In Sky television’s coverage of the Emirates Cup, John Hartson was one of the pundits. As news broke of Spartak Moscow’s £9.5m bid for Aiden McGeady, Sky’s presenter turned to Hartson and asked if he felt the winger would move. The Welshman’s response was almost immediate: “No”.
I can’t remember his words verbatim, but the message was clear: there were better leagues in which McGeady could play his football. A move to Russia would not be in his best interests. One phrase that does stick in the memory is: “I can’t see why he’d want to go there”.
Perhaps Hartson should ask Bruno Alves, one of Europe’s most prized central defenders. His form at Porto and for Portugal had reportedly attracted the interest of Chelsea, Manchester United, and Real Madrid. And yet the coming days will see him finalise a surprise £18m move to Zenit St. Petersburg.
Many will point to the financial power of the biggest clubs as being the principle lure of the RPL – and that’s undoubtedly true. The wealth of Zenit and Russia’s tax laws mean that Alves will have doubled his pay-packet, and McGeady could be in line to do the same at Spartak. But this isn’t like joining the MLS – the league is packed with quality players. Alves joins international team-mates Danny and Fernando Meira in a Zenit team won the UEFA Cup as recently as 2008. CSKA contested last year’s Champions League quarter-finals with eventual winners Inter. Although Spartak currently sit in mid-table, they were runners up in the league last year and are likely to contest for major honours again soon.
The boom in Russian football is unlikely to last. The clubs are funded principally by individual benefactors, and provide a stark vision of the precarious future the English Premier League seems to be heading towards. Putin himself had to intervene to ensure the survival of Russian club Krylya Sovetov, whilst analysts suggest every club in the country’s top division runs at an operational loss.
With all that said, this is still a strong league with impressive continental credentials. Celtic’s failure to progress past Braga is in indicator of the SPL’s relative weakness. Despite Hartson’s doubts, McGeady has flown to Moscow for talks, and one would not be surprised if he were swayed by Spartak’s Eastern Promises.
If he were to go, I imagine plenty of people will say it was just for the money. I, for one, would disagree.