Why is Russia Bad at Football?


Russia is surprisingly mediocre at the beautiful game.

What makes this at first sight all the more surprising is that Russia is hardly a slouch when it comes to many other sports. It is consistently in the top three at the Summer Olympics, beaten out only by the US and China with their much larger populations and financing. It came a resounding first in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. In ice hockey, it is currently a close second to Canada and practically never falls out of the top five.

But when it comes to football, Russia is now, on the eve of UEFA Euro 2016, a miserly 29th in the world, with an Elo rating of 1736. For context this translates to an 86% chance of losing to France, the host country with a home advantage at +100 Elo points, and which is considered to have the highest odds (24%) of winning the tournament.

This is not for lack of interest and enthusiasm. As in almost all of Europe, football is the most popular spectator sport in Russia, even ahead of ice hockey. Even so, even the United States with its essentially dilettante attitude towards football (yes football, not soccer) is ahead in 21st place.

Nor is it for want of financing. Although Russian footballing had a tough time in the depressed 1990s, investment strongly picked up from the 2000s – a development reflected in the hiring of ever more prominent (and expensive) foreign names as coaches of the national football team: Guus Hiddink in 2006, Dick Advocaat in 2010, and Fabio Capello from 2012 to 2015. The two Dutchmen were fairly successful, with Russia seeing its higher ever Elo football rating during this period and advancing to the semifinals in Euro 2008. But under Fabio Capello, the Russian team collapsed so drastically that his contract was ended three years earlier than originally planned. For all the considerable money Russia has spent on its national football team in the past decade, it remains way behind in the Elo ratings relative to both the major European national teams and even some decidedly financially lacking countries such as Peru and Bosnia.

It can’t have much to do with cultural traditions or the specific physiology of Slavs either. Croatia with its mere four million people is 18th and has always punched well above its weight in football. Slovakia, which Russia will face in the group stages of this tournament, is marginally ahead in 25th place globally. Even Japan is now marginally ahead of Russia in the global football Elo ratings, despite the fact that in the case of East Asians, a case can actually be made that cultural and physiological factors might play significant negative roles.

No, the explanation for Russian footballing mediocrity is much more banal, and can be summed up in this one map of January isotherms.


Needless to say, footballing requires a lot of skill.

To develop skill, you have to play a lot. Preferably year round. This is very hard to do when temperatures are substantially below freezing (correlating to the blue parts of the map). You can play in smaller spaces indoors, but it’s just not the same thing. You can theoretically have heated stadiums, but its very expensive and AFAIK nobody actually consistently bothers with it. Furthermore, even if you train your best players in heated stadiums (or abroad) during the winter, national football teams are drawn from (and discarded back into) a huge talent pool. Providing everyone in this category with elite climate controlled facilities is impossible.

The Soviet Union, which was consistently much more successful at football than Russia ever was, proves the rule: A large percentage of its star players were drawn from Georgia and southern Ukraine – that is, the parts of the USSR with the least hostile winter climate. Even today a highly disproportional share of elite Russian footballers come from the Kuban, the only parts of Russia with a winter climate that is at least somewhat comparable to that of Germany. Nowadays Georgia is considerably lower than Russia, but that is on account of a very low population of less than 3.7 million and virtually no money. Meanwhile, Ukraine, with three times fewer people and about ten times less money, is ahead at 16th globally.

Croatia, one of the most successful footballing nations in per capita terms, also happens to be smack dab in some of the most football friendly territory in all Slavdom. That almost certainly explains its impressive per capita performance.

Ultimately, mastery in football requires a combination of physical fitness, discipline, and artistry. The Germanics tend to max out the first two while not slacking on the third either. The Latins max out on the third, and while far more variable than Germanics, their best teams in any one year have the first two well down as well. My impression is that the Russian team at its best tends to be adequate at all three – it can be energetic, and artistic, and even well disciplined (the latter especially when coached by a Germanic).

But not outstanding. All three elements to some extent lack a degree of what I can only describe for lack of a better word as polish: Discipline but losing possession due to blunders just that more frequently than the Germans or the Dutch; Enthusiastic and active when they have the tempo, but that much more prone to sink into despondency when the tide turns against them; Creative but without quite the out-of-this-world flair and finesse of the very best Latin teams.

We shall soon see if Leonid Slutsky has made any progress in restoring the Russian football team to at least the level it was pre-Capello. But for Russia to get a truly worldbeating time it will probably have to wait for methane clathrate collapse plus thirty years for the post-runaway global warming generation of footballers to come into their prime. /sarcasm

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. We shall soon see if Leonid Slutsky has made any progress in restoring the Russian football team to at least the level it was pre-Capello

    He lost three key players (most notably fantasista Alan Dzagoev) to traumas. This is a disaster any way one looks at it. Slutsky is a very decent coach (well, I am CSKA fan, naturally;-) but the team doesn’t have players of Arashavin’s or Zhirkov’s caliber anymore. Having said that, Russia’s 3rd place on Euro-2008 was impressive, especially with the type of truly beautiful football team played. My prognosis based on what I saw, read and hear is that the team will fail to get out of the group, sadly. I hope I am wrong.

  2. Thorfinnsson says

    It’s called soccer in America, as you are well aware.

    If you wish to refer to it as football, use the metric system, or eat horse meat there are many countries you can emigrate to.

  3. If you wish to refer to it as football, use the metric system

    Then, I guess, all software and computer industry of the United States should also emigrate. Can you imagine a horror of using KILObytes, MEGAbytes and other those nasty metric system abominations like TERA. I am also absolutely appalled when buying guns with the fact that they sell me 9-mm Ruger or, God forbids, 7.62 mm US version of AK. What a losers!!

  4. I think it’s too easy to blame it on the climate. Bad youth coaching is a big factor, and one Russia shares with the UK, where winters are not excessively harsh. The EPL has half of the world’s super-prestigious clubs, but the England national team struggles to maintain mediocrity. That’s a similar level of underperformance.

  5. Arshavin became a joke at Arsenal with his laziness, and Zhirkov never left the bench at Chelsea. Even Kerzhakov could not hold down a starting spot at Sevilla. Where are players like Karpin and Mostovoi, who were productive and creative in La Liga week in week out?

  6. Arshavin became a joke at Arsenal with his laziness

    Not after 4 goals at Anfield;-) Truth is, it wasn’t just Arshavin’s laziness (which was part of his persona, albeit significantly overstated) but overall Arsen’s approach to the game which in some sense doomed Arsenal to a dry spell. Zhirkov, on the other hand, didn’t leave the bench not because of bad performance, if anything else he was good, but he was very trauma-prone player.

  7. Verymuchalive says

    In England’s case this has been severely exacerbated by a policy of recruiting over-priced and often underperforming foreigners. The most notorious example has been Arsenal. Many times they played teams without a single Englishmen. Result: large sums of money leave the domestic economy in the form of transfer fees and wages, which go abroad when the player returns to his homeland. Young native players are precluded from making the grade by the expensive foreign imports.
    I have noticed something similar with the top Russian teams. Neither England nor Russia will improve as national teams until their top clubs recruit mainly from their youth and feeder clubs

  8. Anonymous Nephew says

    “Young native players are precluded from making the grade by the expensive foreign imports.”

    There’s also the UK’s increasing black population – skilful native white players can lose out in teenage soccer to earlier-developing (therefore stronger and faster for the age group) native black players, so don’t get the coaching to develop (Steve Sailer has noticed this in relation to US basketball).

    Half of the new talent coming into the England squad is non-white. The new black goalscoring sensation, Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, is 18 and came up via their youth system. The new white goalscoring sensation, Leicester’s Jamie Vardy, is 29, was dropped at 16 from a league club’s youth system, and spent the intervening years in low-level non-league football until Leicester signed him at age 25.

  9. Thorfinnsson says

    Bits and bytes aren’t metric, nor is there a separate American system for measuring digital information. There’s nothing uniquely metric about Greek numeric prefixes, and digital information isn’t base ten.

    9x19mm parabellum and 7.62 x 39mm are both foreign cartridges.

    That said our own government has fallen to the foreign menace by re-designating classic American cartridges such as .223 and .308 as “5.56 x 45 NATO” and “7.62 x 51 NATO” (I realize there were some other changes but this is unacceptable).

    Of course it’s not exactly news that the US Federal government is the enemy of the American nation, so their embrace of the metric system makes sense.

  10. Easy answer, promote winter Futsal leagues to develop the skills.

  11. but this is unacceptable

    Really? Unacceptable by who? Then withdraw all US track and field athletes (and swimmers, and heavy lifters too) from Olympic Games and other global sports competitions in specific sports because the rest of the world goes by precisely metric system. They run 100 and 1500 meters, swim relays 4 x 200 meters, run 10 kilometers (10 000 meters) etc. As per this masterpiece:

    Bits and bytes aren’t metric, nor is there a separate American system for measuring digital information.

    Sir, “measuring” modern data is done precisely by metric system since Kilo, Mega, Giga, Tera etc. ARE multiples of 10^n, which IS the foundation of the metric system. The reason? Watt is not a “metric” unit, but counting watts as Kilo or Mega is counting them in metric system, because all that are multiples of 10. Kilo Ohms, Mega Ohms, Kilo Volts, Kilograms etc. it is all represented in metric system since the quantity is represented as a multiple of 10. When somebody tells me that the distance to some point is 1.58 kilometers I (as most mildly educated people in the world) have no problem instantly knowing that it is 1580 meters. Now try to convert instantly in your head 1.58 miles into feet or yards. Good luck with that.

  12. Thorfinnsson says

    It’s unacceptable to Americans that our own government prefers a foreign system of measurement. While popular opposition did succeed in preventing the government from imposing the metric system in the 1970s (unlike the other Anglo countries, all of which have fallen to the metric darkness), the government has adopted the metric system for its own internal purposes.

    The Olympic Games are a global competition. Most of the world uses the metric system, so there’s nothing objectionable about Olympic events being denominated in metric units. What is objectionable is how in the past generation or so purely domestic contest in America have moved from English to metric units with some exceptions.

    Kilo, mega, giga, tera etc. are not multiples of 10^n in data. A megabyte is 1,024 kilobytes, not 1,000.

    There is no need to evangelize to me about the benefits of base 10. There are many benefits to the metric system, but we have our own system of measurement that we are comfortable with.

    People living in this country should assimilate, which means among other things saying soccer and using the term football to describe a rather different game.

    No doubt you are a foreigner and in your own country you have your own way of doing things. That’s fine, perhaps you can recognize that so do we.

  13. Russian national team won once and got to the finals of several beach football world cups. It is not just the issue of climate. Anyone who remembers a magnificent Soviet National team led by Valery Vasilievich Lobanovsky of 1986 World Cup and 1988 European Cup, where this team has shown a phenomenal game and reached finals where lost in absolutely equal game to Dutch (Van Basten’s goal does still hurt;-) It could be argued that that team with the exception of phenomenal Segei Aleinikov (from Dynamo Minsk) and Rinat Dasaev and Vagiz Hidiatullin (from Moscow Spartak) was 80% Dynamo Kiev and the joke:

    Q–What is Soviet National Football Team?
    A–It is Dynamo Kiev weakened by several players from Moscow Spartak.

    Was very much to the point. With the exception, of course, of other non-Dynamo players being world-class themselves. Kiev, climate wise, could be as nasty cold and snowy as Moscow, albeit Ukraine’s climate generally is warmer, but this didn’t prevent Dynamo Kiev being a very strong and reputed (Two European Cup Winners Cups + 1 Super Cup) UEFA fighter. And then there was NO foreign players at all. While CSKA’s 2005 UEFA Cup could partially be attributed to the magic of Daniel Carvalho and Wagner Love, CSKA’s defense for a long while was one of the best among all European clubs. 2008 Zenit’s very attractive game (including annihilation of Bayern Munich) on the way to its first UEFA Cup (later Europa League) and then winning Super Cup against Man U–with the exception of Chori (Alejandro Domingues) was made by Arshavin? Anyukov, Zyryanov and other first class Russian players. It is not just the climate, something larger is here at play. I think current introduction of the newest stadium infrastructure, such as beautiful modern stadiums of CSKA, Spartak, Rubin Kazan, Krasnodar, Zenit etc. will have a major impact on the game in mid to long term perspective.

  14. No doubt you are a foreigner and in your own country you have your own way of doing things. That’s fine, perhaps you can recognize that so do we.

    Sort of. I live in US and do use local system. After all, I drive on US highways and have no problems in orienting myself. But my point here is precisely on “globalism” and metrology issues. As per football being called locally a soccer–if it is such a big issue for you that you ask people to emigrate elsewhere for not calling a derivative of rugby as “locals do”, then we really have a problem here. I thought rejecting US republican form of governance, US good judicial system, primacy of law, Constitution and its most important amendments, denigrating US natural beauty and, for the most part, decent hard-working people, was serious reason for suggesting to people to leave the country. This I would accept, but having American football (and that is how it is known globally) being such an important part of one’s national identity that it becomes a point of contention and chauvinism, forgive me Sir–but your national priorities are really misplaced.

  15. Anonymous says

    Soccer is gay.

  16. Halvorson says

    Everything you wrote about Croatia’s climate and the way it explains the country high level of performance in soccer makes perfect sense but…..we American sports fans can’t help but notice that in the last 25 years the ex- Yugoslavs have also been massively overrepresented among the ranks of NBA players. Montenegro alone has produced three pretty good NBA players in the last five years (all named Nikola something-ic). Part of the explanation is just raw height: some sources will tell you that the people of the Dinaric Alps are the tallest in the world, even bigger than the Dutch. But the South Slavic advantage in height is not very large compared to North Europeans and doesn’t come to explaining their overall advantage. Maybe they’re just the best natural athletes in Europe.

  17. No, tying one’s (misplaced) sense of masculinity to a half-sport, half-show is gay. I have more respect to baseball as a true American sports than to this over the top, into your face show which still thinks that it is global (Superbowl winners for some reason are touted as “World Champions”)–that is gay. Put any NFL player on the field during Chelsea-Man U, or Inter-Juventus game just for runs, forget technical actions, I guarantee you none of them will last even the first half (45 minutes) of the game. Put any of them to fight NHL tough guys and observe how these Canadian or US guys will beat the shit out of them even beyond the confines of ice rink, as on the ice…. And then, of course, comes real rugby and Australian rules football–those guys are rottweilers whose necks are wider than their heads. You wanna see rough–watch them. You will also observe some really disturbing traumas and a lot of blood. And then comes another fact: NFL doesn’t have “national” team. Very few nations play it and really care about it, but US men’s soccer team since 1990s is well respected, and after a magnificent run at 2002 World Cup, has a very deep respect globally and is treated as equals and a dark horse capable to beat just about anyone. Granted, of course, that Jurgen Klinsmann will make right decisions. Names of Landon Donovan, Tim Howard or Clint Dempsey are known globally, literally. And guess what–it is them, not some NFL franchise, who represent US as a nation, American spirit and skills on the global stage. I find this not gay at all.

  18. Yeah it’s the same reason why there are so many good Latin American baseball players (and have been for a while): able to play all year round.
    PS: soccer is for fags


  19. Harsh winters in the Northeastern USA are also the reason that baseball was for so long the US’s top spectator sport, and even now is the reason that the American football season is so short (I don’t know of other major sports anywhere in the world where the season is so short).

    Regarding Russian mediocrity in Soccer, I don’t entirely buy it. Russia doesn’t dominate Ice Hockey as one might expect from the size of its population and its horrible winters, it’s inferior to Canada (a quarter of Russia’s population) and on par with Sweden and Finland, which are even smaller.

    Seems like Soviet authorities were never interested in developing team sports to the same degree as individual sports, a bit paradoxical for a country rules by a collectivist ideology, but there you have it.

  20. Anonymous says

    Soccer is still gay.

  21. jimmyriddle says

    The USSR side in the ’86 World Cup was pretty good. It was heavily based on the Dynamo Kiev side of Oleg Blokhin et al.

    They were dumped out by Belgium in the first knockout stage, 4-3, in one of the best world cup games ever. If they had won that they would have probably made it to semi-finals and played Argentina.

  22. Verymuchalive says

    You make a very valid point.
    Once top British clubs signed their players as adults ( 18+ ) from other minor clubs. These players had done or were completing apprenticeships and study for a variety of adult jobs and professions whilst playing part time for these minor clubs.
    Thus the Celtic team which won the European Cup in 1967 had a plumber, a joiner and a dentist in their ranks. Their captain, Billy McNeill, was signed from minor league Blantyre Vics when he was 20. He continued to study for his Accountancy exams.
    Other clubs were little different from Celtic in many regards.
    Then in the mid-1960s, clubs were permitted to sign school-age players on so called S forms.
    Within a decade, lots of minor feeder clubs found their best players were no longer signed by the top clubs as the latter concentrated on youngsters. 50 years on and the clubs concentrate on players barely in their teens. Top sides are not signing players from the likes of Blantyre Vics.
    This has had 3 very detrimental effects.
    1 The clubs are concentrating more effort on ever smaller target groups with fewer benefits for the club. You can tell if a player is capable of being a good player when he is 18 or 20 much more easily than when he is 13.
    2 The old system tended to produce well-adjusted young adults with an adult attitude to work and life. The present system is producing players that were selected in their early teens and have been pampered ever since.
    3 The high failure rate of young players means most responsible parents will be unwilling to sign the forms unless they receive a very lucrative offer. This results in a disproportionate number of ghetto kids amongst young players.

  23. Anatoly Karlin says

    Can’t believe you haven’t posted this excellent map yet.

  24. There did seem to be a flowering of Russian football around the middle of the last decade leading to Russia’s fine performance at the Euro 2008. That team also fit the traditional Russian/Ukrainian/Soviet counter style that goes back to the 60’s. Nowadays I can hardly think of any prominent Russian players and it is quite surprising that all those investments didn’t produce any returns today. Lack of investment in youth perhaps?

    The great writer on football tactics and culture, Jonathan Wilson, had chapters on Soviet football and it’s twin discovery, along with Holland, of modernity in football in the 60’s. So it is quite peculiar that Russia never managed to build on it. Interesting that the Soviet team was dominated by non-Russians and that may well explain it. Although I believe Russian(Moscovian) teams did quite well for themselves in the Soviet league I think.

  25. marginalrealist says

    Poor pitches for amateurs due to the weather in England and Northern Spain (Real Sociedad, Bilbao traditionally known for playing uglier football) cause teams to play long ball, they do not develop the technical skills for the professional game. This would not explain Germany though.

    I remember reading an article about Iceland installing artificial pitches and thus their current success.

    Steve Sailer remarked during the 2014 world cup how Germany’s players were all from good homes. In England more well to do people play rugby, cricket, etc. Southampton are noted for their youth academy’s product(Bale,Walcott,Shaw,Chamberlain,etc.) due to being the only large club in their middle class catchment area. This might explain how Germany plays good football with poorish weather.

  26. Dick Advocaat in 2010

    I think that most people who’ve perused American newsstands are aware of a gay-themed glossy magazine called The Advocate. If its editor has any sense of humor, he should hang that Dutch coach’s portrait above his desk.

    A large percentage of its star players were drawn from Georgia and southern Ukraine

    Before the Donbass War my main mental association with the Donbass was the Shahtyor Donetsk football team.

  27. Anatoly Karlin says

    Neither England nor Russia will improve as national teams until their top clubs recruit mainly from their youth and feeder clubs

    Other people say the precise opposite.


  28. Anatoly Karlin says

    But the South Slavic advantage in height is not very large compared to North Europeans and doesn’t come to explaining their overall advantage. Maybe they’re just the best natural athletes in Europe.

    I think the key factor is that far more Yugoslavs want to leave relative to the Dutch or Swedes.

  29. Mark Eugenikos says

    unlike the other Anglo countries, all of which have fallen to the metric darkness

    Metric darkness? So this is now a religious discussion? How many angels can you fit on 1/64 of an inch?

  30. Verymuchalive says

    So you think that Iceland – with an even more inclement climate than Russia – has prospered by signing over-priced foreigners ? No it’s not. By careful youth and feeder club coaching – as well as use of soccer barns and similar facilities – it has become the smallest country to qualify for a major championship. It finished top of its group and defeated the Netherlands home and away.
    In the 1970s Iceland was down there with Andorra in the pits. It has taken decades of thought and application to reach this pinnacle. It may take Russia a long time to improve even with well-thought out policies.
    The population of Iceland is 300,000.

  31. On the map Iceland is much warmer than most of Russia. I guess the Gulf Stream reaches it? In general in winter the ocean gives back the warmth that it accumulated in the summer and vice versa. Because of this coastal areas have lower temp swings between seasons than inland areas. Most of Russia’s population lives well inland in the continental climate zone.

  32. Anatoly Karlin says

    Also: In physical terms Icelanders might be the most perfect representatives of humanity. See their absurd preponderance in strongman and Crossfit competitions.

  33. On top of that, noone of any real talent ever moves to Russia to enhance the league. It’s one big comfort zone for natives.

    Gerard Clare, obviously, never heard such names as Hulk, Garai, Vitzel etc. Respectively national teams of Brazil, Argentina, Belgium. Long time Croatia national team goalkeeper Stipe Pleticosa, forward Ivica Olic, bunch of other real talented people, including from other East European national teams, even Keisuke Honda from Japan’s national team. Sure, they never “enhanced” the league.

  34. [Steve Sailer remarked during the 2014 world cup how Germany’s players were all from good homes.]

    The mulattoes among them are not from good homes.

  35. unpc downunder says

    The biggest problem with English football, cricket and rugby is too many first division teams. This makes for a weak first division competition between the top teams. It also explains why English sportsmen tend to lack mental toughness – you need a highly competitive scene to toughen up players and weed out the nervy ones who panic under pressure.

    If England imports too many foreign players its probably because they have too many positions to fill and should be thinking instead about downsizing the size of the premiere league.

  36. Verymuchalive says

    Windchill in winter is pronounced in Iceland, exacerbated by the lack of shelter – trees to you.
    The effective playing season is about the same for much of European Russia.
    However, the higher precipitation and the low summer temperatures mean that there are more chance of cancellations and poorer playing conditions than are the case in European Russia.
    The average temperature of the warmest month in Reykjavik is a little over 11c and some parts in the east average only 9c.
    Iceland’s “advantage” over European Russia is more apparent than real.

  37. Verymuchalive says

    ” The biggest problem with English Football, cricket and rugby is too many first division teams. ”
    Cricket and Rugby I don’t know. There are not many leagues which are directly comparable.
    With European Football, the top 5 – England, France, Italy, Spain and Germany – are so much bigger than the rest and are directly comparable. The first four have top divisions of 20 teams each. Only Germany has a top league of 18 teams. By direct comparison, English football does not have too many first division teams.
    France, Italy, Spain and Germany have all won the World Cup in the last 20 years, Italy and Spain with sides entirely of native white players.
    England won the World Cup only once – in 1966 – at Home. Their general record is mediocre to say the least.
    Whatever English Football’s problems, it is not due to too many top clubs.

  38. Lyov Myshkin says

    I always put it down to limits on number of people outside of the EEC being allowed to train at European clubs. Russian kids couldn’t get the best development at the elite European clubs, so they didn’t get to fulfill their true potential.

    Messi wouldn’t be Messi if he had stayed at Newell’s I don’t think. Maybe Javier Saviola, but not Messi.

  39. Kuper and Szymanski argue in Soccernomics that national success is largely determined by population, wealth and experience, and that by these metrics (can I use that word?) England mildly overperforms. Compared to England, Russia has the bigger population, smaller GDP, roughly similar experience; I don’t remember the weights put on the three factors.

    As an English transplant into an American state with some long, harsh winters, the weather thing makes some sense. I think the interaction between weather and GDP is key: you need to have the resources to build quality indoor facilities. This is what Iceland did.

    I greatly enjoy watching Russian teams (club and country) play. They’ve historically had an identifiable style: a mix of precision, artistry and organisation that’s somehow idealistic and scientific (I don’t mean to romanticise). Even the weaker teams are interesting to watch, in some ways more so – there’s a refusal to compromise principles even when the players are mediocre.

    Good luck today, but not too much…

  40. If you were explaining it to a layman in a few accessible sentences, how would you compare the relative influence the population pool of a football team has on its performance relative to the influence the population pool of an American football team has on its performance?

    In the latter case, it’s virtually none at all. American football teams are comprised entirely of athletes with essentially zero geographic connections to the cities they play for. The roughly 1800 active NFL players may as well be put into a gymnasium and then picked by the 32 teams like a bunch of arbitrarily selected team captains picking teams for schoolyard pickup tournament. A couple of years ago HBD chick looked at the rosters of the two Super Bowl teams and found ~2 out of 130 players were actually from the states they were playing for.

    As a parochial American who doesn’t know anything about what we call soccer, are there rules that preclude this from happening in Europe/FIFA?

  41. jimmyriddle says

    The top flight of English football is very much the same these days.

    40 years ago the West Ham side had quite a few East Londoners – Trevor Brooking, Billy Bonds etc But even then most of the players were from all over the UK and there was a Bermudan – Clyde Best.

    These days the average Premier League team will have a handful of British players, if that. It’s not all that uncommon to see 11 foreign players fielded.

    There used to be restricted to 2 non-British players, but that was deemed illegal by the EU in the ’90s.

  42. Turned out today that Russian team which literally had her center zone torn out (by traumas) played a very tactical game. Akinfeev was really good, so was Ignashevich. One of those games which will be used in training videos. But again, CSKA defense line which has an enormous Europa and Champions League (and WC) experience can not be dismissed easily. England was a typical England, with excellent runs and some flashes of sheer brilliance (Rooney anyone?)–but this level of competition needs more. It is a very tough group.

  43. If your national football team wins the Olympic tournament, each player of course receives his own medal but the victory only contributes a single medal to your countries overall medal count. In a sport like weight-lifting, boxing, or one of the wrestling disciplines your nation could conceivably win a medal in each weight class and thereby contribute much more to the final tally than any victorious stick-and -ball team. Similarly, in gymnastics there is a separate medal for each event.

  44. soccer…. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  45. I think it’s too easy to blame it on the climate. Bad youth coaching is a big factor, and one Russia shares with the UK, where winters are not excessively harsh.

    I’ve always thought England had a comparable climate problem – too much rain.

    The best teams tend to play a short distance, low to the ground, fast passing game – mud and wet grass effects this and I think that’s why England players tend to grow up kicking the ball high and long.

  46. as well as use of soccer barns and similar facilities


    Iceland seems like it would be a perfect example of the climate effect – both cold and very wet – but maybe that is why they were forced to build facilities to get around it and it worked?

  47. unpc downunder says

    If your talent pool is limited, as England’s is, then it does make sense to reduce the number of top teams. Maybe Spain and Italy have more natural talent, so they can get away with it. France is a very inconsistent performer so that is not a great example. And Germany does have more teams than England. The English have 20 top teams for 40 million people, while Germany has 18 teams for 85 million people. And as far as cricket and rugby go:

    England has 12 top rugby teams to New Zealand’s 6, and England has 18 top cricket teams to Australia’s 5.

    However, English sport is more concerned with tradition and making money than national performance, so it’s unlikely to initiate the necessary changes.

  48. Hibernian says

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  49. That sounds just as stupid as everything else Kuper has ever written.
    I was predicting a very tedious match with Russia letting in a soft goal in injury time and losing 1-0.

  50. cliff arroyo says

    Another reason is that baseball was the number one sport when radio was the most prestigious media. The structure of baseball (easy to visualize individual actions against a static background) translates much better to radio than does basketball or football or soccer.

    It was in the 60s (esp after color tv became the norm?) that the transition to football as the US number one sport began since it plays much better on tv than baseball whose static form works against it on tv.

    Soccer, as many have noted, just does not work very well with US TV formats.

    Also everything else about soccer tends to work against American sporting tastes:
    soccer is played by generalists rather than specialists, s
    coring is both rare and unpredictable,
    play is continual instead of broken up into discrete units,
    you can win a championship without actually winning the final,
    it’s harder to keep soccer stats than football or baseball or basketball stats etc.

  51. Anatoly Karlin says

    Well, today confirmed it – the Russian team is still shit. Of course they were in luck since England had nothing to write home about it either though in their case its probably more of a management problem.

    At least both countries’ fans make up for it on the streets.

  52. The English media are whining today, so their lads must have lost the fight on the streets and in the terraces.

  53. Verymuchalive says

    The top English teams have higher average attendances than all other European teams, Barcelona and Real Madrid excepted. And England has more people than Spain.
    The natural talent argument is a red herring as having the right system in place is necessary to produce the requisite talent. From the top down to the grass roots, England does not have the right system in place.
    You are right on one important point. Whilst the top clubs are making vast sums, especially from TV, there is no incentive to change.
    Once the recession starts to fully enfold- and the TV money collapses – only then will the necessary changes start to be applied. That may be some years away

  54. Verymuchalive says

    Norway is another Football nation that has improved in the last 20 years through similar methods. IMHO they should be more widely built in many more cold and wet winter climates.

  55. Sandgroper says

    Americans call them English units. The English call them Imperial units. I’m just saying.

  56. Sandgroper says

    On that map, red could also stand for countries that have killed people during space flight due to silly engineering oversights.

  57. Then payroll differences come into play? In the US that matters in baseball.

    In American football every team has the same salary cap and draft pick placement corresponds inversely with season performance from the year before. The upshot of this socialist approach to the sport is that it’s difficult to predict what the best teams will be three years out.

  58. Sergei Aleinikov not from Odessa but cold cold Minsk. Played football like gypsy do three-card monte. Took away ball from opposing player without other guy even notice and pick his pocket too. Look left turn right. Defender twist legs into pretzel but not catch Sergei Yevgenyevich. Almost Euro champion in ’88. Is not temperature or climate. Is talent. Maybe Russia not have enough talent in this generation.

  59. stakhanovite says

    I thought I’d answer on here since it’s my twitter comment you referenced.

    My tweet didn’t have enough space to fully convey what I meant, so here’s an expansion answer.

    The names you mentioned almost exclusively played for Zenit or CSKA. Most of them went for the money, as several failed imports at other teams showed. Those who moved as unknowns were on their way out after a couple of years to a big league.

    That feeds into one of the reasons I say it’s a big comfort zone for native players – they get a really big wage at the top few teams, more than they could ever get at a team abroad relative to their ability. On top of that, no other country with a similar language or mentality has more money than Russia, so they’re at the top of their regional totem pole. The big leagues such as England, Germany, Spain etc are attracting players from the surrounding poorer countries, those players have to really stand out to make a good career and salary. In Russia, you just need to have a basic level of ability and you’ll make outrageous money. Why move to a country that would be completely alien to you, when you can live like a king in your own?

    And the third reason further explains my last few sentences there – Russia has a limit on foreigners in each squad – essentially you have to play a majority of Russians in your starting XI, which makes even average players, by international standards, become high-demand and therefore able to command a large salary.

    Another reason I suspect that has had a bit of impact on Russian performances is the move to a winter league – instead of going to international tournaments mid-season, and at the top of their form, they’re now going at the end of a long season. Essentially they lose any fitness advantage and compete on a level playing field. It may work out better in club competitions, but then it was in the winter league system that CSKA and Zenit won European trophies.

    I also suspect it’s a clear mentality problem, as Russians play a lot of futsal at a casual level and have good technical abilities.

  60. The names you mentioned almost exclusively played for Zenit or CSKA. Most of them went for the money

    Thank you very much for clarifying because prior to this I thought that all EPL or La Liga stars played for merely recognition and food;-) I apologize for my sarcasm, no malice is intended. As per Zenit and CSKA–and what’s wrong with it? Obviously, first rate, world-class players who get to RFPL are naturally gravitating to the biggest clubs in Russia. Hulk, even if to imagine that Galitsky would have his salary covered, would not go to play for Krasnodar. Zenit? Totally different game–constant participation in Champions’ League, high places in RFPL, glitzy world-renown St. Petersburg etc. Why not? I remember, after Rubin downed Barcelona at Camp Nou in Champions League (Berdyev’s team later went on to score a bunch of victories over top flight La Liga clubs) several years ago, I read an interesting exchange on FC Arsenal (of EPL variety) forum. It was about the quality of RFPL and a unanimous conclusion was and I quote that RFPL was “a no joke league”. It is not, obviously, a competitor to La Liga, EPL, Serie A or Bundesliga, but it is sure as hell is not at the bottom.

  61. As it turned out, this was a Russo-French alliance against English lads.


  62. Sergei Aleinikov not from Odessa but cold cold Minsk.

    Absolutely true–Dynamo Minsk and, later, with Zavarov played for Juventus. A magnificent universal player with phenomenal strike.

  63. Well, today confirmed it – the Russian team is still shit.

    Too early to tell. The team played without its organic mid-field. This is a huge factor. Only after Wales and Slovakia games will it be possible to make a final conclusion.

  64. stakhanovite says

    Some of your comments actually reinforce my own argument, but you also didn’t address all of my points. 😉

    Rubin was one of the few moments where players were motivated, and it was by a good manager. But then, even my own team Celtic beat Barcelona and qualified out of that group. Even small teams can have a temporary run.

  65. jimmyriddle says

    Payroll comes into play in a very big way. Amusing fact – there was a £20 a week maximum wage until 1961.

    Teams are also not allowed to borrow excessively. This was mostly aimed at 2nd tier clubs who try to spend their way to the top and crash and burn. In English football, unlike the USA, we have relegation and promotion. The bottom 3 sides in the premier league are demoted to the “Championship” division. The top 2 sides of the Championship are promoted to the Premiership. The 3rd-6th sides have a play-off tournament and the winner of that is also promoted. The play-off final game has the biggest prize in world sport – worth nearly $250 million this year.

    There is a squad size limit of 23 now and that has made a difference especially for the English Premiership underdogs. After the super-rich teams Manchester United, Manchester City, Real Madrid etc have filled their squads, the lesser English sides (which are very rich now thanks to Rupert Murdoch’s determination to hang-on to his pay-TV near monopoly) can still pick-up really good players. For example, West Ham signed Dimitri Payet.

    So, perhaps, the “fluke” premiership victory of Leicester City will be the start of a new pattern and the oligarch-funded Chelsea and Man City etc won’t be so dominant.

  66. Mightypeon says

    Concerning the Russo-French fan alliance, I have heard rumors to the effect that this was started by some drunk English hools who mistook the French tricolore for the Russian one, and attacked French fans thinking they were Russian.

    Some Russian fans interceded, initially also thinking that the attacked fans were Russian as well, due to the nature of the creative terms used by the English sport enthusiasts to describe their erstwhile quarry. Upon ascertaining that the aggrieved fans were as a matter of fact French, the Russian fans quickly exploited the not so sterling display of English geographical and diplomatic skills to rapidly and spontaneously improve Russo-French fan relations.

  67. That’s a good joke, but there was no reason for locals to be wandering around with their national flag. The strong territorial instinct of the inhabitants of Marseille, meeting the instinct of the English to invade their territory, is sufficient to account for conflict, if that’s the way things went down.

  68. jimmyriddle says

    We’re talking about knuckle dragging hooligans, not rocket scientists.

    When England were beaten by Germany in Euro ’96 a Russian student was stabbed in Brighton. White guy, funny accent, must be a kraut…

  69. Mightypeon says

    @ jimmyriddle

    they dont have to be rocket scientists. Football clashes are basically western 21rst century tribalism, and tribalism is pretty easy to understand. “Hej, we have an opportunity to ally with another tribe, on whose ground we are btw., against a tribe we have a longstanding feud! Great idea!”.
    You may also end up being surprised, quite a number of hools can be quite high functioning people in their normal lifes.

  70. anonymous says

    Soccer players are not gay (look at their wives and girlfriends) and gays are not soccer fans (ask to anyone in Europe if gays are more or less likely to be soccer fans).

  71. Bardon Kaldian says

    I would agree; IMO, it’s the climate, literally.

  72. The English media has always hated their hooligans – they’re pleased when they lose.

    It’s a class thing.

  73. Some of your comments actually reinforce my own argument, but you also didn’t address all of my points.

    My attempt was to merely point out to the fact of world-class players getting to RFPL. Here I do not mean just titles but abilities. Famous names are all cool and good but same Chori was a hell of a player both in Zenit and Rubin. Danny was a constant feature in Portugal’s national team, Bruno Alves (while not in Zenit now) still is. So, if my comments reinforce your argument it is all for the better.

    Rubin was one of the few moments where players were motivated, and it was by a good manager.

    It wasn’t just the moment–under Berdyev Rubin went on to literally horrify La Liga top teams by beating (1-2-1 record) Barcelona, also disposing of Atletico Madrid (and then kicking out Levante, which was at that time in La Liga). It is generally viewed that latter part of Berdyev’s tenure in Rubin saw Rubin becoming one of the best defensively organized teams in Europe. Sadly, the romance ended. Otherwise I can only imagine where an enormously capable Berdyev would get this team. Judging by the result of his FC Rostov tenure–very far. Berdyev is a factor in Russian football and a huge one and durable at that. So I do have an issue with “few”(c) moments. If we look at the distribution of the achievements since 2005 through 2012-13: two UEFA Cups, Super Cup, superb performance at EC 2008–matches against Greece, Sweden and Holland were tour de force of beautiful game. I would say–not too shabby.

    P.S. And then there is a case of Roma Pavlyuchenko and this f…ing ass-faced Harry Rednapp who literally was pickling Roman on Spurs’ bench even against massive outcry of Tottenham fans against this atrocity, because Roman was, actually, damn good.

  74. To be clear I’m not saying the England fans didn’t lose the fight just that the media only care about it because they can use it for anti-Putin reasons.

  75. To be frank–we just saw how ever “boring” and #12 in FIFA rankings, but always genius, Italy put #2 Belgium at its place in stunning classic Italian counter-attacking style which was practiced by great Enzo Bearzott in Spain in 1982;-)

  76. Belgium’s multikulti crew are very overrated.

  77. Mr. Karlin, thank you for answering my question (I am the one who originally posed this question). I find the climate variable an interesting conjecture, but find it still unsatisfying (it seems unduly reductionist for one thing).

    For example, have you considered the wage competition factor, i.e. comparative average salaries of other professional athletes? Even if soccer commanded a wider audience in a given country, if there were to be other athletic endeavors that paid better (e.g. ice hockey), wouldn’t that reduce the athletic pool, as such, available to soccer? (I understand, of course, that different sports require differing athletic attributes.)

    And of course others brought up other factors such as capital investment, youth development program qualities, etc.

  78. Now we can responsibly state that Russian NT is POS. I didn’t see the game but result is known. Well, now I will come back to my favorite pastime–rooting for Italy, my favorite team for the last 38 years.

  79. Agree. Albeit Eden Hazard is massively talented player.

  80. Anatoly Karlin says

    Good theories, but top Russian footballers get very respectable multi-million dollar yearly salaries. If anything they are substantially overpaid for their real level of skill. The top paid Russian ice hockey players have very similar salaries but at least they deserve them.

    I am not acquainted with youth programs. We will probably have to wait for the 2020s when the fruit of all the investment in new stadiums and programs for the 2018 World Cup really come to bear.

  81. I watched the 2006 WC final in a bar in Spb. I was astonished to be the only one present supporting Italy.

  82. I watched the 2006 WC final in a bar in Spb. I was astonished to be the only one present supporting Italy.

    I will not lie–I had a spell from French too but these were times of Platini, Rocheteau, Giress and even Tresor and Tigana were absolutely organic to that team. My love ended with Zidanne and most white real French footballers leaving. French lost that magic touch, including their ability to project their Frenchness. As per Italians, how can one not admire couching of Enzo Bearzot, the bone crusher Gentille and Paolo Rossi;-) Naturally I have both (initially on VHS-issue, later copied to DVD) Italy-Brazil and France-West Germany from 1982. Masterpieces of football. I re-watch those games once in a while and it still gets me going;-)

  83. Forgot, in addition. When Del Piero scored second in OT with Germany in 2006 semi-final I basically blew my vocal cords.

  84. Good theories, but top Russian footballers get very respectable multi-million dollar yearly salaries. If anything they are substantially overpaid for their real level of skill. The top paid Russian ice hockey players have very similar salaries but at least they deserve them.

    That brings up an interesting (to me) follow-up question. IF athletic talent is indeed pulled by competitive salaries of sports, is it pulled by the money that top players make or by average salaries within the sport?

    At first glance, I would expect the former (people are attracted to flashy numbers), but upon another reflection, I get the sense that athletic “families” (or parents) as such might be well-attuned to the average or median salaries of athletes within sports than the average parents are.

    If the latter were to be true, are average or median salaries similar in soccer and ice hockey in Russia?

  85. Anatoly Karlin says

    They would of course be lower than in fully developed Western countries but I’m not sure it’s a huge factor because (a) of course Russian wages in general are substantially lower and (b) if you’re not a star my impression is that your earnings in virtually all sports start dwindling down to very low levels pretty quickly as you go down the ranks.

  86. reiner Tor says

    What does he say?

  87. “We should base ourselves on the same criteria, responsibility should always be individual, and the attitude to all violators of rules should be the same. We know the case of the Euro championship in football, the fight of Russian fans with English. An ugly incident. To be sure, I don’t know how 200 of our fans managed to kick the asses of several thousand English …”

  88. Good to see Turkey the first team at the tournament to take a hiding.

  89. Gutless performance by Romania.

  90. reiner Tor says

    “I don’t know how 200 of our fans managed to kick the asses of several thousand English…”

    Random thoughts, in random order.

    1) They weren’t drunk, unlike the English.

    2) Hooligan group against a mixed group of English hooligans and ordinary fans.

    3) It was an ambush, surprise was on their side.

    4) Organized group (under military style leadership and probably all of them with at least some military training) against barely coordinated (if at all) English hooligans, who might be formidable individually, but not as well organized.

    5) A selection of the most formidable 200 Russian hooligans vs. all English hooligans. (It’s a bit like point 2).)