The new president of the Russian Football Union (RFS), Nikolai Tolstykh, has visited the House of European Football in Nyon.
Mr Tolstykh, who was elected in September, met UEFA's President Michel Platini and UEFA officials for discussions on the football situation in Russia, as well as the relationship between the Russian association and European football's governing body – underpinned by the backing given by UEFA through assistance programmes such as HatTrick and the women's football development programme (WFDP).
"First of all, I would like to thank Michel Platini for the invitation to visit UEFA," said Mr Tolstykh, himself a player for FC Dinamo Moskva between 1974 and 1983, "and for the opportunity provided to speak with the leaders of different UEFA departments, where I have had the possibility to discuss different aspects of European football development, and to share my visions and plans for the implementation of the football development programme in the Russian federation.
"For us, the issue of cooperation with UEFA is of the utmost importance," the 56-year-old added, "and we are thankful to UEFA and its President for the assistance provided in such areas as educational programmes, football infrastructures, the organisation of competition systems and the development of youth and children's football."
Russia's football has a proud legacy and history. Perhaps the most famous of all players was the agile and spectacular goalkeeper Lev Yashin, European Footballer of the Year in 1963 – and many others have distinguished themselves, both for Russia and, in previous times, the Soviet Union. The country is now readying itself for a truly major football occasion – hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2018.
Developments in the late 1980s and early 1990s led to the break-up of the USSR, and new independent football states and national associations came into being. In February 1992 the RFS was formed, assuming the duties and functions of the former USSR Football Federation (FFSSSR). Russia's first national-team tournament came at EURO '96 in England, and an excellent side coached by Guus Hiddink reached the semi-finals of UEFA EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland.
In club football, Russian sides have twice captured the UEFA Cup. PFC CSKA Moskva were first in 2005, defeating Sporting Clube de Portugal, before FC Zenit St Petersburg emulated them by beating Rangers FC in 2008. Zenit also became the first Russian UEFA Super Cup winners.
Mr Tolstykh had said on his election that nurturing the youth and children's game in the regions would be a vital factor in the advance of Russian football. "The development of football infrastructures in our country is very urgent," he emphasised in Nyon. "This includes the construction of football pitches and mini-pitches, with the aim to develop the grassroots in different regions."
Strong efforts were to be made, he added, to attract the younger generation to the game. "We hope that the percentage of those involved in football nationwide will increase dramatically through the promotion of football and infrastructure work which will allow the population to play football in comfortable conditions."
The 2018 World Cup may be some way in the distance yet it is obviously a priority matter for Mr Tolstykh and his association. "Within the deadlines, we are fulfilling all our obligations," he said. "We have established the organising committee, and we have confirmed and approved its work plans. We have also established the local organising committee in the cities where matches will take place." The 2018 finals will take place in Moscow, St Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Samara, Saransk, Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don, Sochi and Ekaterinburg.
And as a passionate football man, what is Nikolai Tolstykh's dream for the future? "To see Russia among the leading football nations in the world." A dream the RFS president shares with his football-loving compatriots as a major date with destiny in six years' time looms over the horizon.
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