Calling football a ‘Russian game,’ but fielding 8 foreign players – Putin mocks Zenit boss
Fursenko’s rousing speech at the Kremlin on Tuesday was interrupted by a sharp comment from Putin, who turned out to be up to date on football affairs.
“Well done, Sergey! You’ve got eight foreigners running around the pitch for Zenit in the Europa League. And two Russian citizens; and the goalkeeper – that’s three. It’s very interesting what you’ve told us,” he said, bringing the Zenit boss firmly back down to earth.
Last Thursday, the St. Petersburg team beat visiting Spanish outfit Real Sociedad 3-1 in the Europa League, with eight foreigners and only three Russia players in the lineup.
Besides Aleksandr Kokorin, Daler Kuzyaev and goalkeeper Andrey Lunev, there was a Slovenian, a Serbian, an Italian and five Argentine players in the starting 11.
Two of Zenit’s three goals were scored by Kokorin, while three more Russians came on as substitutes during the match.
Russian clubs can have no more than six foreigners on the pitch in domestic competitions, but the so-called ‘limit’, which was put in place in a bid to protect Russian footballers, doesn’t extend to international tournaments such as the Europa League.
Fursenko began his speech at the president’s meeting with sporting officials by proclaiming that “a football revolution” has taken place in the country as it is preparing for the 2018 FIFA World Cup next summer, and went on to paint a picture of the bright future for Russian football.
Putin interrupted his monologue when the Zenit boss said that “moreover, football will become a truly Russian game.”
Fursenko attempted to vindicate himself, saying that “we (Zenit) observe the ‘limit’ in almost every game. The match with the Spanish was the only one where we fielded more foreigners.”
“But we’re really preparing players for the World Cup – Russian players. And it’ll bring results. You’ll see,” he promised.
One can only wonder how many Russians there will be in Zenit’s lineup when they play Norway’s Rosenborg in their next Europe League encounter on October 19.