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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Koloskov's Reign Comes to an End

Itar-TassKoloskov said he had decided to quit after talking "with comrades from the Kremlin."
Veteran sports bureaucrat Vyacheslav Koloskov fell on his sword Thursday, finally giving up his fight to remain in charge of the Russian Football Union in the face of Kremlin displeasure.

His departure marks the end of 25 years at the helm of Soviet and Russian soccer.

"I have thought about it, consulted with comrades from the Kremlin and have decided to resign," Koloskov said at a news conference after the union's executive committee meeting Thursday.

The end for Koloskov came after a humiliating defeat for the Russian national team -- a 7-1 thrashing at the hands of Portugal -- last November.

Since then, he has been fighting a rearguard action to hang on to his job in the face of growing opposition from Vyacheslav Fetisov, head of the Federal Agency for Physical Culture and Sports.

According to well-placed soccer and political pundits, the hot favorite to take over from Koloskov has already been warming up on the subs' bench.

Federation Council Senator Vitaly Mutko, a former Premier League chief and a St. Petersburg City Hall colleague of President Vladimir Putin in the early 1990s, has been widely tipped for the post.

He has received vocal support from Audit Chamber chairman Sergei Stepashin, among others.

And now other sports federation chiefs that have displeased the government will likely be nervously waiting for their phone call from the Kremlin.

Being a career bureaucrat, Koloskov played his part to the end well.

"There was no discussion about it," Koloskov said. "There was strong pressure on all sides. I was given time to think during the winter holidays, so I went away to Kislovodsk and thought about my decision. ... I underline, this decision is my decision."

His words may have been graceful, but after nearly three months of bickering between him and Fetisov, a former ice hockey pro, his insistence that he had left of his own accord convinced no one.

"I think that Fetisov has managed to do what he wanted to do," said the veteran football writer and editor of the magazine Moi Futbol, Alexander Gorbunov. "It is a battle for power. I can guarantee you that in two months' time the same thing will happen to the hockey federation."

"He didn't leave voluntarily," said Viktor Ponedelnik, scorer of the Soviet Union's winning goal in the 1960 European Championships and a challenger in the early 1990s to Koloskov. "I'm certain of that."

Koloskov's last battle began in November, when Fetisov called Russia's 7-1 loss to Portugal in the World Cup qualifiers "a national disgrace." Fetisov followed it up with fierce criticism of a number of other sports federation chiefs, including Alexander Steblin, the president of the hockey federation.

At times since then, amid mutual name-calling between himself and Fetisov, Koloskov -- one of the longest-serving sports bureaucrats in Europe -- seemed to have the upper hand. As late as last month, Koloskov insisted he would stay in his post, but it was Fetisov, picked by Putin to take over the Sports Ministry in 2002, who came out on top.

Koloskov's rollercoaster career has featured some of Russian soccer's best -- and worst -- moments.

His reign stretched from 1979 through the glory days of Soviet soccer, including the Olympic gold at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and the runners-up spot at that year's European Championships.

But then came the collapse into poverty and disarray when the Soviet Union collapsed. Since then, the Russian team has barely managed to qualify for international competitions, and Koloskov has become a target for irate fans.

"This day is just too good to be true," wrote one fan on an Internet forum on Thursday.

"The end of Koloskov ends a period of football stagnation," said State Duma deputy Valery Draganov, who himself was once Koloskov's deputy at the football union.

But many soccer experts valued his work, pointing to his influence on the international arena and his role in keeping Russian soccer together in the dark days of the 1990s.

When it came, Koloskov's exit was comparatively abrupt. Last Saturday, he was invited to the Kremlin for a meeting with Kremlin deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov, according to Russian media reports.

A Kremlin spokesman refused to comment Thursday on whether a meeting took place, or where Surkov's soccer allegiances lay. The spokesman said he himself preferred hockey.

Asked to say at Thursday's news conference who in the Kremlin had advised him to step down, Koloskov said, "When the president describes Koloskov as a good man but a bad football leader, you pay attention. ... Well, I must say there not many people in the Kremlin who understand football, and many don't like it."

Koloskov's replacement will be named at a meeting of the football union's general assembly on April 2. The sports agency refused to comment on Koloskov's resignation.

When reached by phone Thursday, Draganov, a United Russia deputy in the Duma and an ally of Fetisov, said he supported Mutko's candidacy, and said the government should form a council of politicians and businessmen to fund grass-roots soccer.

Stepashin, a board member at Moscow's Dynamo club, also backed Mutko, Interfax reported. In November, when Fetisov first called on Koloskov to go, Stepashin suggested that Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, a keen amateur football player, replace him.

But Ponedelnik said he doubted that Gryzlov would get the soccer post, even though there is a trend toward other state officials, such as Federal Security Service director Nikolai Patrushev, the newly elected president of the Russian Volleyball Federation, taking up sporting roles.

"It has to be someone who comes from soccer," Ponedelnik said, meaning an ex-footballer rather than a businessman or sponsor.

Whoever it is, experts said that removing Koloskov is unlikely to solve all the problems of Russian soccer.

"They want to get rid of Koloskov, but what will they do then?" said Gorbunov, the magazine editor. "You have to have a game plan; you have to understand the situation. OK, so they have got rid of him -- but now what?"