Former Blackburn defender Chris Samba has been caught up in a racist incident with Anzhi in Russia...here I get to the bottom of it.
Russian football keeps on slipping on a banana skin.
Former Blackburn central defender Chris Samba, who left Ewood Park for Anzhi Makhachkala in January, became the latest player in the Russian Premier League to have a banana waved and thrown at him during a match, this time against Lokomotiv Moscow.
In the past year alone, there has been three incidents like this that have occurred in Russia's top-flight. Something needs to be done, and quickly. What kind of vibe is this giving off to visitors of the Russian Premier League and Russian football in general? Where is the equality and respect to individuals? Russian football needs to be looked at seriously.
The three cases in the past year
In March 2011, a supporter of Zenit waved a banana at Makhachkala's former Brazilian left-back Roberto Carlos in a fixture being played in St Petersburg. Carlos, instead of chucking the banana back into the stands as a sign of frustration, swept the fruit to the side - almost like he was willing to take the extreme racial abuse being thrown at him. Now, the word has it that if the ex-Real Madrid defender had thrown it back, he would have been punished possibly even more so than the fan that chucked it in the first place. This, to me, doesn't add up. Clearly Russian fans, a substantial minority, are racist towards black players and it seems they have the Russian Premier League on their side, too.
On to the second case. In June, a banana was hurled from the stands during Anzhi's tie at Sanara Kryliya Sovetov. In this particular situation, the supporter labelled as Vyacheslav Prokhorov, owned up to throwing it after he Russian police tracked him down months later. Prokhorov, 23, insisted it was nothing more but a way to channel his anger into his side's display. Sovetov were given a fine, while the fan's maximum punishment will be a ban on visiting matches. I know what you're thinking - is that it?! Well, I'm afraid the Russian law is so ineffectual, so much so that racism is not even covered by the "hooliganism" clause of Russian law, that indeed that is all he may get. A small price to pay for a hugely serious act to commit.
And then of course, the latest incident occurred in Anzhi's away encounter with Lokomotiv Moscow, a match which Anzhi lost 1-0. Chris Samba, who signed for the mega-rich club from Blackburn Rovers in the winter window for a reported fee of around £12m, was the latest victim. A supporter reportedly, 15 minutes before the final whistle, ran down to the VIP section, took up the first row and then waited for the Anzhi players to head down into the tunnel. All this before throwing a banana at 26-year-old Samba, who had his kids watching on in the crowd.
What Samba had to say
"I'm very upset that such misconduct took place in view of children who were sitting on those very stands," he said.
"It can serve as a bad example for them. I try not to think about racism. I just want to believe that such problems do not exist on a global basis. Maybe I am mistaken but I do want to believe in it.
"As a rule any scandal of this kind is a result of a misconduct committed by one silly person. I don't want to react to this."
I mean, as if this whole episode wasn't bad enough - the fact that he had his kids watching on is just horrific. Do we want young people to be going on and interacting with the beautiful (not so in this case) game? Do Russia want to develop a substantial youth platform in which kids can go on and maybe represent the national team?Because by fans pulling off ludicrous acts like this and behaving in such ways, all that is happening is that the youth are getting edged away. This will stick in the children's mind forever.
Money isn't everything
Surely Samba must have been aware of the incidents that have taken place in Russian football of late before taking his flight to Anzhi? But what could have persuaded him to make the switch? Well, to start with - he knew big money was guaranteed. Anzhi were taken over by mega-rich owners last year and have huge ambitions to qualify for the Champions League and rival the likes of powerhouses Zenit and CSKA Moscow. So, you can see on one hand why the Congo international would want to play his football there.
But on the other hand, he must have known the kind of racist incidents that occur in Russian football and that there would always be an element of danger of being a victim of racism. Should this stop him from going to play at the club if he wants to? No, of course not. But you have to be thick skinned, brave and possess a never-say-die attitude if you want to be a success in Russian football and to play in Russia's largely racist conditions as a black player.
But, as so often is the case in modern football, Samba - whether he says so or not - clearly went for the ridiculous wage salary. The recently appointed manager Guus Hiddink is the highest paid manager in the world, while Anzhi's Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o is the highest paid player in world football - showcasing their intent and wealth. No offence to the Russian Premier League as it's got some very good players and coaches, but no way is it at the standard of Premier League, La Liga or Ligue 1 styles - all leagues that Samba could have moved to.
Back in January, he was subjected to a transfer away from Lancashire. He expressed that he no longer wanted to be at Ewood Park, with the club lying in the bottom three at the time. So, with the defender's talent, various European outfits came sniffing including the likes of PSG (also showered with money), Malaga (again a club blessed with financial backing) and of course Anzhi, who he chose, wrongly in my opinion in terms of progressing his career and future.
I think Samba is a very good player. He stood out at Blackburn with his strong tackling, efficient heading ability and all-round game. It was inevitable that he would move on, even Arsenal were linked. So why he didn't join PSG, a club that have even bigger aspirations than Anzhi or Malaga, a side who are battling it for a top-four finish in one of the best leagues in the world - he will only know. Two sides, in PSG and Malaga, that on the whole have less racist environments in which players express themselves in.
But, taking all this into account - you have to respect Samba for moving to a country which has a domestic league that has had three racist incidents in the past year. It shows that he is mature enough to deal with anything thrown at him, literally, and I for one respect all the black players that ply their trade in the Russian Premier League after what some individuals have had to put up with in terms of banana throwing and racist chants.
Money isn't everything, though.
What can be done in order to stop this?
Something has to be done. Quickly.
But what can be done in Russian football in order to stop, or at least try and cut down, the racism being produced?
To start, the Russian Premier League could completely ban bananas from every stadium. Or, infact ban food from being brought into grounds. Then, the clubs could only sell drinks and nessacary foods that would prevent things being thrown on match days. Obviously this wouldn't be popular, but it would help decrease food thrown at black players at games. With no food around, nothing gets thrown. Simple.
And, let's face it, a ban from attending matches is no suitable punishment. The Russian Premier League need to install a proper, damaging, serious punishment system in order to ensure a deterrent takes place and stops people from doing it. Anyone that throws a banana, or chants anything racist, or make any racist gestures, need to be locked up or be dealt with severely depending on the magnitude of the act committed. This would hopefully get the message across.
Furthermore, if more people in Russia that attended football matches could be persuaded to cut out the racist incidents then this would create an overall more friendly atmosphere at games and would be a huge step forward for Russian football.
Case review for Samba
In line with UEFA's Euro 2012 anti-racism monitoring campaign, the Russian Premier League's ethics committee will be reviewing Samba's case, while the league's security committee is organising it's own investigation into the incident. However, Samba could well be punished himself, for throwing the banana back into the crowd.
Growing influence of black players in Russia
With more and more black players joining the Russian Premier League, racist chanting has become more and more common at matches. If the ideas listed above can be settled in, then that would make a huge difference and persuade more black players to join teams in Russia.
Russia's richest cub, Zenit, have never even had a black player in their squad, with the owners allegedly doing anything they can to stop a negative reaction from their fans. It really is upsetting to hear this, and I hope for everyone's sake that Zenit have a black player soon and that the fans change, however gradually, their opinions.
And it's been so bad in the past that Peter Odemwingie, who left Lokomotiv Moscow for West Bromwich Albion two years ago, had a banner held up by Moscow fans entitled "Thank you West Bromwich!" aimed towards him in stands in the game following his exit.
And believe it nor not, when Anzhi came sniffing in January for the Nigerian international forward - he rejected the offer after experiencing such horrid times in Moscow, saying he received racist abuse, in the three years he was stationed at Lokomotiv, in every game he featured in.
Damaging Russian football
The reality is, though, that the few that are chanting these racist songs and throwing pieces of banana at players - are simply spoiling the game for others that actually want to enjoy the football being played and want to see their team play.
I've said this before and I'll say it again, not all Russian football fans are like this - but as the incidents over the past year have shown - there are people that attend the games that are just looking for trouble and are being incredibly racist, and it's damaging football in Russia.
Russian football needs to move on. Racism needs to be stamped out. And when it is, I'll be there to applaud.