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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Soccer Chief Gets the Red Card

APVyacheslav Koloskov
When Vyacheslav Koloskov took over as the man in charge of the Soviet soccer empire, half of the current national team wasn't even born, and manager Georgy Yartsev was still a player.

Now, after 25 roller-coaster years at the helm of Russian soccer, one of the last remaining dinosaurs of the Soviet and Russian sports bureaucracy has been pushed out in what appears to be a Kremlin coup backed by President Vladimir Putin.

His replacement, some claim, will be Kremlin stalwart Boris Gryzlov, the soccer-mad State Duma speaker. Koloskov is unlikely to be the last head of a sports federation to face the ax.

Koloskov, president of the Russian Football Union, the country's governing soccer body, reluctantly confirmed his plans last week to step down after Vyacheslav Fetisov, head of the Federal Agency for Physical Culture, Sports and Tourism, blasted Koloskov's record.

Koloskov said he had agreed to resign in the wake of Russia's humiliating 7-1 thrashing by Portugal last month in a World Cup qualifier.

Fetisov went on television to say that Koloskov should resign, regardless of the outcome of the upcoming World Cup qualifier against Estonia on Nov. 17. Another defeat will kill Russia's chances of qualifying.

Koloskov told Izvestia on Wednesday that Fetisov had pushed for his resignation because Putin had demanded it after such an embarrassing defeat.

"I responded that, if it comes from the president, I naturally will not resist," Koloskov, who is currently undergoing medical examination in Austria, told Izvestia.

The Russian Football Union is a nongovernmental organization, which among other functions controls the national team and major domestic competitions. As the union is not under control of the government, Fetisov has no authority to fire its president.

Fetisov denied that Putin had asked Koloskov to resign.

"He wants to raise his status," said Fetisov of Koloskov's claims that Putin told him to go.

Fetisov also warned that further changes were possible, in comments that appeared to indicate the government is determined to change the leadership of the country's sports organizations.

"We have a system where the president of a sporting federation is god, tsar and military commander," Fetisov said.

"Nobody answers for anything," he said, mentioning the records of the heads of hockey and gymnastics -- sports that have failed in recent years, but seen little change in who leads them. "They've become like a sect."

Who will take over from Koloskov is unknown, but there has already been one suggestion.

Sergei Stepashin, the head of the Audit Chamber and chairman of Dynamo Moscow, suggested Gryzlov as a candidate in an interview with Sport-Express. Fetisov said that he believes there should be more than one candidate in the election.

A number of officials close to the Kremlin already have connections with sports. Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the Federal Security Service, is president of the Volleyball Federation, while Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Putin's envoy to the European Union, is head of the Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation.

The removal of Koloskov, one of the longest-serving sports bureaucrats, is widely viewed as a coup for Fetisov.

Nicknamed "The Professor," Koloskov has always been an adept and clever bureaucrat who, despite a number of scandals, has always escaped with his power base intact.

In his 25 years, he has faced threats from the Soviet government to fire him, accusations of mafia links and corruption, and death threats, yet remained in his post.

But Russia's lack of success since the breakup of the Soviet Union has made him deeply unpopular with many fans and soccer coaches.

"Slava is great," wrote one fan on a soccer web site forum, referring to Fetisov by his diminutive.

"He called him [Koloskov] into his office, put him up against the wall, and tra-ta-ta-ta!!! In complete accordance with the will of the president, they've killed the bastards in the toilet," said one fan, using the slang term Putin made famous in 1999 when talking about what the government would do to Chechen rebels.

Yet the government could end up harming Russian soccer more by removing Koloskov, some soccer experts said.

Koloskov's deputy at the Football Union, Vladimir Radionov, said by telephone that pressure on the union from the government could lead to the national team's disqualification from major international competitions by FIFA, the world's governing body.

Vasily Utkin, a soccer television commentator, said that Fetisov has interfered in other national sports federations before, putting his nominees in charge. But none of them succeeded, as the candidates were not up to the job, he said.

"A key problem of Russian soccer is an absolute absence of sports managers," Utkin said.

However, few fans will miss Koloskov, he said, given the poor performance of the national team during his tenure.

The Russian team has failed to get past the first stage of any major tournament since the end of the Soviet Union.

"I have no doubts that Koloskov has knowledge, experience and authority, but somehow he failed to deliver the goods," Utkin said.