sports blog by andy shenk

Scandal Sunday – Russia’s Golden Boys Make Headlines

In Russian Football on May 22, 2013 at 5:42 AM

Sometimes scandal can be a good thing, at least when it comes to drumming up interest. I reflect on three big controversies last weekend in the Russian Premier League for Russian Football News. Click here or click on at the end of this excerpt to read the entire article.

It really is unfortunate – a quick glance at the ESPN FC RPL headlines reveals nothing more than transfer rumors and scandals. You won’t find any mention of CSKA’s title, the battle for Europa League places or Alania and Mordovia’s relegation.

For most of the English-language media, the only Russian football that matters is played at the international level. The country’s run to the Euro 2008 semis, Pavlyuchenko, Arshavin and Zhirkov’s subsequent moves to high-profile English clubs, as well as CSKA and Zenit’s UEFA Cup titles established that foothold. But domestic football continues to be overlooked, except when juicy scandals hit, such as the Zenit fan manifesto that encouraged the club to pass on black and homosexual players.

Equally unfortunate, however, is the fact that the best Russian football scandals are often passed over if they don’t have anything to do with exorbitant salaries, racism, homophobia, or Chechnya.

Spend just a few weeks following the story lines in Russian football and you’ll soon realize that the biggest draw often isn’t the play on the field, but rather the fraught relationships between players, fans, coaches, administrators, and officials that grow juicier and juicier each week.

Oh, sure, the football itself is fine in Russia. There aren’t many other leagues that can boast a rivalry like Spartak-CSKA, with 70,000+ regularly showing up at Luzhniki for the top Moscow derby. But nothing makes it that special, either, when compared to the top Western European competitions. Harsh winters, terrible infrastructure and poorly attended matches, as well as a prevalent defensive emphasis, can turn the RPL into a bit of a drag from November to mid-April.

The sustaining force in the sport is its drama, both on the field and off it. Case in point – this weekend’s dose of controversy that engulfed three of the nation’s top football stars – Alan Dzagoev, Aleksandr Kokorin and Roman Shirokov.

Shirokov, Zenit’s inscrutable 31-year-old Russian midfielder, is accustomed to the spotlight. Bitterly sarcastic and honest in interviews, he’s been in a simmering conflict with Zenit’s hardcore supporters since December 2011, when he called them “morons”  for nearly earning the club a technical defeat vs APOEL in the Champions League. Yesterday, after the curva, where his antagonists sit, booed his appearance in the 59th minute, Shirokov celebrated an extra-time goal by nonchalantly turning to the stand and twice demonstratively signaling the fans to shove it.

Continue reading at Russian Football News.

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