The Russians have had a bit of a bad press of late, what with state-sponsored terrorism, computer-hacking, invading neighbouring countries, destabilising others, drug-taking athletes, bombing the crap out of the Middle East, and being friends with Donald Trump - so things couldn’t get much worse.
On the other hand, of course they’re currently hosting the Confederations Cup to show the world how nice they are and then have the 2018 World Cup to look forward to which will put their liberal and forward thinking country front and centre on the world stage.
Bad news for them this week therefore when it was announced that their entire 23-man squad from the 2014 World Cup is being investigated over possible drugs offences. Out of a total of 34 suspected Russian footballers, 5 are currently playing in the Confederations Cup.
Except they’re not, because Russia were knocked out of the competition last week. And, in the World Cup, for which they’re under suspicion, they were knocked out in the Group Stages. So the point to be made is this: no one these days is surprised that football in Russia is suspected of being riddled with drug-taking. The shock has to be that they’re so bad at it – they totally suck at cheating.
How can this be? The World Anti-Doping Agency found at least 1,000 people were assisted by what is described as an:
...institutionalised manipulation of the doping control process in Russia.
And I’m all for believing that they offer university scholarships to any sixteen year old who can draw a test tube, to specialize in refining performance enhancing drugs, but hell – you’ve got to be half-decent at it!
The Olympic movement is talking about cancelling every track and field world record on the books up to 1995 due to the influence of doping – because it made the athletes excel beyond their normal level of performance. Even if the Russian footballers are found guilty of systemic drug-taking, does it really matter because it doesn’t seem to have made any difference? They should draft in Keith Richards as a consultant in the future.
So, is it bad drugs or bad footballers? If truth be told it could well be both because - despite me being no expert - I couldn’t name a world class Russian footballer to save my beetroot soup. Heading east from Germany we have Lewandowski for Poland, Shevchenko for Ukraine, and then… well you tell me. The last Russian ‘star’ I remember was Lev Yashin in the '66 World Cup. I couldn’t name a single Russian player since.
No surprise therefore that the Russian people have fallen out of love with their national team – which was apparently intensified by the 1-1 draw they got from England in the Euros last summer. A little harsh on England I thought, given that we dominated the game and they got a ‘lucky’ equalier right at the death, but then we lost to Iceland, so I kind of see where they’re coming from.
However, given that it’s FIFA that’s going to be investigating the drug-scandal, there’s no guarantee it’ll come to anything, although the World Anti-Doping Agency did come out and say:
Even within a governing body with as little credibility remaining as FIFA, if you were a senior official you wouldn’t want to be part of a body that ignores this.
There’s more good news for anyone trying to open up the festering carcass that is FIFA with the German newspaper Bild threatening to publish the investigative report into the Russian and Qatari World Cup bids. What happened after the successful bids were announced was that FIFA were forced into allowing an independent investigation into the bidding process. However, when the report was produced, it was suppressed and a summary report released which made the report’s author resign over its misleading details.
The full report wasn’t due to be released until 2023, but because of Bild's threat to publish, it is (as of today) printed in full on FIFA’s website, and includes reference to collusion, vote rigging, bribery – including one delegate receiving $10 million from Qatar into his 10-year old daughter's bank account. At least it wasn’t the dog's account, eh Harry?
Even the England bid comes under scrutiny with certain favours being granted in return for the possibility of votes – organising friendlies, offering support and advice, nothing too damaging outside the familiar cesspit of friendly-faced corruption on a global scale. And we did refuse to give in to the most ludicrous of ‘offers’ like the South American delegate who wanted a knighthood for his vote, and if that wasn’t available, then he wanted the FA Cup named after him. Sounds crazy but knighthoods have been given for less and we now have the Carabao Cup…
Elsewhere and the annual summer cattle market that is the transfer window is almost upon us. John Terry has received a ‘good offer’ from Harry Redknapp and his dog at Birmingham City (I bet he has) and all of the big clubs have been dabbling in the market waiting for the main gates to open. But the name everyone is talking about is the 18 year old Monaco sensation Kylian Mbappe.
Mbappe, should he choose to leave Monaco, has actually expressed an interest in Arsenal due to Arsene Wenger's track record in nurturing young players. However, given that Wenger is planning to spend a club record fee of £49 million on Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette, and given that Monaco have already turned down £103 million for Mbappe from Real Madrid, I don’t see any point in Arsenal ordering his Oyster Card just yet.
And that will be the next big watershed in world football: the £100 million player. It’ll spark debate and people will throw their hands up at the outrage of it all, and nothing will change. Exactly the same thing happened when Brian Clough paid £1 million for Trevor Francis and people were horrified at this new level of excess - right up until the time he dived in to head the winner on his European debut, and to win the European Cup for Forest for the first time.
Standing room only – it looks like Shrewsbury Town will become the first English League club to have a safe standing area in their ground for the 2017-18 season after the club applied to install the so-called rail seats that have been so successful at Celtic this season. And I can see that this is going to be a popular move, there’s been a growing movement for this to happen and rightly so. For me – not so much though.
Standing in the crowd at the Roker End as a kid and experiencing the uncontrolled helplessness of being in a huge mass of moving people was genuinely terrifying; nothing I’ve experienced since has changed my mind. Those who want to stand – great, fill your boots, I’ll have a nice seat, jump up and down in a controlled fashion if and when appropriate, and if someone can bring a cold beer to my seat in the meantime then I’ll be in heaven.
And finally, England's U21s getting to the semis of the Euros seems to bode well for the future, until you realise that half of Germany’s best U21s are in Russia playing for the first team in the Confederation Cup. Ah well… at least we didn’t lose on pen- oh bollocks.
You really can't make this stuff up, can you?