankrupt

At the second level in Russia, sides pulling out due to financial problems are as common as at semi-professional level in England. Indeed, you have to go back to 2003 for the last time this didn’t happen.

This year is no exception: as well as one side being refused a licence at the start of the season, two more sides could fail to finish this year as both Alania Vladikavkaz and Spartak Nalchik (two sides with recent top flight history) have lost important financial backing. These sides are no back markers: currently in second and twelfth places respectively, it would be a bit like Derby County and Birmingham City finding they were unable to complete the current Championship season.

The main problem is that football in Russia doesn’t pay if you’re not in the Champions League. In the second tier gate receipts are low and merchandising revenue virtually non-existent, leaving clubs almost solely reliable on state funding or rich sponsors to keep going. The problem also affects top flight sides outside the elite few, with both FC Moscow and Saturn disappearing in recent years. One solution is the handsomely-funded joint Russian-Ukrainian league: which would see some of these sides better rewarded, but would cut others in the second and third tiers adrift.

5) Boris Rotenberg on the bench at Dinamo Moscow – again

There are probably not many footballers whose Wikipedia entry mentions a father worth seven hundred million dollars: and Boris Rotenberg’s his uncle is even richer. Boris’s regular appearances as an unused substitute on the Dinamo Moscow bench could have something to do with his wealthy father being club president rather than his burgeoning football talent.

Many fans don’t rate Boris at all as a defender, suggesting his true level is the Russian third tier. Indeed, he has only played regularly in the top flight twice, both times for sides relegated who conceded a lot of goals in the process. But despite this, Boris counts Zenit amongst his previous clubs (no first team appearances) and not long ago he earned a new Dinamo contract as a ‘young prospect’ (at the age of 26).

In interviews Boris comes across as an intelligent man who is eager to succeed, though his true vocation is perhaps not top level football. Having said that, don’t expect him to be anywhere other than the Dinamo bench in the next couple of years.

Saul Pope is a blogger on Russian and Ukrainian football. He can be followed on Twitter: @saulpope

Fans laugh as three penalties awarded in four minutes in Russian match (video)

A few years ago a football manager in the Russian second division caused controversy (and received a 100 000 rouble fine he couldn’t pay) for speaking out about match-fixing in the league. Vladimir Kosogov claimed that many matches at that level were fixed, and named two sides who’d paid money to opponents and referees in the first division to fix games and eventually get promoted to the Premier League.

One of the sides he mentioned was Terek Groznyy, and it is their reserve side, Terek-2, who were beneficiaries of three penalties in four minutes in a recent second division game against Alania reserves (there has been a recent spate of bigger clubs putting reserve sides into the second division, which is the lowest professional level in Russia).

You can see for yourself what happened in this clip of the game – the ‘fun’ starts at around 40 seconds:


Though the camera is a little way from the action, penalty one seems soft – but, to be fair, they get given. The penalty-taker hits the upright with his effort. Penalty two is far more questionable – and parried by the goalkeeper. The third penalty decision is best – given when a Terek (i.e. attacking) player appears to foul an Alania defender in the box. You don’t need to understand Russian to hear the laughter coming from the stands at this point – one man can also be heard asking, “What’s he doing?”

This penalty wasn’t saved – the Alania reserves website wryly comments that their keeper didn’t react “because it was time to end this series of penalty awards”. The website also comments that although there was formal reason to give the first penalty, the other two were given “only by the wish” of the referee. The referee – Sergey Baranov – has this season given eighteen penalties in fifteen second division matches.

Perhaps the final word should go to fans who’ve watched and commented on the clip (translated from the Russian):

“A fan’s fallen over in the stands – give a penalty.”

“The referee’s for sale.”

“Really sad to look at this circus.”

“He needs to referee for Russia in the World Cup – then we’ll definitely win!


Saul Pope is a Russian and Ukrainian football blogger and contributor to “When Saturday Comes” magazine. He can be followed on Twitter @saulpope

Black players at Zenit St. Petersburg? The fans’ views

Recently the St. Petersburg football website http://football-spb.ru/ used its Twitter feed to pose the following question to its followers: How would you react to a dark-skinned footballer playing for Zenit St. Petersburg?

All of the answers were then retweeted, and I have translated these below. I have taken out names – to focus on the replies themselves – though judging by the profile pictures the respondents were both male and female and of various ages. I haven’t included answers that veered away from the original question, and have numbered responses in the order they appeared to make them easier to follow.

With so much in the UK media about Russian football and racism at present, perhaps one of the best lines of enquiry that can be taken as to the seriousness of the problem is to read the words of the Russian fans themselves:

@footballpiter How would you react to a dark-skinned footballer playing for Zenit?

1) There’s no black in Zenit’s colours – therefore nothing to discuss.

2) Negatively – there’s no black in Zenit’s colours. There have never been black players at Zenit, and we shouldn’t break this tradition))

3) Only positively – the colour of skin doesn’t matter if a player can strengthen a team’s game.

4) Only positively – if he strengthens the team then why not?

5) If he’s an excellent footballer who behaves well and doesn’t complain about racism to all and sundry, and if he’ll fly the flag for Zenit – then YES!

6) What’s this? Provocation?

7) It’s important to change things that will lead to improvements. Teams without athletic black players haven’t won trophies for a long time.

8) Negatively)) Africa shouldn’t play at Zenit.

9) Yes, yes, yes. We should buy Toure:)

10) Doesn’t matter what colour if you’re talking about a genuine world-class star.

11) We have enough of them in our championship already!

12) I’ve got nothing against them, but I don’t want any blacks at Zenit!

13) Totally against this – we haven’t had any and shouldn’t have any.

14) If he plays like Pele then I’m totally for it!

15) Nothing personal, but we don’t need black players at Zenit.

16) Would be in favour.

Initial feelings – a depressingly sizeable number with a negative reaction, and for the usual (in my experience) spurious reasons; though some western media outlets might take note of the number of Zenit fans that don’t share this view….

Saul Pope is a blogger on Russian and Ukrainian football and contributor to ‘When Saturday Comes’ magazine. He can be followed on Twitter: @saulpope

Football Petersburg has news about the city’s football scene (in Russian) – and clearly likes to challenge its readership with a question or two…

Another post by me on the topic: Russian fans hold the key to eradicating racism in their stadiums.