Russian clubs financed by public groups are losing ground in the Championship this season to the benefit of formations benefiting from private funds of often billionaire oligarchs.
Zenit’s poor performance shows that the tens of millions invested by Gazprom for record transfers are not enough to ensure the success of the defending champion, eliminated from European competitions. After spending 100 million euros to afford the services of Brazilian striker Hulk and Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel, Zenit are currently in 3rd place, having won three of the last five titles.
Lokomotiv Moscow (9th), financed by the public railway company, is also facing a difficult season in a championship where the first two clubs are controlled by businessmen: CSKA Moscow and Anzhi Makhachkala .
In the days of the Soviet Union, all clubs were state owned: CSKA was then controlled by the Red Army, Dynamo Moscow was led by the Interior Ministry, while Spartak Moscow was founded by unions.
After the fall of the USSR in 1991, capital entered Russian professional clubs which can currently be divided into two groups: those financed by state-controlled companies and those in the hands of private investors, the more often billionaires.
With nine points ahead of Anzhi, CSKA is on track to win a fourth title. Founded in 1923, during the days of the Soviet Union, the club has been run since 2001 by Yevgeny Giner, a businessman born in Ukraine. Since taking charge of the club, CSKA have won three national titles, six editions of the Russian Cup and the UEFA Cup in 2005. The team was for a time sponsored by Sibneft, an oil group then controlled by billionaire Roman Abramovich, now owner of the English club Chelsea.
In addition to the recruits, last November CSKA resumed construction work on a new 30,000-seat stadium, interrupted in 2009, destined to become the first private sports venue in Moscow. “If all goes well, I hope we can inaugurate the stadium by the end of 2014,” Giner said in a recent interview.
Anzhi Makhachakala, a club from the Caucasian Republic of Dagestan founded in 1991, is arguably the best example of successful private investment in Russian football. Almost unknown before its takeover in 2011 by oil and metal tycoon Suleiman Kerimov, Anzhi has since offered the services of Cameroonian star Samuel Eto’o and Brazilian world champion Roberto Carlos, who has become sports director.
Kerimov’s financial support also enabled the club to recruit this winter for 35 million euros Brazilian midfielder Willian, from Shakhtar Donetsk, leader of the Ukrainian Championship.
Anzhi has also renovated its stadium and increased its capacity to 30,000 seats where it hopes to play in the Champions League for the first time.
Spartak Moscow, the most successful club in the country with nine crowns, is in the hands of Leonid Fedun, the second shareholder of the private oil group Loukoïl. Currently 4th in the championship, Spartak finished second to Zenit last season.
Fedun, whose fortune is estimated at seven billion dollars according to the magazine Forbes, said he had already spent a billion dollars to see Spartak regain its glory as an undisputed leader in the past. The billionaire plans to IPO the club after the end of the work of the new stadium which will host matches of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Fedun has so far invested 500 million dollars in the construction of this new enclosure which should be completed this year. “My dream is to organize the IPO of Spartak maybe in 2017 or 2018,” he said in an interview.