Not just for money - Why are top footballers deciding to play in Russia?

Yann M'Vila shocked some people with his decision to sign for Russian outfit Rubin Kazan last week amid reports of him making mega bucks in Russia. However is there more to playing football in Russia than having money thrown at you?

Last week the much coveted French international midfielder Yann M’Vila officially completed a move to Russian outfit Rubin Kazan; turning down the opportunity to sign for QPR and one unnamed Premier League side in favour if the Russian Premier League.

He joins an every growing list of big names who decide to play in Russia with Samuel Eto’o, Domenico Criscito, Kim Kallstrom, Axel Witsel and Hulk all recently making the move west.

When you consider the other options available to them, the weather in Russia, the regional tensions in regards to certain teams and not to mention the constant reports of fan trouble and racism you wonder why players decide to make Russia their home?

Now the easiest answer to the question ‘why?’ is simple; money.

Of course there is an element of truth in that statement. Most footballers who decide to make the move from mainland Europe over to play in Moscow, St Petersburg or Makhachkala are handsomely rewarded for their decision; of that there is no doubt.

But surely there is more to it than money?

We take a look at some of the other benefits of playing in the fastest growing league in Europe.

Small league

For me this is what makes the Russian league one of my favourites outside of England. The league is just 16 teams strong and considering the vastness of Russia and the amount of teams available they could certainly have a league of 20; but they have just 16.

What that makes is a 30-game-season where a midweek game is barely ever possible.

It gives players plenty of time to recover from game-to-game and therefore decreases the risk of injury.

While footballers must love playing football you only have to look at Aston Villa this week; who played West Brom Saturday evening, Bradford Tuesday night and Millwall Friday. You can almost guarantee that M’Vila won’t have to play three games in the space of a week out in Russia.

European football

If you are considered a big star playing in Russia it is likely you are signing for one of the big clubs. For instance M’Vila was not likely to go and play for Mordovia Saransk, no disrespect, no matter how much money they threw at him.

You are likely to sign for one of the teams battling for Europe and with five places up for grabs in the league the chances are your team are going to make it.

Not only that but the small league usually means Russian teams are far more competitive in European competition as can be seen by the success of Zenit and CSKA Moscow in recent years.

Big fish

Most professional footballers have a pretty sizeable ego and nothing feeds that more than being the big fish in a small pond. It was something M’Vila for instance was already accustomed to at Rennes.

That feeling of love and admiration can do strange things to any man and is certainly a big factor in considering Russia as your vocational habitat.

Playing time

If a team in Russia is paying six-figure weekly wages and invested a small fortune in your original signature you can be almost entirely certain they are not going to bench you unless the manager is very, very brave. You are almost guaranteed first team football no matter how useless you play.


Television and media coverage of Russian football is pretty sparse over here so it really does act as an escape from the media savvy Western European leagues. For someone like M’Vila who has attracted a lot of bad press in recent months a move to Russia acts as a means of avoiding that intense spotlight and focusing on one thing; playing football.

So is it all about the money?

image: © superchango

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