Russian Premier League

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Heading into its 22nd season in 2013-14 as the top division of Russian football, the Russian Premier League consists of 16 elite clubs. Although the leagues traditionally competed through the summer, from March to November, the format was altered in 2012–13 and they now play from July through May, with a three-month winter break taken between December and March. The league shares a relegation/promotion system with the second tier National Football League and is currently ranked 8th among European leagues by the UEFA.

Rebirth from the Old Order

The first era of football in Russia got its start with the formation of the All-Russia Football Union (VFS) in 1912. The VFS promptly joined the FIFA to ensure participation of the “Russian Empire” in that year’s soccer tournament of the Stockholm Olympic Games. Although the Russian side did not medal, entry set the stage for the creation of a national championship, with a side from St. Petersburg winning the 1912 title followed by Odessa in 1913 before World War One brought football activities to a halt.

The Russia Revolution of 1917 witnessed the dissolution of the VFS, and organised football did not resume until the Soviet Union was established in 1922. The following year, a team from Moscow claimed the inaugural USSR championship, but it was not until the 1930s that club football was properly revived. A true USSR club championship was launched in 1936 under the auspices of the All-Union Supreme Council for Physical Culture, which was then the governing body for all sports.

A football section was formed within the Sports Ministry and it saw that the USSR was one of the founding members of the UEFA in 1954. For a brief time between 1959 and 1964, the Football Federation of the USSR (FFUSSR) operated as an independent body, but political developments saw the Sports Ministry reassert control thereafter and until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992. That when the current Russian Football Union (RFS) came into existence to oversee the renewal and revival of modern Russian football.

Among the RFS’s first actions was to form a Russian Top Division, initially with 20 teams and gradually settling down to 16 by 1994. Spartak Moscow was the dominant force in the Top Division, claiming nine of the first ten titles. The RFS also organised the first Russian Cup competition in 1992, which was won by FC Torpedo Moscow over PFC CSKA Moscow in a thrilling penalty shoot-out.

In 2001, the Top Division gave way to the Premier League and fresh powers emerged among the Russian clubs. CSKA Moscow have notched four league titles and seven Russian Cups since 2002. Lokomotiv Moscow now have two titles and five cups, while FC Zenit St. Petersburg have gained three league championships plus two cups and Rubin Kazan can boast of two titles and one cup victory. The only other club to occupy the top of the football ladder at the end of a season was Alania Vladikavkaz back in 1995.

New Challenges Ahead

To date, only two Russian clubs have been able to unlock the secret to winning at the international level. CSKA Moscow were the first in 2005, defeating Sporting Clube de Portugal to capture the UEFA Cup. Then, in 2008, FC Zenit St. Petersburg became the second by outlasting Rangers FC in 2008. Immediately thereafter, Zenit went on to become the first Russian UEFA Super Cup winners.

Fully 41 clubs have played at least one season in the Russian Top Division or Premier League since its establishment. Five of those have never missed a season, namely Spartak Moscow, CSKA Moscow, Lokomotiv Moscow, Dynamo Moscow and Krylya Sovetov Samara. Under the current structure, the last two teams on the league ladder are relegated to the National Football League at the end of the season.

The 2012-13 champions, CSKA Moscow, are looking to defend their title going into 2013-14. Two clubs, Mordovia Saransk and Alania Vladikavkaz, were relegated and replaced by the National Football League’s champion, Ural Sverdlovsk Oblast, and runners-up Tom Tomsk. Also competing for the Russian Premier League championship in 2013-14 are Amkar Perm, Anzhi Makhachkala, Dynamo Moscow, Krasnodar, Krylia Sovetov Samara, Kuban Krasnodar, Lokomotiv Moscow, Rostov, Rubin Kazan, Spartak Moscow, Terek Grozny, Volga Nizhny Novgorod and Zenit St. Petersburg.

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