Soviet soccer superstars are being lured abroad by multi-million dollar contracts, while Soviet teams are suffering the loss of key players who may take years to replace.
"When our superstars . . . leave to play abroad, that's a loss for our country and for Soviet soccer," said Vyacheslav Koloskov, chairman of the Soviet Soccer Federation and a vice president of the international soccer association FIFA."Now, we have no equal replacements for them because it takes a long time and much effort to raise such excellent players," he said.
In the past year, halfback Alexei Mikhailichenko bolted from Dynamo Kiev to play for Sampdoria, Italy; Castellon, Spain, lured striker Igor Dobrovolsky away from Dynamo Moscow; and Spartak Moscow lost defender Vagiz Khidiyatullin to France's Toulouse for about a year.
Amid the moves, FIFA decided to give Soviet soccer players full professional status, Koloskov said, allowing them to sign contracts with foreign clubs.
The decision undercut the Soviet sports ministry Goskomsport, which has claimed that all athletes were amateurs. The Soviet and FIFA classifications had restricted Soviet players from playing for Western clubs, though they were offered multi-million dollar deals by Western teams.
Goskomsport also has stopped enforcing its year-old rule prohibiting players from playing abroad if they are younger than 28. The rule initially kept Dobrovolsky and strikers Oleg Protasov and Yuri Savichev from signing with Olympiakos of Piraeus, Greece.
While Soviet soccer generally may suffer, the teams can earn a fee for sending players abroad.
"When a club sends its star to play abroad, it envisages him as a powerful financial source for it," Koloskov said. "That allows the club to get out of poverty and spend the money for developing its infrastructure.
"They have dedicated themselves for the service of their country and Soviet soccer and deserve encouragement" to go abroad, Koloskov said.
But Koloskov is nostalgic for Soviet soccer, whose world-class stars once were ensconced behind the Iron Curtain with only the Olympics and other international competitions to compete in abroad.