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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Money Makes the Ball Go Round

What do you do if your team fails to make the Champions League but you still want to meet the likes of Real Madrid and AC Milan? You pay them to come to you.

While Russian oligarchs have happily splashed out cash to fly in singers such as Christina Aguilera and Shakira to perform, Russian football is showing it has the money and clout hire football giants Real Madrid, AC Milan and PSV Eindhoven for the weekend.

Unlike the singers, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Raul, Kaka and company will not perform for a few wealthy individuals but to an expected full house of 30,000 at Lokomotiv Stadium on Friday and Sunday as European champion Milan, Spanish champion Real, Dutch champion PSV and Lokomotiv Moscow compete in the inaugural Railway Cup.

Lokomotiv, partly owned by state-run Russian Railways, has splashed out 6 million euros ($8.2 million) to bring the three European giants to Moscow right in the middle of the Russian football season.

"It is the first commercial and international tournament that has been staged in Russia or the Soviet Union," Lokomotiv commercial director Dmitry Yefimov said. "We are reorganizing Lokomotiv to a new level, to a European level."

The visitors have agreed to field their strongest squads as they prepare for the start of their regular seasons, Yefimov said.

Lokomotiv is promising that the tournament will make a profit and show that football in Russia doesn't have to operate in the red. But it is also a chance for the political elite to show off and watch the personal project of a possible presidential candidate.

The tournament, like Lokomotiv itself, is tightly entwined with Russian Railways and is being held in conjunction with the 170th anniversary of the railway in Russia.

Russian Railways head Vladimir Yakunin, considered by some analysts to be a potential successor to President Vladimir Putin, will both open and close the tournament.

"We expect a lot of guests from the highest levels of the government," said Yefimov.

Yakunin will be presenting Sunday's championship trophy, newly minted in gold with an as of yet unveiled railway motif, Yefimov said.

The 6 million euros were spent to secure the clubs' participation and to pay for their flights and accommodation, he said. And unlike the NHL millionaires who were put up in the Cosmos hotel for the World Ice Hockey Championship in April, the pampered footballers will spend their time in hotels such as the Ritz Carlton and the Ararat Park Hyatt.

Many in the Russian football world say the 6 million euros is money well spent.

"The tournament is a really big deal," said German Tkachenko, former head of Krylya Sovietov club and founder of Pro Sports Management, an agency for several of Russia's top players. "It will increase the profile of Russian clubs."

Russian clubs, backed mainly by state-owned companies such as Gazprom and VTB, are currently awash in cash. But not a single club comes close to making a profit, and problems remain with poor infrastructure, corruption and a standard of play that lags behind major European leagues.

But the fact that Milan, Real and PSV are happy to come to Russia for a preseason tournament shows the advances that the game has made.

Motivated mainly by the fees on offer, Soviet teams -- typically Dinamo Tbilisi or Dinamo Kiev --made the opposite journey in the 1970s and the 1980s, traveling to Western Europe for preseason friendlies, said Aksel Vartanyan, a football historian for Sport Express. The money, however, went straight into the coffers of the Soviet football federation rather than to the clubs.

In the 1980s, Lokomotiv did help organize a competition with international teams, but these were squads from the Soviet Union and Soviet bloc countries, Vartanyan said. Those teams, such as Kairat Almaty, couldn't exactly match up with Real, but they all had one thing in common: railway backers. Kairat was once called Lokomotiv Almaty.

The Railway Cup won't be the first time top European clubs come to Moscow this season. Spartak and CSKA begin their Champions League campaigns in August and September, and there is a chance that one -- or even two -- of the clubs playing this weekend will return in May, when for the first time Moscow will host the Champions League final at Luzhniki stadium.

The tournament will help to assuage Lokomotiv fans, who will not be able to see their team play in the Champions League this season, said Tkachenko who will watch the tournament from his box at a cost of 13,000 euros ($17,800).

Remarkably, for a Russian football venture, Lokomotiv hopes to make money on the event through ticket sales and television. Television rights have been sold in more than 10 countries, including Brazil and Japan, Yefimov said.

Ordinary VIP tickets can be had for 20,000 rubles ($780). The cheapest tickets cost 500 rubles for either day and allow fans to see two games. Organizers say they've already sold two-thirds of the tickets and are expecting a full house.

Tkachenko, who has previously brought players such as Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand on visits to Moscow, said attracting top foreign talent is difficult because many players express worries about coming to Russia.

Staying in a $1,000 suite in the Ritz-Carlton may help them get over any culture shock.

n AC Milan plays PSV Eindhoven at 6:30 p.m. Friday, followed by Lokomotiv Moscow vs. Real Madrid at 8:45 p.m. Kickoff for the third-place game is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sunday, followed by the championship game at 8:30 p.m.