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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pledging RFU Cleanup, Mutko Assumes New Post

APRFU president Vitaly Mutko, left, greeting predecessor Koloskov on Saturday.
The newly elected president of the Russian Football Union, or RFU, Vitaly Mutko, wants to clean up the game and shed his image of "Kremlin puppet."

"I hope this day will be remembered as the dawn of a new era in Russian football," Mutko said Saturday after succeeding Vyacheslav Koloskov as Russia's soccer chief.

Koloskov resigned in January after more than 25 years in the job, forced out by government officials unhappy with the way he was running the country's most popular sport.

Prior to the election, Mutko's rivals accused the St. Petersburg politician of having "big friends in the Kremlin" and enlisting the support of government officials.

Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, who is also leader of the majority pro-Kremlin party, openly endorsed his fellow parliament member last week, saying that the government would give soccer wide-ranging financial backing if Mutko won.

The allegations of government interference in Russian soccer have alarmed both FIFA and UEFA, world and European governing bodies, prompting them to send an independent observer to Moscow to monitor the elections.

But Mutko, who is also a close friend and a former colleague of President Vladimir Putin, dismissed those claims.

"You have to differentiate between being dependent and having support from the government," he said.

"When we talk about football -- the country's No. 1 sport -- there is no way we can succeed in making it prosper without government support," said the 46-year-old, who headed Russian premier league side Zenit St. Petersburg from 1997 to 2003 before embarking on a political career.

"Finally, most people in this country inside and outside football begin to understand this simple principle."

Mutko also called on Russia's "oligarchs" -- businessmen who made fortunes overnight in 1990s sell-offs of state industry -- to help finance the sport.

"I know for a fact that Roman Abramovich wants to get involved," he said, referring to the billionaire owner of English club Chelsea.

Mutko on Saturday also announced that he would sack the struggling national team's coach and may hire a foreigner. He said the new coach is likely to be appointed in time for Russia's June 4 World Cup qualifying match against Latvia, Interfax said.

Current coach Georgy Yartsev has been in the job for 20 months. It would be the first time a foreigner has coached Russia, although the practice is common elsewhere.

Russia is in third place in its qualifying group for next year's World Cup in Germany, trailing co-leaders Portugal and Slovakia.

(Reuters, AP)