Russia’s grand football designs

Russian and Ukrainian administrators consider joint league to circumnavigate UEFA’s financial fair play regulations.

Valery Gazzaev
Former CSKA coach Valery Gazzaev, above, believes a cross border league would attract a bigger fan base and increased television revenue [GALLO/GETTY]

A combined league bringing together the best football clubs in Eastern Europe, including three winners of the UEFA cup – CSKA Moscow, Zenit St Petersburg and Shakhtar Donetsk – may become a reality following UEFA’s deadline to force financial fair play requirements.

Ukraine and Russia’s leading football clubs are heavily subsidised by sponsorship and, unless they manage to considerably improve their income, will have to either say goodbye to all their expensive players, or cease to compete in European competitions.

Former CSKA Moscow coach and head of the united Russian – Ukrainian league’s organising committee Valery Gazzaev, believes that a new championship will help to solve the problem. The theory is simple: a cross border league will be more attractive for football fans and that means more interest from TV and sponsors.

Games between top Russian and Ukrainian football clubs have always attracted extra attention among fans, not only in our countries but around the world … I believe that integration of clubs from different countries will boost interest and financial support for the sport.

– Valery Gazzaev

“Games between top Russian and Ukrainian football clubs have always attracted extra attention among fans, not only in our countries but around the world. Taking into account financial crises in Russia and Europe, I believe that integration of clubs from different countries will boost interest and financial support for the sport,” Gazzaev told Al Jazeera.

“The competition among teams will be very tough and at the same time interesting for fans. We can predict that more than 30 per cent of the league’s income will come from selling television rights and a large amount will also come from selling tickets. I believe that football in both Russia and Ukraine will benefit from the new league.”

Gaining momentum

The idea of a united league was championed by Gazprom’s head Aleksey Miller.

Gazprom, Russia’s natural gas monopoly which owns Russian champions Zenit St. Petersburg and sponsors the UEFA Champions League, is proposing an impressive €1 billion ($1.3bn) budget for the Russian-Ukrainian league and could award an attractive €92m ($118m) prize for the league’s winner. The intention to build a new Russian-Ukrainian league looks more and more realistic after the league announced its budget, formed an organising committee, opened an office in the centre of Moscow and created an official facebook page.

The championship, which will bring top clubs from Russia and Ukraine under one umbrella, has already found a lot of supporters in Russia’s Premier League. President of Moscow’s CSKA Yevgeny Giner, FC Zenit’s president Alexander Dukov, and head of Anzhi’s board of directors Konstantin Remchukov are among strong supporters of the combined championship.

Top-flight clubs from the Russian Premier League have gathered together to discuss the joint league’s perspectives and vote for the project.

On the 18 February the Russian Premier League said ‘yes’.

However there is no such enthusiasm in Ukraine. Many there think that a united championship for Russia and Ukraine is nothing more than someone’s ambitious idea which is practically unrealistic given that there is no approval from FIFA and UEFA.

“We can’t talk about a United Championship without knowing the official position of FIFA, UEFA and the Ukrainian Football Union,”  a Ukrainian Premier League press officer told Al Jazeera.

“And since we don’t know that, we are not planning to take any steps toward a combined league. Indeed, nobody has officially offered to join. This is why we don’t feel right to talk about participation of Ukrainian teams in the championship.”

Ukraine’s top clubs and former UEFA Cup champions FC Shakhtar Donetsk and FC Dynamo Kiev have publicly expressed their support and interest toward the united Russian-Ukrainian football league but stressed that they are not pushing the project forward unless there is a common decision among all clubs in the Ukrainian premier league.

In the meantime, the president of the Ukrainian Football Federation Anatoliy Konkov has expressed a firm ‘no’ to the project. His argument is that by taking part in the united football championship Ukraine will lose the opportunity to participate in the Champions league and the Europa league.

“The President of the Ukrainian Football Federation sees no reason for the Russian and Ukraine premier leagues to combine into one organisation. The Ukrainian premier league is strong enough by itself,” explained FFU spokesman Pavel Ternovoy.

“Another reason is Euro cups. At the moment two Ukrainian teams have chances to fight for the Champions League trophy and four teams for the Eurocup. What is going to happen when the leagues of two countries combine into one? This question is what bothers us the most but if the united league’s organising committee can come up with explanations approved by UEFA, then we are ready to discuss the project.”
While discussion around a united football league continues, Ukraine and Russia’s best four football clubs are planning to play a friendly tournament in June this year, as a first step toward the united league.

Gazprom’s CEO Alexey Miller believes that the Russian-Ukrainian joint football league may kick off as early as 2014, but if the countries are unable to reach agreement soon enough, then the aim is to launch the league by 2015.

Source: Al Jazeera