Putin’s Passion

TNR has a look at the rebirth of Russian soccer. Russia, of course, just lost to Spain in the semis of Euro 2008, but that marks a thoroughgoing improvement for a team that, until recent seasons, had struggled. Much of Russia’s success on the pitch is traceable back to former president and current prime minister Vladimir Putin.

How has Putin engineered such a turnaround? By making threats:

“Putin has been clawing back the country’s assets from the oligarchs and forcing them to invest their enormous riches in Russia, including Russian football,” Jim Riordan, formerly a professor at the University of Bradford in England and an expert on Russian sport, told The Observer. “If they refuse, they know they will lose not only their assets. They could end up down the Volga.”

Perhaps that’s the best hope for U.S. soccer–extort their way to the top with the help of a paranoid autocrat.

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