Few would doubt that the 2006 World Cup in Germany was the catalyst which turned the Bundesliga into the most fan friendly league, containing world class football every weekend. The German government and Football Association allocated €3.7 billion for stadia improvements and construction so that local clubs had arenas that were safe, modern and profitable. Eight stadia were improved (the Olympiastadion Berlin, Signal Iduna Park Dortmund, Commerzbank Arena Frankfurt, Gottlieb-Daimler Stadion Stuttgart, AWD Arena Hanover, Frankenstadion Nuremburg, Fritz Walter Stadion Kaiserslautern and RheinEnergie Stadion Cologne) and two brand new ones were constructed in the shape of the Zentralstadion Leipzig and the Allianz Arena.
The investment began just after the millennium and the long term benefits are being enjoyed by all Bundesliga teams. The average match attendance in the 2000/2001 season was 30,755 (at a time when German football was enduring its darkest days after the European Championship failure) but by 2006/2007 it had hit 39,975, rising again to 42,499 so far this year. A country currently investing heavily in its footballing infrastructure in time for their own World Cup is Russia, and their FA dream of results that the Germans are experiencing, especially when the current average match attendance in the Russian Premier League is 12,813. It is to be expected when you have a division shrouded in the controversy of hooliganism, racism and corruption.
The Russian government have set aside $7.5 billion to improve stadia alone, with sites in Yekaterinburg, Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novgorod, Volograd, Saransk, Samara and Rostov-on-Don being allocated €386 million each (although that is a reduction from the original +$440 million budget). For the 2018 World Cup there is a much more expansive plan than for the edition in 2006, with only two stadia being improved while nine entirely new stadia will be constructed in Moscow, Kaliningrad, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Saransk, Rostov-on-Don and Sochi.
Plans are also in place to improve the internal travel systems in Russia which will greatly improve the ease with which fans can follow their team and make movements much safer and cheaper (Moscow and St. Petersburg are set to be linked up by a new 400 km/h high-speed train service). If internal travel issues are alleviated then the country will become a much more realistic destination for foreign football fans wanting to visit for Champions League and Europa League away days.
Many pundits argue that the major issue in Russian football is much less tangible than stadia, roads and trains. Racism and corruption have blighted the sport in the country for decades and much of the news from the Russian Premier League that reaches the UK concerns black players having bananas thrown at them and referees and club officials being attacked or intimidated by ultras. This week alone Yaya Toure was racially abused by CSKA Moscow fans in the match against Manchester City, fans who have continually shown that the weak threats from UEFA and FIFA have no effect.
The major hope for Russian football is that the light shone upon the country by the travelling World Cup circus will be the first real campaign to eradicate racism. As shown by the coverage of the slave labour of construction workers in Qatar, external public pressure from media around the world can actually make Blatter look out of his Zurich palace and at least acknowledge change is needed. The Brazilian public have used their World Cup to bring their education reform issues to attention and Poland and Ukraine had to answer calls concerning their stance on stamping out racism due to hosting the Euros.
The potential success that can be achieved through popularising the league and making it truly world class is evident when you look into the make-up of the Russian Premier League: 58.6% of players in the division are eligible to play for the national team (a figure which Greg Dyke would kill for back in England) who have now qualified for the World Cup in Brazil. It’ll be a competition in which Fabio Capello will be expected to start the momentum for 2018 and improve on a record which has seen past national teams only qualify for two editions since 1994 and never get through the group stage.
Newly emerging footballing countries are identified throughout the world, such as the US, China and a number of nations in the Middle East. Their resources and love of the game are thought to be reliable indicators for their footballing futures, but Russia has all of these attributes in abundance. The next footballing revolution may actually erupt in Eastern Europe, with Capello at the helm.
image: © PolandMFA