In the summer of 1992, the Soviet Union (as a Football entity) took its last breath during the 1992 UEFA European Championships in Sweden.
The team managed by Anatoli Byshovets would be referred as CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) for its last few months of existence.
Ever since the Failed Political Coup in the Summer of 1991, the former Soviet Union had imploded into its separate Nations.
When the 1994 World Cup qualifiers started in the Fall of 1992. The place of the former USSR was now occupied by Russia (the largest confederation).
There were some complaints that perhaps since the backbone of the Soviet Teams of the recent era were Ukrainian (mostly from Dinamo Kiev) perhaps Ukraine (and not Russia) should have been the Representative.
However, as far as FIFA were concerned Russia were the recognized replacement of the old Soviet Union.
The new Manager appointed to lead Russia’s World Cup qualifying campaign was Pavel Fyodorovich Sadyrin. As a player he had lined up for Zenit Leningrad in the 60s and 70s. He had later been a Manager for the same club and had led them to the 1984 Soviet League Title. Afterwards he had managed CSKA Moscow and led them to the Domestic Double (League and Cup) for 1991.
Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 54, July 1993(Pavel Sadyrin)
This last title certainly helped his appointment as Russia’s Manager. Unlike his predecessor Anatoli Byshovets, the last USSR Manager, Sadyrin was now constrained to a smaller player pool of Russian players only, now that the Soviet Union had broken up.
FIFA had left it up to the individual players to choose their new International destination.
The possibility of perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity to play in a World Cup, enticed many non-Russian former Soviet Internationals to opt for Russian citizenship to participate in the 1994 World Cup to be held in the United States.
These included Manchester United’s Winger Andrei Kanchelskis (Lithuanian Father and Ukrainian Mother) and Estonian born Valeri Karpin.
Other Ukrainians such as defender Viktor Onopko, as well as Yuri Nikiforov and Oleg Salenko (who had actually played in Friendlies for Ukraine) and Sergei Yuran also opted for Russian Nationality.
Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Hors Serie 16, May 1994(Andrei Kanchelskis)
Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 54, July 1993
(New Russian Internationals: Victor Onopko, Andrei Kanchelskis, Sergei Yuran and Sergei Kiriakov)
Sadyrin could still call upon a core of Russian players (mostly based abroad) such as Igor Shalimov, Karlsruhe Sergei Kiriakov and Vassili Kulkov as a well as a large contingent from the Russian Team of the Moment Spartak Moscow.
Their Qualification Group included Greece, Hungary, Iceland, and Luxembourg.
Russia were seen as the Group favorites and their path appeared even easier since former Group member Yugoslavia had been banned from participating in the qualifiers as punishment for the escalation of their Civil War.
This new look Team played its first match in a friendly vs. Mexico on August 17, 1992 (2-0 win). The last match from a Russian National Team had been before the First World War.
The qualification Campaign started with two matches in the month of October against the Group’s weaker sides: Iceland on Luxembourg.
A victory on October 14th at Moscow vs. Iceland (1-0) was followed by a (2-0) win vs. Luxembourg two weeks later at the same venue.
Russia continued with two new victories in the new year (April 1993) at Luxembourg (4-0 win, April 14th) and an important win at Moscow vs. Hungary (3-0, April 28th).
By now it was a clear that it would be a race between the Russians and Greece for the leadership of the Group.
The Russians hosted the Greeks in Moscow on May 23rd, 1993. The result was a diplomatic tie (1-1) for the teams that seemed headed to qualify without much difficulty. By now, the only question was which one would finish first in the Group.
Photo From: World Soccer, May 1994
(Russia squad, May 23, 1993, World Cup Qualifier, Russia 1-Greece 1)
Just weeks later (June 2nd) Russians sealed qualification with another tie (1-1) at Reykjavik vs. Iceland.
The final matches in the Group were a formality. A comfortable win (3-1) over Hungary at Budapest on September 8th set the stage for the somewhat inconsequential final qualifier vs. Greece at Athens on November 17th, 1993.
Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 54, July 1993
(Russia squad, June 2, 1993, World Cup Qualifier, Iceland 1-Russia 1)
In a disappointing match for the Russians, they would lose (0-1) and qualify as the second best in the Group (in addition, Onopko was sent off near then end).
The qualification process had been comfortable in a not too difficult Group, but the Russians had generally not impressed.
It was the events following this final qualifier vs. Greece that would lead to a rebellion of the senior players against the Manager Pavel Sadyrin.
Sadyrin had not helped matters by blaming the result on foreign-based players such as Shalimov, Yuran and Kiriakov.
Tensions were already high, as the Referee from Gabon, Jean Fidele Diramba, had ruled out a last minute equalizer from Igor Dobrovolsky.
Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Hors Serie 16, May 1994(Igor Dobrovolsky)
At the conclusion of the match, the Russian Federation President Vyacheslav Koloskov stormed into the dressing rooms and criticized the players for their performance. This act sent the players over the boiling point, already disappointed with the events in the last minute of the match.
The players defended themselves and argued with Koloskov. During these arguments, Koloskov also disclosed that the Russian Federation had signed a contract with ‘Reebok’ for the World Cup (on the players behalf) and all the players were to adhere to the contract and play with their boots. This further enraged some of the players who already had personal contracts with other sponsors for their boots.
Apparently National Team Manager Sadyrin had been aware and on board with this deal and this further widened the rift with the rest of the squad.
Igor Shalimov later disclosed it was at this moment that he knew Sadyrin was not on their side and on the side of the Federation.
Back at their Hotel, the Hilton in Athens, the players convened in one of the rooms to discuss a course of action.
The coaching staff were informed of this gathering. Assistant Manager Yuri Semin spoke with the players in the hope to diffuse the situation and mend fences but the players were inconsolable and it was to no avail.
Shalimov would later admit that in their team discussion he had proposed the idea of writing to someone with authority to air their grievances.
He thought of his friend Tamil Tarpischev, the Presidential Sports Advisor, since he had access to President Boris Yeltsin.
Upon their return to Moscow the next day, fourteen players signed an open letter that was published in Newspapers and directed to Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
The players in question were: Igor Shalimov, Igor Dobrovolsky, Sergei Kiriakov, Andrei Kanchelskis, Yuri Nikiforov, Valeri Karpin, Andrei Ivanov, Sergei Yuran, Igor Kolivanov, Viktor Onopko, Dmitri Khlestov, Oleg Salenko, Vassili Kulkov and Alex Mostovoi.
The original letter was signed by eleven players. Andrei Kanchelskis had not been present since he was suspended for the match vs. Greece; however, he faxed his signature over after a phone call from Shalimov.
Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 54, July 1993
Photo From: World Soccer, October 1994
(Vassili Kulkov, May 23, 1993, World Cup Qualifier, Russia 1-Greece 1)
Spartak Moscow pair of Valeri Karpin and Andrei Ivanov (also not present in Greece) signed the letter once in Moscow.
Others present in Athens who did not sign the letter were Dmitri Galyamin , Dimitri Kharin, Stanislav Cherchesov, Dmitri Popov and Dmitri Radchenko.
After all the signatures were collected the letter was officially submitted to Tamil Tarpischev.
In this letter, the rebels also addressed three areas of concern:
1-The return of Anatoli Byshovets as Head Coach to lead the team in the World Cup.
2-The Modifications of the financial bonuses for qualification and also for the Finals.
3-Immediate improvement in Organization and Logistics related to the Team.
The players believed to improve the team’s performance especially in the World Cup, these issues needed to be addressed and resolved.
The Federation was blamed for its Mismanagement and Organizational Errors, Financial Manipulation and general poor logistics and training conditions.
They also questioned the competence of Head Coach Pavel Sadyrin. They dismissed him as just ‘a good club coach’ but who was out of depth in the International Arena and still reliant on out-dated methods of training.
They even credited their qualification on the previous USSR Manager Anatoli Byshovets. They felt that Byshovets had laid the groundwork for this current team during the 1992 Euro qualifiers and not Sadyrin.
Photo From: Calciatori 1991-92, Campionato Italiano Serie A, Panini
(Igor Shalimov with Foggia, 1991/92)
Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Hors Serie 16, May 1994
There are multiple reasons why this extreme step was taken at a time when one would have thought the players and Federation would have been basking in the glory of qualification and let bygones be bygones.
There were similarities to the situation with the Dutch National Team from just a few years prior. Upon their qualification for the 1990 World Cup, the Dutch led by stars such as Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten had led a rebellion to oust the Manager Thijs Ligbrets. They succeeded in doing so and this precedent perhaps emboldened the so-called Russian ‘Refuseniks’.
There were many players who felt Sadyrin’s methods were too dictatorial.
Many of the players also were antagonistic towards Sadyrin for his tendency to always side with the Federation for various matters, in contrast to Byshovets who apparently sided with the players.
Sadyrin’s problems with the players was not limited to the foreign-based contingent, the Spartak Moscow players were also seemingly opposed to him.
As far as their hostility towards the Federation officials, it also came to light that in their Training Camp at Novogorsk for days (before their final qualifier vs. Greece) the heat had been switched off. The extreme cold had forced the players to sleep with their coats on.
It was also reported around this time, former USSR Manager Anatoli Byshovets had delayed his departure to South Korea (on his way for a coaching position) as he felt he might be appointed in time for the World Cup.
It later transpired that Shalimov had contacted him about their plans and their preference for him to manage them.
Upon the onset of this act of defiance (or insolence depending who you ask), the Russian Federation and its President Vyacheslav Koloskov, along with the Sports Ministry, backed Sadyrin and denied these charges.
Sadyrin famously remarked "In the whole civilized world, the coach picks players, not the other way around."
On December 6th, 1993, Sadyrin accused Byshovets of having masterminded the letter to oust him. Sadyrin believed that most players signed the letters without realizing its full contents. He believed the players thought the letter contained financial and bonus related details (and not his removal).
By the new year (1994), it was appearing unlikely that Byshovets would be appointed. In January, Byshovets contacted Shalimov, informing him of his offer in South Korea. He told him he would not take the offer without the consent of the rest of the squad. In the end he would go to Korea since iit seemed unlikely that Sadyrin would be removed.
On January 21st, Nikita Simonyan, The Deputy Federation President, declared that the 14 rebels would be expelled and denied from participating in the World Cup unless they dropped their demand for the dismissal of Sadyrin.
Sadyrin started preparations by calling up 45 players for a meeting in Moscow to discuss the World Cup preparations. Of those summoned, only 26 showed up at the meeting on January 25th.
The core contingent of the rebels still held out. Igor Shalimov, along with Dobrovolsky, Mostovoi, Kiriakov, Ivanov, Kulkov and Yuran made their position clear at a Media Conference at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow. They were accompanied by Tamil Tarpischev and Vitali Smirnov, the Russia Olympic committee President.
Russian Federation President Vyacheslav Koloskov continued his unwavering support for Sadyrin and blamed ‘Shalimov and his friends’ for being greedy.
Koloskov felt the coaching dispute was just an excuse and smokescreen to seek more money.
He also warned that FIFA might replace Russia with Australia if this matter was not resolved (difficult to say if he was honest or bluffing).
Sadyrin took a weakened and mostly experimental squad on this tour of North America in late January.
They tied USA on January 30th (1-1) and defeated Mexico (4-1) on February 2nd.
Oleg Salenko, who was one of the 14 rebels, was included on the tour and became the first of the rebels to make peace. Many would view this as an act of betrayal and disloyalty.
After the win over Mexico, Sadyrin said: "This is the group of players to whom I'll put my faith. There are enough first-class players in Russia."
In an Interview on February 19th, Sergei Yuran became the second rebel to come back to the fold.
The rebellion seemed to be subsided after the Byshovets possibility appeared to be a dead issue.
As far as financial incentives, a bonus fee of £70,000 was negotiated (for winning).
In the meantime, Russia played a preparation friendly vs. the Republic of Ireland on March 23rd at Dublin that ended scoreless.
On April 4th, the Federation declared an ultimatum that by April 8th; the remaining rebels must accept Sadyrin as Manager.
There were rumors that Spartak Moscow Manager Oleg Romantsev might replace Sadyrin in the last minute. Despite having large support from his club contingent this course of action did not materialize.
Romantsev was credited for convincing some of the Spartak Moscow ‘Refuseniks’ to rejoin the National Team. He told them that everyone must decide on their own if they would like to rejoin.
Photo From: World Soccer, April 1994(Viktor Onopko)
Spartak duo of Yuri Nikiforov and Viktor Onopko would be the next rebels to return to the National Team. The duo along with Yuran lined up in Russia’s friendly win (1-0) over Turkey at Istanbul on April 20th.
Afterwards, Alex Mostovoi and Spartak Moscow’s Dmitri Khlestov also rejoined the squad.
Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 69, October 1994
(Alex Mostovoi with Strasbourg)
The seventh and last ‘Refusenik’ to rejoin the squad was Spartak Moscow’s Valeri Karpin on May 20th.
The Russians along with some of the returnees played their final friendly on May 29th vs. Slovakia (2-1 win) prior to departure for America.
From the original 14, Salenko, Nikiforov, Karpin, Yuran, Onopko, Khlestov and Mostovoi were back.
There were seven remaining players who still would not compromise.
Shalimov and Dobrovolsky (the ringleaders), as well as Kanchelskis, Kiriakov, Ivanov, Kulkov and Kolivanov.
Photo From: Calciatori 1991-92, Campionato Italiano Serie A, Panini(Igor Kolivanov with Foggia, 1991/92)
Sadyrin now with a stronger hand expressed that a compromise might still be reached with Kanchelskis and Kiriakov but no relationship could be established with Shalimov and Dobrovolsky.
In the end the remaining seven maintained their position and missed out on the World Cup.
The World Cup was a disappointing one for the weakened Russian side.
A defeat against eventual World Cup winners Brazil on June 20th (0-2) was followed by another disappointing loss vs. Sweden (1-3) on June 24th and they were eliminated.
Photo From: World Soccer, August 1994
(Sergei Gorlukovich and Leonardo, June 20, 1994, World Cup, Brazil 2-Russia 0)
Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 66, July 1994
(June 20, 1994, World Cup, Brazil 2-Russia 0)
Photo From: World Soccer, August 1994
(June 24, 1994, World Cup, Sweden 3-Russia 1)
There was another instance of indiscipline with one of the former rebels when Sergei Yuran fell out with Sadyrin once again and missed a training session.
He was sent home by the Russian Federation.
The only bright spot for Russia in this World Cup would be in their final inconsequential group match vs. Cameroon on June 28th.
Former Rebel and the first returnee Oleg Salenko entered the history books by scoring five goals in Russia’s win (6-1). Along with the goal he had scored vs. Sweden, he became the joint top goalscorer of the World Cup with six goals.
He may not have even played had Yuran not been axed from the squad.
Photo From: The Game, Issue 8, November 1995
This World Cup ended a sad chapter for Russian Football and immediately afterwards Pavel Sadyrin resigned form his post.
Russian Federation President Koloskov who had supported him throughout praised Sadyrin for his courage and patriotism.
There were many reasons as to events reached to such a point where a rebellion was deemed necessary by the players.
The mismanagement and lack of organization on the part of the Federation appears to be theme that most would agree on.
Igor Shalimov would further highlight these problems by recounting stories on how some of the foreign-based players were stranded at airports and/or left on their own devices to meet up the squad during away matches.
Koloskov’s excuse for such instances was that due to growing pains of a then-new Nation they still had to learn and adapt.
A Nation steeped in communism for over seventy years now had to suddenly compete in a new Capitalist World where they had to survive on their own.
The players were also suddenly in this world of the West and were suddenly faced with dealing with money and sponsorships.
These players also witnessed freer forms of expressions displayed by their Western colleagues and were encouraged to speak out.
It is also possible that Sadyrin, brought up in the rigid system of the old Soviet Union, was not accustomed to an era of player power and openness.
In hindsight, many also believed that perhaps Koloskov had been too hasty in attacking his own players following the match vs. Greece. He had made an already volatile atmosphere worse with his tirade.
Perhaps, all the parties involved should have waited a few days and then discussed the problems in calmer circumstances.
In addition, the Federation should have been more transparent in their agreement with Reebok and not deal behind the players’ backs.
This clearly rubbed the players the wrong way and the perceived complicity of Sadyrin also irrevocably damaged his relationship with the squad.
Koloskov would later defend the decision to sign with Reebok (for the boots) by pointing out that they were the only sponsors who paid the National Team money and provided outfits. They were also bound by a contact via the Russian Olympic Committee, as Reebok supplied the kit for all the sports.
If accurate that appears to be a reasonable line of action, however, the squad should have been informed and in the loop.
Dmitri Galyamin was one of the players present in Greece on that fateful day that did not sign the letter. He would later disclose that he agreed with the players’ demands as far as the organizational (or therelackof) but did not agree with the replacement of Sadyrin. Perhaps had the players limited their demands to the organization/bonuses and not the coaching change, the Officials would have met the players halfway.
What is surprising is the course of action by players, for whom, this might have been the only opportunity to play in a World Cup. Even more surprising, the fact that some players involved (ex. Kanchelskis, Onopko, etc) had obtained Russian Citizenship solely for that purpose.
The Dutch precedence in 1990 perhaps encouraged them, however, the lesson of the Dutch was not completely learned. Because even after they succeeded in their Coup, the Dutch were a shadow of their former selves and a demoralized squad performed poorly on the World Stage.
It must also be remembered that the Dutch Mutineers had more clout, as they contained two ‘Ballon d’Or’ winners (Gullit/van Basten) as well as a host of Internationals that had won the Champions Cup and more importantly the 1988 UEFA European Championships.
Koloskov would later express regret that they had negotiated and convinced a number of the rebels to come back. He felt this backfired as more tensions were sawn between the rebels and players who had stayed loyal to Sadyrin.
It was reported that there was disunity and friction within the squad that when Salenko scored against Sweden in the World Cup, only one of the Russian Substitutes celebrated because the substitutes were envious of the starters.
After the World Cup, Oleg Romantsev of Spartak Moscow was appointed as the new Russian Manager. He was the popular choice as he had managed many of the players at the club level and had the respect of the playing staff.
He combined the jobs of managing his club along with the National Team.
The remaining rebels would slowly return to the fold, except surprisingly top goalscorer Salenko (whom many viewed as a traitor).
Pavel Sadyrin would return to club Football and manage his old clubs Zenit (St. Petersburg) and CSKA Moscow (in two separate spells). He also had a stint at Rubin Kazan.
He passed away due to cancer on December 1st, 2001 aged 59.
Photo From: World Soccer, May 1994
In Press Reports the rebels were sometimes referred as ‘Refuseniks.’
A ‘Refusenik’ was actually a term used to describe Soviet Citizens during the Communist era who were denied permission to emigrate by Soviet Authorities.
Onze-Mondial, Issue 54, July 1993
Onze-Mondial, Hors Serie 16, May 1994
Onze-Mondial, Hors Serie 16, May 1994
World Soccer, January 1994
World soccer, February 1994
World Soccer, March 1994
World Soccer, April 1994
World Soccer, May 1994
World Soccer, July 1994
World Soccer, August 1994
World Soccer, September 1994
World Soccer, October 1994