Sponsoring – Calcio russo & tycoon con petrodollari

The boom in Russian football has coincided directly with the boom in the economy, and both of these booms owe a lot to the ground, or rather, the underground, where oil is found. Before this discovery and the revival of the country as a whole, Russian football was in turmoil. Following the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 football was the last thing on peoples minds. Players became troubled as the centralised Soviet system was disbanded, fans preferred to focus more on real life issues such as government corruption and Chechnyan separatists, and the government itself had better things to do than invest money in sport. This sparked a huge decline in the standard of football; players craved to move abroad and crowds dwindled. The game was been run into the ground.

That was, of course, until the ground started to produce riches. When it did the man who profited more than most was Roman Abramovich, the now Chelsea owner and serial billionaire. In 2003 it was the company of whom he was major shareholder Sibneft, who started the revolution and money plunging. They decided to sponsor CSKA, one of the countries most successful sides, for £11 million a season. This helped them to increase revenue and wages and most importantly it enabled them to sign foreign players, such as Wagner Love, whom they signed from Palmeiras in 2004 for a record fee of £5.7 million. Football clubs became almost a ‘plaything’ for rich Russian oligarchs and a lot invested heavily, not demanding or even expecting profit. The money soon started spreading, Lukoil invested heavily in Spartak Moscow, allowing them to spend a record £7.7 million on River Plate striker Fernando Cavenaghi and in 2003 Torpedo-Metallurg fielded an entire team of foreigners. Naturally this had an adverse effect on the national team – not that the clubs seemed to mind.

In 2005 CSKA became the first Russian club to win a treble, beating Sporting Lisbon 3-1 in the final of the UEFA Cup, in Lisbon, and winning both the Russian Premier League and the Russian Cup. This served to increase interest in the game and soon enough more investors wanted a piece of it. One of the world’s largest producers of gas, Gazprom, decided to back Zenit St. Petersburg in 2005, investing in everything from improvements to the stadium to players wages. Soon enough Zenit were buying up players just as CSKA had done. They signed Anatoliy Tymoschuk from Dynamo Kiev for a whopping $20 million, in the biggest deal ever done between two former Soviet Union clubs, and most importantly bought in experienced Dutch coach Dick Advocaat. With him at the helm and backed by Gazprom, who had already stated plans to build a brand new 60,000 seater for the club, it was inevitable that Zenit were going places. In 2007 they won the Russian Premier League, their best achievement since 1984, and then went on to win the Russian Super Cup in 2008 and best of all, the UEFA Cup, playing undoubtedly the most attractive football of the competition.



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Marcel Vulpis

Marcel Vulpis

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