Imagine, in preparation for the next World Cup, U.S. Soccer buying Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, and the rest of the national team’s contracts and entering a team in Major League Soccer. The national team players would train together and, against other MLS competition, play together, with the camp to end all camps aiming to set a new standard at Russia 2018.
It’s hard to imagine Jurgen Klinsmann doing anything like that, but in Russia, the idea’s being floated. Coming off a disappointing 2014 World Cup, the Russian federation is considering an idea that would see national team talent bought by the federation in the summer of 2017. The ensuing team would then be entered into the 2017-18 Russian Premier League.
Russian Football Union general secretary Anatoliy Vorobyev, from Russian agency Itar-Tass (via The Guardian, linked above):
“It is clear that we can only compete on the highest world level through teamwork,” he said. “In this situation, it is necessary to look for possible competitive advantage. One of them, perhaps, the most important thing would be to create a core team – ‘Russia 2018’ …
“The team would be formed from “leased” players who play regularly for Russia and represent the leading clubs. There would be two transfer windows.
“The club could take back a player sent to ‘Russia 2018’ for the winter off-season. It would also be possible to arrange for the club to get its player back for the spring campaign of the Champions League.”
CSKA and Zenit would probably be hit hardest by this move, but given the amount of pressure Russia will be under in 2018, it will be difficult to resist any preparation deemed necessary. If the Russian Football Union (or, somebody above them) wants ‘Russia 2018’ to happen, clubs may not be the biggest obstacle.
Of course, other nations have taken similar approaches, the United States among them. Prior to USA 1994, a number of U.S. players were under contract to the federation, a practice that continued in the years before Major League Soccer.
The main difference between the U.S. in 1993 and present day Russia? Russia has a league, a very good one. But the national team is also coming off a World Cup that embarrassed officials.
You know what they say about desperate times? Apparently, they lead to national teams playing in domestic leagues. Possibly.