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Russia cools passion for foreign football affairs

in General Soccer News 29 Apr 2008

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The Russian Football Union (RFU) and the country's Premier league are losing their passion for foreign players in an effort to stimulate home-grown talent.

RFU boss Vitaly Mutko said that this season only seven non-Russian players could appear at any one time on the pitch in Premiership matches, with that number to be gradually reduced to five by the 2010 season.

The relatively high number of foreign players in the Russian league has drawn criticism from sporting authorities, national manager Guus Hiddink and even the country's president, Vladimir Putin.

“There are too many foreigners in our league,” Putin said.

“I believe their numbers should be limited because now we are short of skilled players of our own as we try to assemble the national squad.

“The amount of foreigners in our league suppresses young domestic talent.”

Russian Sports Minister Vyacheslav Fetisov has also voiced concern about the domination of foreigners in the Russian Premiership.

“Today up to 70 percent of those who play in the Premier league are foreigners,” he said. “More than 200 footballers in just 16 clubs! This is absolutely unacceptable.”

The foreign invasion took root in the early 1990s when the fall of the Soviet Union coincided with a severe economic crisis that hit almost all spheres of life in Russia.

Constant funding shortages wrecked the Soviet-era system of fostering young talent and youth sports programmes virtually vanished.

Hundreds of coaches, who worked in the Soviet system, were forced to train for a new profession to make ends meet.

Home-grown football talent became very scarce and the league's regulations made it far more convenient – and less expensive – for Russian clubs to bring in foreign players.

Adding to the problem is that although many of the foreign imports are leading players with their clubs, few of them can be considered international stars, and most don't shine at all.

Despite this general mediocrity, Premiership clubs often have no choice other than to offer lucrative contracts to attract their foreign footballers.

Only the promise of a robust salary is enough to draw foreigners to Russia, where they often face language problems, relatively low living standards but high living costs and sides that usually fail to shine in European tournaments.

Ukraine's national midfielder Anatoly Tymoshchuk, who was signed last year from Shakhtar Donetsk for a record 20 million euros, is rumoured to receive 2.5 million euros a year at Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg, where he was recently appointed as skipper.

The existing situation has baffled national coach Hiddink, who took over the country's squad in 2006.

The Dutch guru soon discovered that he had a very limited choice from only around 30 players, who are playing in the domestic league.

Hiddink, who has taken Russia to the Euro 2008 finals, has repeatedly expressed his desire to limit the amount of foreign players in the Premiership.

“All the foreign footballers in the Russian clubs should be top-class players,” he said.

“Otherwise the massive presence of mediocre players prevents the cultivation of Russia's young talent and slows down the development of the game in Russia.”

The RFU responded by not only imposing limits on foreigners but also launched a national championship for Premiership youth teams.

“We need to act immediately to re-establish the system of cultivating the country's young talents,” Mutko said. “Otherwise Russian football's future is in serious doubt.”

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