World Cup ground without a club?
13 April ~ Twenty years ago Rotor Volgograd recorded a famous 2-2 aggregate UEFA Cup win over Manchester United. But since that night Rotor have declined sharply. Having spent the most recent decade struggling to keep afloat in Russia's lower leagues, last week they were declared bankrupt.
Russian fans were generally sad about the demise of a club that was an important part of post-Soviet football. "They're one of the few non-Moscow sides with an interesting history," wrote one contributor to Russian sports site championat.com. The top flight's all-time top goalscorer Oleg Veretennikov spent most of his career at Rotor, and was at the peak of his power in the mid-1990s as they and Alania Vladikavkaz challenged Spartak Moscow's dominance.
The financial problems, however, have been there for years. Rotor were denied a professional licence in 2004 and excluded again in 2009 because of financial issues. Last year the club voluntarily dropped from the second to the third tier due to lack of money, and at the time of bankruptcy still owed money to players for 2013-14.
Veretennikov was Rotor's manager until last week, and knew who he blamed: "The new president came here to kill the club," he told sports.ru. "The club's fate has been decided in an office. One vice governor [of the local region] told me we would keep going, but it seems the opposite has happened." Veretennikov had since refused to manage a new amateur Rotor side, claiming current players had been asked to join the new team well before the winding-up announcement was made.
Rotor aren't the first club this has happened to recently. Last season Alania resigned from the second tier FNL mid-season, meaning the second- and third-placed top-flight sides from 1996 have both recently gone under. Premier League teams FC Saturn and FC Moskva have also folded in the last few years; smaller clubs quitting the lower divisions happens without fail every season. Until something is done about a football infrastructure in which most sides rely on regional governments or wealthy individuals to survive, this will continue.
Volgograd is due to host World Cup games in 2018 and now faces the prospect of having a new 45,000-capacity stadium but no professional team. Some fans, with an eye on well-funded, fast-rising FC Krasnodar and FC Tosno, have pointed out there is just enough time for a new Rotor to get into the top flight by 2018. State support is likely to be first choice to this end, but money is tighter than it was and there is a queue behind Sochi – also a city with a brand new stadium and bad track record for keeping football teams alive.
Big results like the one against Manchester United will probably never happen again to Rotor; the likeliest scenario is a return to the lower leagues. Some cynics, though, note that it probably wouldn't end there: "There's still time for the new Rotor to get promotion and then be liquidated again before the World Cup," is how one contributor to championat.com saw things. Saul Pope