The Champions League in the past ten years has been dominated by clubs from Italy, Spain and England. The three biggest leagues in the world used to be the Serie A, La Liga and the Premier League. Now the Serie A is dwindling, with poor attendance records, match fixing and massive debts. The new entrant to the big three is the Bundesliga. This is shown by the fact that in the past 5 years, Bayern Munich have been in 2 of the finals. Bayern Munich comfortably beat the Italian champions Juventus to a semi-final sport this season. This year it looks like a German team could make it to the final again, with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich being in both Semi-Finals. So for the next ten years it could be argued that the Champions League will be dominated by German, Spanish and English clubs. There is always a surprise in football though, and Porto in the 2003-2004 Champions League were that surprise, winning the Champions League. The beaten finalists, Monaco, were not expected to get as far as they did either. Both of these teams were not part of the big three leagues.
The English Premier League is the richest league in Europe (See my article on why staying up is more crucial than ever). The Premier League has ridiculously high TV revenue. La Liga, while riddled with debt, has two of the biggest clubs in world football, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. These two clubs are the richest in the world. The Bundesliga is also very financially stable. Mourinho, the exceptional man at the exceptional club Porto, won the Champions League at a club which was huge in Portugal, but not mega like Barcelona, Madrid, Manchester United or Bayern Munich. He worked out how to buy cheap players and get them to perform. He found some real gems in the transfer market, proving that money is not everything in football. Money though goes a really long way to success. Manchester City and Chelsea have proved that you can buy success after a squad has gelled. It took Manchester City four years to win the Premier League title after being taken over by the Abu Dhabi United Group. They still are struggling to adapt to European competition after two years of Champions League football, they finished third in their group in the 2011/2012 competition and bottom of their group in the 2012/2013 season. This shows how vital experience of competitions is as is a well gelled squad. Chelsea though, taken over by Roman Abramovich in 2003, have won the Champions League once, last season. It took them less than 9 years after their initial take over and investment. Mourinho, who succeeded Claudio Ranieri, brought domestic success but not European. He did establish a core of the squad, buying the Munich hero Drogba and by coaching Munich hero Lampard. He also promoted John Terry, the captain, to the Chelsea first team.
So to re-cap, money, a good manager, good signings, European experience and a well gelled squad which understands each other are key features of winners of the Champions League. With all of these factors a team should get to the semi-finals or further in the Champions League. Porto are the team who break the trend slightly, by being a team with a small transfer budget compared to giants of the game. They do meet the rest of the criteria though.
The Russian Premier League is very rich. Most clubs are owned; funded or sponsored by oligarchs, gas giants etc. Zenit St Petersburg, sponsored by gas giants Gazprom, spent £91,308,000 on transfer fees this season. The big signings are Hulk and Witsel. Hulk is an extremely talented winger/forward who can tear apart defences with trickery. Axel Witsel is a 24 year old central midfielder, who is a real all-rounder, with great athletic and technical ability. He can play centre defensive or central attacking midfield also. Manchester United were linked with him. Another rich club is Spartak Moscow, sponsored by Lukoil. They spent £27,456,000 on players this season. The Armenian striker, who not many English people will have heard of, Yura Movsisyan, has been a revelation. £6,600,000 was the fee which saw his arrival from FK Krasnador and the fee looks like a bargain; he has 4 goals in 4 games for Spartak. CSKA Moscow have spent £19,976,000 this season. Mario Fenanades, an attacking right back, has helped his side keep 14 league clean sheets. CSKA currently sit top of the table, clear by six points. Rubin Kazan have spent £25,520,000, bringing in ex-Arsenal and Spurs target Yann M’Vila from Rennes. Anzhi Mackhakala have spent £59,752,000. Lacina Traoré, brought in from Kuban Krasnador to score goals has been a good signing, scoring 16 in 33 games for Anzhi. The highlight of Anzhi’s transfer activity this season has to be the signing of the ridiculously talented Willian from Shakhtar Donetsk. This signing emphasises the financial clout of teams in Russia as Anzhi beat Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham and other big European clubs for his signature. They paid £30,800,000 for him and he has made 2 appearances scoring a goal. (Transfer costs are all according to http://www.transfermarkt.co.uk). So Russian football undoubtedly has the money to succeed, the signings that Russian clubs are making are also becoming more intelligent and more successful. Clubs are starting to learn not to buy a player just because he is Brazilian and are avoiding other strange past taboos on transfer policies.
There are plenty of talented managers in the Russian Premier League. Slavan Bilić, manager at Lokomotiv Moscow, was brilliant as manager of Croatia in Euro 2012 and was very unlucky to see his side not qualify for the knockout stage. Crotia were drawn into a really tough group with eventual finalists Italy and eventual winners Spain. Guus Hiddink, manager at Anzhi, has had a brilliant career as a manager. He has a very impressive win percentage of 57.83%, to put that into perspective, Sir Alex Ferguson’s is 58.19%. Hiddink has won the FA cup with Chelsea, Six Dutch league titles and six Dutch league cups (making him the most successful Eredivise manager in history), reached the semi-finals of the World Cup with footballing minnows South Korea and footballing giants Holland, and, also reached the Euro 2008 semi-finals with Russia. Luciano Spalletti, the manager of Zenit, is a brilliant tactician, one tactical highlight being the 4-6-0 formation that he applied to first Roma and now Zenit. He was the first manager to apply it systematically to a club and it worked brilliantly. Less well known to people in England is Leonid Slutsky and Kurban Berdyev. Slutsky was the first manager to guide a Russian club to the knockout stages of the Champions League, with CSKA getting knocked out by Mourinho’s Inter Milan in 2009. Berdyev, who is manager of Rubin Kazan, has won 2 league titles with them. The Russian Premier League has some quality, world class managers in it and, with more money being injected every day, more great managers will be attracted to the league.
European experience with Russian clubs is more of an issue. The best a Russian club has ever done is reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League, CSKA in 2009. However, all clubs are generally improving. The top two Russian clubs qualify for the Champions League. It looks like these clubs will be CSKA and Zenit. Spallieti has plenty European experience and Slutsky was manager at the time of CSKA’s historic quarter final journey in Europe. I believe that in the next ten years the Russian League’s standard will improve even more, as will Russia’s living conditions. This will in turn attract better players and better managers, making teams better. I think that in the next ten years one of the Russian clubs will ‘do a Porto’, and break the usual pattern of teams from Italy/ Germany, Spain and England reaching semi-finals of the Champions League. I think that a Russian club will win the Champions League in the next ten years.